Cleaning Car Seats Is Now A Cinch With This Secret Weapon

The Only Question Is What You'll Do With All That Free Time...

You've just been driving along, running your errands with your young child in the back seat. You've been rocking your day. Checking things off your to-do list, taking care of business, and feeling super productive.

The sun is shining. The birds are chirping.

Everything is going your way.

Then, out of the blue, you hear those two little words from the young kiddo sitting in the car seat in the back...

"Uh-oh."

Great.

Time to add "cleaning car seats" to your (already too-long) to-do list.

Fortunately, we've got you covered.

We don't know what kind of disaster junior has created this time, but for every mess, there's a solution. No matter what the challenge is, the tips you're about to learn will get you back on the road in no time.

Let's get to it!

Baby, You're Worth It

Car seat cleanliness is important. You already know that. Especially if your baby or young child is spending a lot of time there, you don't want to let this slide for too long.

​Image via Pexels

But often this task can get neglected because it doesn't seem super-urgent. Other things are always much more pressing. So typically this is a job that gets lower priority... until a real doozy of a mess comes along.

Then there's no choice but to tackle it head-on.

In reality, cleaning car seats is something we should be doing on a regular basis. So we'll take a good look at both disaster control and doing our routine maintenance.

What would happen if we didn't adequate attention?

This Is Not Gonna Fix Itself...

Whatever you do, don't pretend the mess isn't there!

very dirty car interior, full of garbage, food containers, boxes and cans

Car needs cleaning Image CC by SA 2.0, by 8one6, via Flickr

If a spill is ignored for too long, it can get worse. It just will. That's how spills are. Even if it just sits there, letting it slide can lead to all sorts of problems.

Stains can set and become much more difficult to remove. Liquid messes that don't dry out can provide a welcome environment for mildew or mold––and you don't want your baby to breathe that stuff (you don't want yourself to breathe that stuff either, for that matter).

Crumbs and food debris can invite critters to see if they can find a way into your car, especially if the spill has a strong odor or an appetizing scent.

So by all means, don't put it off! It's like brushing your teeth or taking out the trash. It's just something that shouldn't get left off the list.

Don't Mess With Me

Depending on what kind of disaster you're facing today, you may need to try a few different methods.

Babies, toddlers, and young children create all kinds of tiny mishaps. Hey, growing up ain't easy! Spit happens, you know?

The approach you use needs to match the specific mess. Whether you're dealing with a few crumbs, a spill, or something bigger like a child being sick, our techniques will help you formulate the proper plan of attack.

Cleaning Supplies, Assemble!

You don't go into battle without your gear.

So first off: let's make sure we've got the right tools for the job!

Basic Supplies

  • A vacuum that you can bring into your car (or at least bring it close enough to use it on the mess)
  • A bucket or container to hold water
  • Cleaning solution or detergent
  • An absorbent cloth

Advanced Tools

  • A spatula (if the bulk of the mess isn't dry enough to vacuum)
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • And our secret weapon (we'll get to that in a moment)

If you don't have a cleaning solution specifically for fabric or upholstery, you can also use laundry detergent. You'll want to look around for detergents that will be kid-friendly. But presumably, if you use what you've got in your home, you'll already have a brand you trust.

child in car tipping sun glasses down

Image via Pexels

Mrs. Meyers is one company that has made a name for itself, offering a selection of quality products that don't contain chlorine bleach (or test on animals!) Their detergent comes in a variety of scents, so you can find one that works for you. New York magazine also has a quick selection of cleaning supplies that may be helpful in general.

I'll Do It Myself! (A Few DIY Tips...)

What if you can't get a hold of any of these?

Did you suddenly discover that you're all out of laundry detergent? Are there no cleaning solutions left in your cabinet?

No sweat. Just channel your inner MacGyver and make your own.

If you find yourself in a pinch, you can mix baking soda and warm water to make your own cleaning solution. That way you can still address a mess, even if you don't have store-bought cleaner readily available.

