Car Upholstery Cleaning – DIY With Cheap and Simple Home Remedies

Last updated Sep 26, 2021 | Cleaning | 21 comments

How To Clean Car Upholstery

Common concerns when cleaning car upholstery

A common misconception when cleaning any kind of upholstery is that the more water used, the better the result. This could not be further from the truth as more water doesn’t necessarily mean more effective stain removal. Moisture is extremely bad for the fabric and can damage the fabric as well as leave the interior of the car with a dump or musty smell. Another point to note is to avoid getting water on any metal portion of the seat such as zippers. This can lead to rust, and more stains to deal with in the future. With these two important points in mind, below is how to use home remedies to clean your car upholstery.

Removing smells from car interior

It is common for car upholstery to absorb stains and odors over time. Before starting any kind of cleaning on the car seats, the first step is to deal with the smell. Removing smells from car interior can be done in 5 easy steps:

STEP 1: Fill two bowls with white vinegar.

STEP 2: Place one bowl on the dashboard of the car and the other on the back seat the night before cleaning.

STEP 3: Close all the windows and doors and leave the bowls over-night. The white vinegar should effectively absorb all the odors from the car.

STEP 4: Remove the bowls of vinegar in the morning and leave the car doors and windows open for as long as it takes for the smell of vinegar to completely disappear.

STEP 5 (optional): The last step is to vacuum clean your car upholstery thoroughly and take stock of the stains that need to be dealt with as the car is airing out.

Getting rid of stains on car upholstery

Before starting the stain removal process, you’ll need to prepare the following two homemade cleaning solutions:

For the first part of the cleaning you’ll need:

  • ¼ cup of baking soda
  • 1 cup of warm water

Mix together the baking soda and water and you’re ready for the second part.

For the second part of the cleaning process you’ll need:

  • Warm water
  • A few squirts of dish detergent and a
  • ¼ cup of vinegar in
  • A spray bottle

Mix the warm water, the few squirts of dish detergent and the ¼ cup of vinegar in a spray bottle. Shake the mixture well and leave for 5 minutes to set. And now we’re ready to start cleaning the car upholstery:

STEP 1: Use a toothbrush to gently apply the baking soda and water solution to any stains that you might have on the upholstery and leave the solution for 30 minutes to penetrate the stains (This is, by the way, a great cleaning procedure for stubborn stains including ketchup and coffee stains among others)

STEP 2: After the half hour, use a clean dry towel to blot the stains with the baking soda and water. Be careful to absorb as much liquid as possible before commencing the next step in the car upholstery cleaning process.

STEP 3: Use the detergent, water and vinegar mixture to spray the upholstery starting with the front seats and working your way to the back.

STEP 4: After spraying the seats, use a stiff-bristled brush to gently work in the solution.

STEP 5: Leave the mixture to sit for 15 minutes on the seats, and then use dry towels to absorb excess moisture.

STEP 6: The last step is to air out the car to get rid of any smells. You may want to leave all the car doors and windows open for the rest of the day or until all the cleaning smell is gone.

Other alternative car upholstery cleaning solutions

Baby wipes: These work surprisingly well when cleaning car upholstery. You don’t necessarily need soap and water to clean your car seats. Baby wipes are a great alternative and should get most stains out. They don’t contain abrasive chemicals, which is especially great for the environment and safe for people with small children and adults with sensitive skin or allergies.

Dry cleaning cloths: Dry cleaning cloths such as Dryel are also great for cleaning car upholstery. They are easily accessible and are effective car upholstery cleaners. An additional bonus for using Dryel or other brands of dry cleaning cloths is that they leave the car smelling great.

Club Soda: Club soda is also another great stain remover worth considering. This works especially well for vomit stains on car upholstery. Club soda is cheap and easily accessible and offers a thorough cleaning job at a fraction of the price. A mixture of baking soda and water also works great as an alternative for cleaning car upholstery and getting rid of stubborn stains.

