The Best Way To Clean Car Upholstery & Remove Stains - Car Detailing Guide


I’m going to make you a promise, if your car has cloth seats, they will get dirty at some point. As you drive your car, dirt & grime will begin to accumulate on the seats and will become embedded in upholstery little by little. You may not notice any changes to your car’s seats since the process is slow, but after a few months or even years, your seats will become noticeably dirty. If you want to keep your car seats clean or even revive them from years of neglect, you will need to do some good old fashion scrubbing.

In this car detailing guide, I, a mobile detailing professional, will cover the various types of fabrics in modern cars and how to clean them, the common types of stains in cars and how to remove them, how to clean car seats with household items, and how to clean car seats using professional tools & products.


Types of Car Upholstery


Nylon Upholstery - Nylon is one of the most common fabrics used in modern cars by manufactures. If is used because it is inexpensive and durable. This is great news if you plan on getting your car dirty as nylon can withstand more abuse and more aggressive cleaning methods. However, dirt and pet hair tend to become stuck in nylon more easily than other fabrics, so your seats may need to be cleaned more often.

Polyester Upholstery - polyester seats in cars, also called microsuede, are used to mimic suede seats and give the vehicle a more luxurious feel without the added cost of real suede. Microsuede is a soft fabric which makes the interior more comfortable, but it also makes it harder to clean. Polyester is porous like nylon and it is prone to absorbing and holding stains and spills. However, it can still be cleaned and protected in a similar manner to the other materials.


Alcantara - This is a suede-like synthetic fabric that was developed as an alternative to natural suede. Despite looking and feeling like suede, alcantara is far more durable and resistant to stains and scuff marks. Also, alcantara has a grippy texture and it is fire-retardant. These characteristics make it the premier choice for high-end performance cars. Often, you will find super cars and hyper cars covered in alcantara. Due to the sensitive nature of alcantara, you should consult a professional detailer about your particular situation.

Vinyl - vinyl is non-porous and water resistant, so it is really easy to clean. If you spill something on vinyl, just wipe it up with a damp microfiber towel. If you find a tough stain, use a dedicated vinyl cleaner and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

Faux Leather - much like Vinyl, faux leather is easy to clean and maintain. It’s less expensive than real leather and the main difference between faux leather and vinyl is the look. Vinyl does not look as good as faux leather. Faux leather has come a long way in the past few decades and today it is difficult to tell a difference between faux and real.

Leather - for the most part, leather is the most luxurious upholstery that is used in cars today. Cleaning and caring for leather can be tricky, so if you have leather seats, read our guide on how to clean & condition leather seats.

Types of Stains & How to Treat Them

Coffee - coffee stains are very common in cars and luckily they are fairly easy to remove. Begin by spritzing the stain with cold water. Next, use a stain remover or carpet cleaner such as CarGuys Super Cleaner and let it dwell on the stain for a few minutes. Follow up with a damp cloth to absorb the stain. If you have a carpet extractor or a wet/dry vacuum, use that to remove any excess water and cleaner.


Blood - Maybe you nicked your finger or maybe someone angered you for the last time, I’m not asking questions. No matter the reason, if you need to remove blood from your vehicle, start by soaking the area in cold water and then apply a mix of hydrogen peroxide and lemon juice. Finish by using a wet/dry vacuum or an upholstery extractor to lift the stain.

Grease - if your car seat has a grease stain, you should use a petroleum-based dish detergent to fight the stain. Begin by saturating the stain in soapy water and let it soak into the fibers. Next, use a soft bristled brush to agitate the soap and use a damp microfiber towel too soap up the stain and soapy water. Again, if you have a carpet extractor or a wet/dry vacuum, use that to remove any excess water and cleaner.

Mud - first, use a damp cloth to remove as much of the mud as possible. Next, use an all purpose cleaner to help release the mud from the fabric and agitate with a soft bristled brush. If any mud still persists, use a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and water to remove what’s left and finish by rinsing with cold water.

Ink - whether your child is creative or you forgot you had a pen in your pocket, ink can be removed fairly easily. The most common household fix is hairspray. Spray the area and let is soak for a few seconds and repeat this process until the stain is removed. I know this is a little unorthodox, but this home remedy really works.

General Cleaning

First, I would like to address expectations. If you have neglected your car’s seats and upholstery, do not expect a miracle. Even a detailing professional may not be able to remove all of the stains and dirt that has built up in your cars seats. With that out of the way, we can move into general cleaning and maintenance of cloth upholstery.

Begin by removing any trash and vacuuming the fabric seats to remove any loose dirt or derbies. Use your fingers to spread apart the seams of the seats in order to get the hidden dirt while vacuuming.

Next, use an upholstery cleaner and spray onto a small area of the fabric car seat. You can use an all-purpose cleaner like Super Clean or you can use a dedicated cleaner like Chemical Guys Fabric Clean. Using an all-purpose cleaner alongside proper tools and techniques can achieve the same results as a dedicated cleaner, so if you’re on a budget, just use an all-purpose cleaner.

No professional tools - scrub the area with a soft bristled brush to lift the stain to the surface and blot dry with a microfiber towel. Do not scrub aggressively or use a stiff brush as this can harm the integrity of the fibers and cause the cloth to fray apart. Once the cleaner has encapsulated the dirt, sop it up using a towel before it dries. Finish by vacuuming the area again to help pull out any cleaning solution that has saturated the seat

If you have a shampoo extractor - start by filling up your extractor as directed by the manufacturer and add your favorite shampoo solution - my favorite is Bissell. Next, pre-treat the area with a carpet cleaner or APC and let it dwell. Agitate using a soft bristle brush to work the stains and dirt to the surface. Next, use the machine to spray down a small area with the solution and then extract the solution and dirt out. Finally, leave the windows in your car cracked to let fresh air circulate so the seats will dry faster.


If you have a steamer - If you have a steam cleaner it can be very helpful in cleaning cloth and fabric seats. Take a microfiber towel and wrap it around a large-tip steamer attachment. Spray the fabric cleaner onto the desired area and let it dwell. Use the hot stem to break apart stains and lift dirt. Once you have gone over an area, blot dry with a microfiber towel. Repeat these steps until the desired result is achieved.


After cleaning the area, let it dry. You may want to leave the windows cracked and even place a fan in the vehicle. Next, apply a fabric protector like Scotchgard Auto Fabric & Carpet Protector. Follow the manufacturer's directions when applying. Using a fabric protector will help prevent stains on your seats from reoccurring.


Hopefully this blog post has helped you clean and protect your car’s seats and upholstery. If you followed all of the steps, you can achieve professional results at home with household tools and products. If you have any questions/ concerns feel free to contact me. If you want to check out our services or what we do check out our homepage.

Thanks for reading and good luck detailing!