How to Clean Auto Upholstery

door of a dirty red auto with WASH ME written in the dirt

Coffee on the car seats. Dog slobber on the dashboard. "Uh…?" on the upholstery. No, this isn't an A to Z mystery series. This is life when you're on the go. It doesn't matter if you're a soccer dad or a CEO, a student or a retiree. Accidents happen, and they especially happen when we're in a rush, scrambling to be on time or trying to avoid traffic. So, if you've ever wondered how to clean auto upholstery, you've come to the right place.

How to Clean Auto Upholstery Yourself

Do-it-yourself is usually a first resort. Things aren't so bad you need to call the professionals yet (*straightens bowtie*). If this is the case, there's a couple of approaches that you can take to clean auto upholstery. To be safe, check your manual to see if the vehicle's manufacturer has any guidelines on cleaning. Once you've verified that, roll up your sleeves and rev your metaphorical engine. The time has come to clean.

Before you get to the good stuff, consider that important bit of wisdom that humans are notorious for ignoring (second only to "Read Agreement Before Signing"). Be sure to test any cleaning product on a small swathe of fabric. If nothing bleaches, frays or starts growing limbs, you're good to go!

How to Clean Auto Upholstery: Fabric

Round up a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment, a bucket of water, a sponge, dry towels and your favorite laundry detergent or all-purpose upholstery cleaner. Empty your car of clutter and large debris. Then, apply the vacuum to pick up any smaller pieces and lift as much soil as possible from the fabric. Mix a little bit of detergent in with your water, and use the sponge to apply it to the seats without overwetting.

We'd never recommend scrubbing your carpet, but you can be a little rougher to clean auto upholstery. You can use an interior brush to scrub problem areas, and a detail brush to get the hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. Use a towel to lift the dirt and detergent from your seats. When it comes up clean (neither dirty nor sudsy), you're done! It's as easy as that. The issue you may run into is the same issue with carpet, however; detergent tends to stay behind as a residue. This can actually contribute to the rate at which a fabric "re-soils" by giving particles something to cling to.

One of the best ways to minimize this is simply to be proactive. Wipe up spills while they are wet and before the sink into the fabric. This might mean keeping wipes and towels handy in the glove box of your car. But, if the damage is done, the next best way to minimize residue is to only address areas with visible stains. Applying detergent all over the fabric increases the likelihood that detergent will remain behind in your seats.

How to Clean Auto Upholstery: Leather

Whether the leather is real or imitation, this surface needs to be treated with the utmost sensitivity. It's best to stick to gentle vacuuming and basic maintenance. Any deeper cleaning out to be left to professional services. With that being said, the most important service you can do for leather seats is regular maintenance. Using a one-step cleaner, give your seats the occasional wipe-down, preferably with an ultra-soft microfiber towel.

Occasionally, follow this up with a leather conditioner. Leather conditioners help upholstery retain natural oils, and that is important to the lifespan of your interior's upholstery. Avoid products that include petroleum or silicone, which leave a greasy sheen that is then transferred to clothing. The best leather products are simple, water based and pH balanced.

When it comes to leather auto upholstery, creativity is discouraged. Don't try any wacky DIY formulas like baking soda and vinegar (yikes). These are bound to strip the leather of its natural oils, leaving it cracked and dry, old before its time. Nail polish is another commonly recommended fix for scuffs and ink, but applying this to your upholstery can actually take the color out of the leather and leave you with an unfixable stain.

Ask Zerorez to Clean Auto Upholstery for You

Studies conducted by NSF International revealed the plethora of bacteria that cultivates on the areas we most come into contact with. That is to say, car handles, your steering wheel and the car's upholstery.

Fortunately, Zerorez is an expert bacteria slayer. Armed with Zr Water, professional grade equipment and high-tech extractors, our gallant technicians will leave your car's upholstery with an unparalleled clean. Sanitation that's fit for royalty. Grime and dirt shall be banishèd. Careful application decrees thine upholstery shan't be overwet. It probably won't feel as epic as it sounds, but your car will be clean as new anyway. If you're interested in learning more, please visit us at or give us a ring at (949) 387-2222.


Book a Cleaning with Zerorez Today!