Clear ammonia: A mixture of clear ammonia and water can be used to brighten the color of the carpets. Over time, the color of the carpets may begin to fade. This mixture can help restore the color, and have the car carpets looking great even after many years of service. If you enjoyed our car upholstery cleaning guide, don’t forget to share it 🙂


  1. Hey! this not nearly as complicated as I thought. I never new a little warm water and baking soda (and some other things of course) for the most part can help big time on stain removal on my car seats. This will definitely cut back on costs for detailing my car every so often. Thanks for the really useful Article!

    • My daughter spilt her blue drink all over my dad’s back seat and it’s light tan it was there for two weeks before I noticed it with this method of cleaning it is totally gone my dad never even knew that it was ever there this stuff is amazing

  2. at first it didnt until i got rough with the tooth brush. Worked for me

  3. Is it ok to use this on black fabric upholstery in the car? Is there any possibility that it could bleach the fabric?

  4. Is this a process that is good to use when the upholstery is especially nasty after a long summer of swimming, semi wet seats from semi dried suits, and no A/C? My upholstery has never been so overall stinky and stained and just plain dingy. Is there a better process to use for a really dirty car? I feel toothbrushes and vinegar may not be quite enough.

  5. This didn’t work for me at all…left a bigger stain actually, and I followed the guide to a T. Used my stopwatch and everything to make sure I was perfect with the timing.

  6. Are you meant to spray your whole seat or just where u have used the baking soda ?

  7. I just tried it. I didn’t use a toothbrush, just a cloth. I kept rinsing the cloth as it collected to much dirt, but the result was satisfying. I have four kids and a light grey interior. It looks new. Thank you.

  8. I just use this method in hoping the stains come off . Not sure but I still see them some of them but I will say when u are taking solution out get the whole seat wipe or it will leave water mark stain just a though .

    • Yes I did have water marks on the seat where it is most dirty and not have stains, there are no water marks on the backrest so I assume water ,marks happens because simply the seat was saturated with dust.
      This solution worked, and I wiped out the water marks easily with cloth saturated with vinegar solution that has been soaked with citrus peel for weeks, in my case orange peels, so my car smells orangy.

  9. I love this so much. It worked so well. It took me 2 times and a good 2 hrs but it was so worth it. I bought a used car with a huge coffee stain who knows how old. Worked like a charm. Very satisfied

  10. just did this on a light tan interior Hyundai. Worked like a dream, but the instructions should state that after the first step you should spray the entire seat with the dawn/vinegar mix not just the stained/dirty spots or you do a watermark. if i could figure out how to post the pictures i would, sorry!

    • Hi Danielle. Happy to know it worked well 🙂 Thanks a lot for your feedback, I’ll update the instructions asap. Btw, I would love to see the pictures and, if it’s okay with you, post them in the blogpost… If that’s cool with you, I would really appreciate if you would like to email the photos to me on: [email protected]

      Best regards and thanks in advance,

  11. I have crazy spots all over my car trying this. Help. White spots from the baking soda and watermarks from the vinegar and soap mix Do I need to spray the entire seat as some have suggested? I didn’t have a big problem before I started and now I have white spots in every place I tried this. Scary.

  12. This works great, tried removing stains with an expensive auto stain remover without success, now the seats on my 10 year old Saab look like new. Thank you so very much.

  13. I have grime or grease stain from a mechanic who touched my sun visor. Will this method work for that? Small area as you know and visor has cloth covering. Help

  14. I spilled paint latex in my cream light cream colored car seats fabric I was going to have it detailed would this be good to take out the paint

  15. I combined this with the shop vac method and it seems to have worked! (“Easiest way to ● Clean Cloth Car Seats for Zero Dollars !” by Chris Notap)

    I’m surprised.

  16. I have greasy footprint on my seat from the parking lot, what will take that out?

  17. The first thing to do, or possibly after setting the bowls of bleach in your car overnight, is to vacuum the upholstery. Then proceed with the stain remover, and the upholstery washing, and you’ll be less apt to have residue or watermarks.

  18. Your instructions in Step 2 give me the impression that you should use additional baking soda and water for the blotting process, which doesn’t make any sense. So I’m gonna try to blot without using more of the solution to blot with. If it doesn’t work I’ll have to start over, but I’d still like to know whether or not you are blotting out the previously applied solution with a dry towel or blotting “with” the baking soda and water solution”, which is what implies more solution is necessary.


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