How to Keep Your Car Upholstery Clean

by Josh Sadlier
Cleaning car upholstery

There are at least two reasons why you should want to keep your car upholstery in tip-top condition. Number one, a spotless interior can be a strong selling point when it's time to part ways with your noble steed. And number two, haven't you heard the old saying that "You can judge a person by the cleanliness of his or her seats"? No? Maybe that’s just us. Bottom line, part of your ownership strategy should be keeping that upholstery spic and span. 
Here are our top tips for accomplishing this mission.  


Be Protective

As a car-seat steward, one of the worst things you can do is leave your upholstery vulnerable to attack. Instead, you should regularly apply a shield of sorts to minimize any future damage, like what you’d do for nice suede or leather shoes. For cloth seats, that means picking up something like Scotchgard's Auto Interior Fabric Protector, which effectively adds a protective layer to your upholstery that causes spilled liquids to bead up on the surface for easy removal. It won't change the look or feel of the fabric, yet it'll make your seats both oil- and water-repellent. For leather, try Leather Nova's leather conditioner, which restores dry leather to full suppleness and adds water-repellent properties, too. We also recommend the magical 303 Aerospace Protectant an industrial-grade product that provides UV protection and repels oil, water, dirt, and mildew. 

Stay Shady

Leaving your upholstery in the sun is a surefire way to age it prematurely. Although protectants like 303 Aerospace add UV-resistance, there's no substitute for the shade. But you can't always park in a garage, right? That's why a dashboard-mounted sunshade is an indispensible tool. Sunshades reflect harmful UV rays with their silver coating, and they also keep your interior much cooler than it would be otherwise, helping to guard against upholstery fading and/or cracking. 
Having wrestled with many ill-fitting standard sunshades, however, we strongly recommend seeking a fitted alternative. Covercraft and Heat Shield, for example, let you select your car by manufacturer and model to ensure proper fitment. You'll pay more for the custom design, but trust us, it's worth it in the long run.

Apply Elbow Grease As Required

When spills happen – that's a "when," not an "if" – you've got to be ready to call in the reinforcements. Of course, if you've applied a protectant ahead of time, it might be as simple as grabbing a paper towel and wiping up the beaded liquid. But what if you've got a real stain that needs to be removed? For cloth upholstery, Mothers Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner is the best spray bottle you can buy. It's pH-balanced and environmentally safe, according to Mothers, yet it's strong enough to pull out stains that have been there for years. And there's no need to rinse with water or use any other product; just spray and wipe. Couldn't be easier. As for leather, our money's on Mothers again – the company's Leather Cleaner does a great job of removing discolorations and restoring the leather's natural hue. Just remember to add your Leather Nova conditioner (Mothers also makes a good one) afterward for a full treatment.

Know When To Call a Pro

The nice thing about all of the above is that they're steps you can easily take on your own. But that doesn't mean you should DIY everything in this category. If your cloth or leather upholstery develops rips or tears, for instance, we don't advise heading out to your garage with a needle and thread. Many folks don't realize that upholstery repair is a thriving business, and your shop will often be happy to perform some cosmetic surgery for a reasonable price. If you try it yourself, on the other hand, you'll probably just end up paying the pro to clean up your mess, so you might as well save yourself the extra time and money upfront.
In another instance, you might find yourself in a situation where the cleaning products just aren't working no matter how hard you scrub. Don't panic. You're probably working with one or two products, whereas professional upholstery cleaners have a full arsenal of specialty tools for tough jobs. These days, you can even find a mobile upholstery cleaner who'll come to you with a well-stocked truck. Local review aggregators like are invaluable here for sorting out which vendors deliver consistently excellent service, particularly if the vendor will be visiting your home.


Keep It Classy

Cars are just like us: as they age, they start drifting away from that like-new look and feel. But keeping your upholstery fresh should be easy peasy if you follow our tips. A little effort goes a long way here, and both your current passengers and the car's next owner will think you're pretty great.

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