You should aim for a 4-to-1 ratio (so a cup of water and 1/4 cup of baking soda). Use a toothbrush in combination with this solution, and you'll still get the job done.

Baking soda is also super useful in another instance, as we'll see shortly...

If the mess is small and you just need to do a quick fix, you can target specific spots with a combo of detergent, warm water, and a toothbrush.

Of course, if you've got a bigger mess on your hands, you'll need a bit more elbow grease (and probably more than a toothbrush) to fix it.

So let's get going. We've got our tools, and our cleaning solution or detergent.

It's time to roll up our sleeves.

Suck It Up

Image via Libreshot

Depending on the size of the mess, you may first need to remove the car seat. Especially if you need to give it a deep clean, this can save time in the long run. It can also give you a chance to vacuum all around the bottom of the seat and get the corners that you can't normally get to when the car seat is installed.

Whether you do this or not, you'll want to start off the process with a vacuum. (If you don't have one readily available, try using a brush, broom, or duster to get rid of any free-floating gunk that hasn't gotten lodged into the fabric.)

Get rid of anything that can't be washed: crumbs, tiny bits of debris, pet hair, whatever. Vacuum or sweep it all away so you can take the next step.

We Had A Little Scrape

You may have a kind of mess that doesn't respond to being vacuumed up. What if your toddler dropped peanut butter on the seat?

This is where your spatula comes into play!

Black spatula on wooden counter

Black and metal spatula, via Wikimedia

This can be a great way of getting rid of gunk like spilled jelly. Anything wet or gooey. (It also helps if someone has been sick, and you don't have a vacuum cleaner that can handle that kind of mess.)

Just use the spatula to scrape it into the garbage.

Now that you've cleared the debris out of the way, the next stage is to wash the seat itself...

Give It a Good Scrub

Sponge shaped like a smiley face, yellow on white background being held by a woman's hand

Smiley Sponge! Image CC by 2.0, by Your Best Digs, via Flickr

If you have a spray bottle cleaner, spray the surface thoroughly, and give it a moment to sink in.

If you're using a do-it-yourself solution of detergent and water, either apply it with a sponge or slowly pour a small amount of the solution directly onto the fabric. Make sure to cover the surface so that you don't miss any spots.

Now, maybe you've got a stain that less "dirt" and more "grease."

Try using a combination that's one part warm water, one part white vinegar. The vinegar will help dissolve the grease and make it easier to mop up.

Scrub the surface with a sponge, paying special attention to any trouble spots. Try to avoid using any sponges that are particularly abrasive, so you don't damage the fabric.

Dirt can get fairly deep down in some fabrics, so you may need to repeat this step a few times.

Dry It Off

Once you've washed the surface, take an absorbent cloth or towel to soak up the dirty water. Wring it out if necessary, but the point is to get all that dirt. It's been dislodged from the fabric but it's still sitting on the seat. You may have to do this a few times to get everything.

Once the seat is clean, just let it air dry, and you should be all set.

Avoid using a blow dryer if you can. A blow dryer won't be as effective at removing dirt, and there is also the potential for the high heat to damage some fabrics.

If you absolutely need to use a blow dryer to get the seat dry super quickly, make sure that you only use the dryer in short bursts. A better method is to use a large room fan to speed up the process. It'll take longer, but it won't hurt the material.

Now you just have to take care of the loose ends.

young child buckling into a car

Image via Pexels

Buckle Down

When it comes to washing car seats, you have to deal with several types of surfaces. The fabric is one thing, the straps and buckles are two others. So you'll need to use different approaches in cleaning those.

Straps should be hand-washed, as they can suffer heat damage more easily than the rest of the seat. A simple baking soda or detergent solution should work just fine.

If the buckles are generally clean, a bit of water should suffice. But if they've gotten grimy or sticky, you might want to use a bit of soap. You definitely want to make sure the buckles haven't gotten so sticky that they no longer work properly.

