tw power out upholstery

What Are Some DIY Tips for Cleaning Car Upholstery?

In this article you will learn:

  • How to clean car upholstery easily

  • DIY hacks for cleaning car upholstery 

  • How to remove stubborn stains from your car seats and upholstery

  • Why you should always use a purpose-built automotive upholstery cleaner

Let’s say you spilled your hot drink on your way to work, or it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned your car seats, and now they’re looking particularly dirty. You may be tempted to grab whatever household cleaners you use to get stains out of your couch: fabric spray, carpet cleaner or even washing up liquid—but rather than save you time and money, this sort of "quick fix” can create an even bigger headache.  

Think about the sort of dirt that winds up on your couch: tea or coffee stains, food crumbs, maybe a pet accident. Nothing a little laundry detergent and white vinegar can’t fix. 

Right, now think about what kinds of dirt might end up on your auto upholstery: mud, dirt, oils and road grime from practically anywhere you’ve driven to, or from. Not only are these soils more difficult to clean with regular, household cleaners, but certain fabric treatments and laundry detergents contain chemicals that can damage your leather, vinyl or cloth-covered seats. Talk about a DIY disaster. 

Luckily, we have some safe, practical tips that will make getting dirt and stains out of seat-covers a breeze. Here are some easy, DIY tricks for cleaning and restoring your car upholstery so it looks like new again! 

Use a purpose-built cleaner

Like with any detailing job, cleaning your car upholstery is easiest when you have a product specifically built for the task. That’s right; ditch the washing up liquid, vinegar, baking soda, fabric sprays, what have you. Instead, it’s time to invest in a simple, inexpensive car seat upholstery cleaner!  

As we mentioned earlier, household cleaning products can prove to be ineffective or unsafe to use on automotive upholstery. But not only that—even if you do manage to get rid of dirt or stains for the moment, the residues left behind by household cleaners can act as a magnet, attracting new dirt more quickly in a process called “resoiling.” 

A high quality, automotive upholstery cleaner, on the other hand, is designed for the sole purpose of removing tough dirt and stains from your car upholstery. This means it’s made with ingredients that are much more effective at tackling heavier soils in your car seats and upholstery without damaging these sensitive surfaces. 

We recommend a car upholstery spray like Turtle Wax Interior 1 Multipurpose Cleaner & Stain Remover or POWER OUT! Upholstery Cleaner to clean your cloth-covered seats in 10 minutes or less. Interior 1 is perfect for removing light dirt and stains, while POWER OUT! Upholstery Cleaner is better for scrubbing away heavier soils.  

If you have leather seat covers, you’ll need a leather cleaner and conditioner like Hybrid Solutions Leather Mist. This simple spray has an even gentler formula that makes it great for cleaning delicate, leather surfaces, as well as natural conditioning agents to keep your luxurious leather plush and protected.  

These detailing products might cost a bit more than your run-of-the-mill household cleaners, but they’ll save you time and money down the road. 


Use the gentlest products first

Cloth upholstery can take quite a beating; but, in order make it last, it’s important to use the gentlest cleaners possible to remove dirt and stains. Start by performing a general cleaning with a light interior detailer, like Interior 1 Multipurpose Cleaner & Stain Remover. Spray it on one upholstery panel at a time. Use the detachable scrub brush to agitate the cleaner and lift trapped dirt to the surface. Then, use a soft, cotton cloth to blot and wipe the entire area. A white cloth will make it easier to check how much dirt you’ve removed from your seats and cushions. Repeat this process on each panel of your front and rear upholstery, switching to a clean cloth as needed. 

Once you’ve done a general cleaning, you’ll have a much simpler time identifying stubborn stains that require a bit more cleaning power. Now you can use POWER OUT! Upholstery Cleaner to clean any upholstery panels with heavier soils.  

Be sure not to spot clean stains; this can create a noticeable ring effect in the cloth upholstery. Instead, use the stain remover on the entire panel to create a clean, factory-fresh finish. Once your upholstery is dry, use a portable vacuum to remove any excess liquid-to-powder surfactants left behind by the cleaner. 

tw interior products

Don’t forget the stitching

A lot of dirt and dust settles into the thicker material of your car upholstery stitching, so be sure to spend some time cleaning these areas as well. One of the easiest ways to do this is to spray your upholstery stitching with an interior detailer after a light-duty cleaning and use a soft interior detailing brush to gently agitate before wiping clean with a fresh microfiber cloth. This extra step can make a huge difference in the overall look of your car upholstery. 

interior cleaning

Do it often

Many people wait to clean their car upholstery until it really starts to show signs of wear and tear. At that point, your upholstery is going to cost a lot more money—and time—to restore. You may even have to take a trip to the detail shop to get your car looking like new again.  

That’s why it’s important to maintain your seats and upholstery by cleaning it at least once every 3-4 months to keep it looking factory fresh.  

One quick trick to see if your upholstery needs a good cleaning is to compare your front seats to the rear, especially if you're a solo driver. The back seats will get dirty far less quickly than the driver’s or passenger’s seat, so if your front seats are starting to look stained or discoloured in comparison, then it’s time to reach for your automotive upholstery cleaner. 

And, if you have leather seats, we recommend cleaning and conditioning it even more often—at least once every month. Leather surfaces are prone to cracking and fading in the sun, and dirt buildup can accelerate the process. Luckily, a good-quality leather cleaner and conditioner, like Hybrid Solutions Leather Mist, contains powerful UV inhibitors that protect your leather upholstery from the sun’s harsh rays.  

The moral of the story? Take the initiative. Cleaning your car upholstery makes for a more pleasant driving experience, and it can help to maintain the resale value of your vehicle. All you need is a few automotive cleaners and these simple tips, and your car upholstery will look good as new in no time! 

classic car


Subscribe for your newsletter and the rewards will be in your inbox before you even get there


News, events and insights from Turtle Wax® worldwide


Exclusive offers and discounts on Turtle Wax® products


Regular treats and surprises for all subscribers

Thanks! You should receive a confirmation email shortly.