Do It Yourself: How to Clean Car Upholstery

January 27, 2012

Many car owners tend to focus only on the exterior when cleaning their vehicle, but learning how to clean car upholstery and other parts of the interior is equally important. Dirt and dust from the road can stick to the body of a car. Generally, cleaning a cabin may be less frequent as compared to exterior washing. However, the same dirt and dust, when stuck to the soles of shoes and other articles of clothing, can be carried inside the vehicle.

Auto accessory shops carry a wide selection of DIY detailing materials that any car owner can use. These include body and carpet shampoos, waxes, polishes and other cleaning agents. Vacuum cleaners, brushes and other accessories are readily available from hardware and specialty retailers. A couple of hours or so spent on leather seat cleaning at least twice a year will help a great deal in preserving a car's interior for many years, and at minimal cost.

Step 1: Vacuuming

Use a high-powered, home vacuum cleaner instead of smaller, more compact car vacuums that plug into a cigarette lighter. Most of these types do not have enough power to suck out deep seated dirt, especially in the crevices of seats and carpets. Take out floor mats to access areas underneath them. These spots are where dirt tends to accumulate the most. Vacuum floor mats thoroughly. Make use of vacuum cleaner attachments to concentrate force in hard-to-reach areas. Brush attachments are useful when working on surfaces that may be damaged by scratching. If possible, car seats can be taken out to allow better access to the areas underneath them.

Step 2: Cleaning Carpets and Floor Mats

It is recommended that floor mats be cleaned first because, most of the time, these have to be given a suitable amount of time to dry before reinstalling. Clean each floor mat thoroughly after vacuuming. Brushing with water and detergent is highly recommended for rubber and fabric or carpet-type floor mats. Use the right type of brush so as not to damage the material. Some rubber floor mats come with areas for channeling and containing spilled soda, coffee or other liquids. These substances will react with heat and sunlight (when the vehicle is parked outdoors) and may leave a hard-to-remove stain. Give these areas due attention when cleaning.

Step 3: Cleaning Seats

Take out car seats if possible to allow trouble-free access to the areas underneath them. This also makes it relatively easier to vacuum and clean them. A variety of products are now available for cleaning different types of car upholstery.

It is good practice to clean leather seats (and other leather areas, for that matter) section by section. This means applying the cleaning solution to one area, wiping it off, and then moving to another area. For example, apply leather cleaner to the headrest first; wipe it off thoroughly to finish cleaning; and then move to the seat backrest. Apply a conditioner after cleaning all leather surfaces. This gives a protective layer to the upholstery. Leather conditioners usually offer different finishes dependent on one's preference. Some will provide a shine, while others will leave a more matte finish.

For fabric-upholstered seats, a shampoo is the best cleaning agent that can be used. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for applying and rinsing. If the seats have not been taken out of the vehicle for cleaning, allow enough time for them to dry. Leave a window open to allow enough air to circulate to help the drying process.

Related Questions and Answers

What are the Main Auto Upholstery Tools?

The main auto upholstery tools include, interior: wet-dry vacuum cleaner; complete set of camel's hair or boar's hair brushes for crevices, nooks and crannies between panels, as well as a complete carpet/upholstery cleaning kit; complete set of vinyl restoration tools such as Armor All or any of the Maguire's products; ionizer to remove any odors; and a complete set of glass and mirror cleaners. Also needed are a complete set of tooth-style brushes for any straight seams, as well as a good chamois so that you can clean the doorframes completely. And don't forget the ceiling cleaner and any bulbs that may need changing. Don't forget, too, that all screens and buttons must be cleaned. Finally, a set of lint-free drying rags and you're good to go.

Where can I Buy Leather Dye for Car Seats?

Leather dye for car seats is available from smaller car design shops that specialize in the installation of leather upholstery. This dye is also available from design shops that specialize in the revitalization of worn leather seats. The dye, whose cost can range from as little as $55 or so - depending on the effect you are trying to project - to as much as $300 or more. Remember this though, the more you spend on a good dye job, the better your car will look, and the more you can expect for an ultimate return on your investment. You can find more information on eBay, or from one of the specialty car organizations dedicated to the specific vehicle you are upgrading.

Where can I Get a Custom Car Interior Design?

A custom car interior design is available on eBay. Check the eBay Motors specialty listings and it is likely you will find custom car interior designs available near you. If you are driving a specialty car, such as an older IROC Z28 or real TransAm Z28 (both original design Chevrolet L-6 models from the late 1960s), you may find the exact interior design you are looking for at Hemmings or at Old Cars Weekly, two of the major resources of the older and antique specialty car world. Costs for this type of interior will vary with the aggressiveness of the work that has to be done. Costs can run up to $5,000 or more.

What is the Average Cost of Leather Seats in a Car?

Generally, the cost of leather seats in a car has as much to do with the installation and quality of the seats as anything else. For example, there are many small shops in various parts of the country whose installation work is as good as that done at the manufacturer. While there are chains where the work is just not up to par. In general, you will find the cost of a well-installed set of leather seats for your car to be in the $500 to $700 range. If the seats are heated, or if they include an electrical adjustment, add another $300 or so to the installation. The seats should carry at least a one-year warranty for all parts.

Where can I Buy Auto Upholstery Kits?

Auto upholstery kits are available at many sources on the Internet. It depends on the extent of the repair or change you are trying to make. A good source of auto upholstery kits is eBay and they often have a wide variety of kits. JCWhitney is another good source of auto upholstery kits and, like eBay, offers a wide variety of kits, including kits that you can use to install heated leather seats. Target is another retail outlet that offers a variety of auto upholstery kits. Be sure to check with AutoZone and Pep Boys to see what they may have in stock that might meet your needs. Generic pricing for auto upholstery kits will be within $15 or $20 of the brand names.