For instance, if your kid has spilled jam on them, then there's a possibility that they might get... uh... jammed...

Sorry, couldn't resist...

After cleaning the buckles, rinse them in warm water, and let them air dry.

Sick Ride, Yo...

Sometimes, the messes are a little less than appetizing.

If your child is sick in the car, the mess usually something you need to deal with sooner rather than later.

After you've finished taking proper care of the kid, turn your attention to the car seat. Priorities, right? Kid first, cleaning car seats second.

Still has gotta be done, though.

Fortunately, cleaning vomit is something that's easy to take care of, even if it is unpleasant. This is where you need your spatula and your baking soda again (see? We told you it was going to make another appearance! Is there anything baking soda can't do?)

Your Quick 4-Step Guide to Cleaning Up After a Sick Kid:

  1. Use the spatula to scrape off any loose junk and dispose of it.
  2. Use a paper towel to soak up any moisture on the affected area. Get it as dry as you possibly can.
  3. Then use your baking soda. But this time, instead of mixing it with water, cover the surface of the stain with baking soda and let it sit for 30-60 minutes.
  4. After the time has passed, vacuum it up. If there is still anything left, you can wash as normal.

In this case, the baking soda does two things. It absorbs the vomit from the seat, but it also absorbs the odor, which a regular cleaner might not do.

But if you really want to tackle the big disasters, you might need more than even baking soda...

And Now... Your Secret Weapon

What if, despite your best efforts, the main part of your car seat gets hit with a really big spill? One that's extra deep, and isn't coming out with a regular sponge or towel?

Take a cue from other parents and repair experts who have discovered this genius short-cut.

Try using a 3M Doodlebug pad for cleaning large dirt stains on delicate surfaces. There are actually a number of varieties and brands of this basic tool available, but these babies are your ultimate weapon in removing dirt, liquids, or other stains.

  • They are tough on grime. They are designed for cleaning messes made on tile floors, the kitchen or bathroom, and for dislodging dirt.
  • They are gentle on durable surfaces like vinyl and glass.
  • They are resilient. They are designed to last for multiple sessions, so they can be used for cleaning car seats again and again.

Use the same steps in your cleaning approach as above, but this time, follow the "wash" step by scrubbing with one of these little guys.

DON'T FORGET: Always scrub a small, out of sight area first, to be certain that it won't cause any damage first.

Your Quick 4-Step Guide to Removing a Deep Dirt Stain:

  1. Vacuum the surface thoroughly.
  2. Wash the dirty area with water and cleaning solution. (You can use a sponge to help massage the cleaning solution into the fabric.)
  3. Scrub the dirty area.
  4. Then wipe it all away with the absorbent pad.

When it comes to the deepest, nastiest messes, having this ace up your sleeve will save you big time.

Now we just have to take care of the bits we forgot.

The Extra Bits

If your car seat has a plastic base, it can be a good idea to clean that up as well. Vacuum any crumbs that may have fallen down in the cracks (there can be a lot hiding down here!) and then either sanitize it with a spray and a towel. You can also use a baby wipe to clean it.

Maybe you haven't actually had a major disaster. In that case, cleaning up will be a bit easier. If you have the kind of car seat where the cover is removable and machine-washable, take that approach. Let the machine do the work.

washer and dryer under counter with soaps in jars

Image via Pixabay

Just pay attention to any cleaning instructions the covers may have (usually, that means washing them on a low cycle with gentle detergent.) Then let them air-dry. Drying them with too much direct heat could shrink them, and they need to hold their shape in order to fit back onto the seat.

Let's Keep It This Way, Shall We?

Now that you've tackled the worst of the mess, you want to make sure the seats stay nice and shiny on a regular basis!

Cleaning car seats isn't something you need to do constantly, but it is a good idea to vacuum frequently. Vacuuming once a week will help stave off the accumulation of crumbs and other debris. It's also a good way of making sure that a bigger mess didn't slip your notice.

Try doing a deeper clean every month or two. If the car seat has a removable cover, put it in the wash at least once every six weeks (this may vary depending on how much time your family spends in the car.) And don't forget to vacuum the bottom of the car seat once the cover is out of the way. A lot of crumbs can wind up down there!

Don't Even Go There

You know what they say: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Sometimes the best way to clean up a mess is not to have to deal with one at all. So here are some quick tips to help you dodge the clean-up phase before it even becomes a problem.

Keep Cleaning Supplies in the Car

Cleaning car seats isn't something you should do while you're driving, obviously. But keep your vehicle well-stocked with basic cleaning solution, towels, and wipes. If disaster strikes and you need to pull over (or if you have another set of hands) you can often minimize a spill before it gets too bad.

Cover the Surface

You can minimize the damage by using a car seat protector, which wraps around the seat. A protector keeps liquids and sticky spills from messing up your fabric. You'll still want to check on the car seat now and then to make sure it's staying clean, but the cover will save you a lot of hassle.

Put Your Groceries in the Trunk

Kids are naturally curious. If yours is old enough to grab nearby objects from the car seat, go ahead and put groceries and other items in the trunk. Make sure they're out of reach.

Otherwise, you may get home to find out that junior has quietly opened a bag of chocolate candy... that's now melted all over the back interior of your car.

melted chocolate on sidewalk with Hershey's wrapper

Image via Pixabay

The same goes for anything sharp or otherwise dangerous, of course!

Contain the Mess

If you're on a long trip and your child needs to eat or drink while you're on the move, make sure you use some sort of spill-proof cup. Keep snacks to small amounts and use containers also designed to avoid spillage.

What To Avoid When Cleaning Car Seats

Now that you're an expert on what to do, it's time to cover some of the don'ts.

DON'T: Ignore Your Child's Allergies

Cleaning solutions come in many different shapes and sizes. While most chemicals go through strict testing before they are approved for use for the general public, individual allergies can still pop up, and some children may have their own sets of reactions to them. So make sure that whatever cleanser you use, you're keeping your child's specific needs in mind.

DON'T: Ignore the Directions Regarding Your Car Seat Cover

Cleaning car seats sometimes means removing the entire cover and throwing it in the wash.

hand adjusting washing machine settings

Via ​Pexels

But bear in mind that the fabric of your particular cover may require a different wash setting than your clothes, your bedding, or even a different type of car seat cover.

Same goes for drying. If you have a cover that needs to dry by air, find a time when you won't be driving junior around for a little while, and then let it dry. You don't want to use a hot dryer setting only to find that it's shrunk the cover.

DON'T: Ignore the Directions on Re-Installing the Car Seat

If you have had to take the entire seat out of the car while cleaning it, make sure to put it back in the car properly. Most parents will do this often enough that this is a habit.

But if you haven't taken the car seat out of the car, check anyway to make sure it's in there safe and sound.

It's sometimes easy to forget that all that cleaning and scrubbing can loosen the safety buckles on the seat. Especially if it's a larger-than-normal mess.

DON'T: Ignore the Expiration Dates on the Car Seat

Lastly, there will ultimately be a time when it's time to replace the car seat entirely... even if you take perfect care of it.

You could remove every stain, clean every mess, and brush away every crumb. But even the best equipment gets old and out-of-date. So if you're using a hand-me-down that might be approaching the end of its lifespan, maybe this latest super-mess is a sign from the heavens that it's just time to get yourself a newer model.

On the Road Again...

Congrats! You're now an expert on cleaning car seats. You've taken care of whatever disaster life threw at you and you passed the test with flying colors.

If your life is anything like ours, you know the next mess is just around the corner. Waiting for that perfect moment to strike.

But this time, you'll be ready.

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