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How to Steam Clean Car Seats: 8 Quick Steps

You don’t need to be a detailing expert to try this hack.

Vacuuming from time to time doesn’t always cut it for car cleaning. Experimenting with different products and tactics on your car interior is unwise. Not only can you cause unsightly damage, but it can also decrease the car’s resale value.

Steam-cleaning your car seats can remove stains and sanitize your car, which is great if someone has recently been car sick.

Our how-to guide will give you the lowdown on how to steam clean your car seats. You’ll learn how to protect your seats from harm and techniques to get the job done right.

Key Takeaways

  • Steam clean car seats to remove stains and sanitize, but be cautious with leather seats as excessive moisture can cause damage.
  • Use a fabric steam cleaner with a soft-bristle brush attachment and vacuum the seats thoroughly before starting.
  • Work from the top of the seat to the bottom, moving slowly in straight lines, and avoid steaming metal parts to prevent rusting.
  • Allow the vehicle interior to dry for three to five hours, and condition leather or faux leather seats for a glossy finish.

Can You Steam Clean Car Seats?

You can, but it’s important to know what material you’re cleaning. Almost all cloth car seats are made of one or more steam-friendly materials: nylon, polyester, or vinyl.

As for leather, it will either be the genuine article or fake (faux). There’s a significant difference between the two. So, double-check your owner’s manual if you aren’t sure:

  • Faux leather: Unsurprisingly, faux leather is typically made from PVC or another plastic, polyurethane. It’s more resilient than genuine leather (1).
  • Leather: This is the costliest material on the list, and the one most people are afraid to mess with. You can steam leather car seats, but don’t do it too frequently. Excess moisture and heat can shrink leather over time (2).

How to Steam Clean Car Seats

Some folk may already be comfortable using these gadgets. If this will be your first time, don’t worry — we’ll be beside you each step of the way.

  • Time: 1 hour (plus drying time)
  • Difficulty: Intermediate

What You’ll Need

  • Fabric steam cleaner with soft-bristle brush attachment
  • Vacuum
  • Stain remover
  • Cloths
  • Fan (optional)
  • Leather conditioner (optional)

1. Rent or Buy a Suitable Steam Cleaner

Steam cleaners come in all shapes and sizes. Those who already own one should ensure they have a fabric steamer and soft-bristle brush attachment.

If you want to buy one exclusively for your vehicle, remember that it helps to go for one with a larger tank capacity, so you don’t have to refill it every 10 minutes.

Some of you may not be eager to commit to a purchase. In that case, you can rent a steam cleaner from Home Depot or check for other rental suppliers near you.

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2. Check the Weather or Prepare Your Garage

Your vehicle’s seats will be damp when you’re done. So you’ll need to give the upholstery time to dry out.

You don’t want to risk mold spores taking hold in your car’s interior (3). Users who don’t have access to a garage should plan to work early in the morning on a sunny day.

3. Vacuum Meticulously

Remove trash and items from your car. Vacuum the seats as thoroughly as you can.

Push the vacuum head into all the nooks and crannies. You don’t want to accidentally steam-melting a forgotten piece of candy into the material. While you’re at it, you can vacuum the surrounding areas too.

4. Pre-Treat Stubborn Stains

If you have nasty stains (e.g., spilled coffee), you may have to pre-treat them to increase your chances of successful removal. Find an appropriate product for your material and apply it as directed.

5. Ready Your Steam Cleaner

Fill up the steam cleaner tank, switch it on according to the manufacturer’s instructions and wait for it to get ready. Depending on the model, this may take 30 seconds or several minutes.

Have your soft-bristle brush and fabric steamer attachment close by. If the latter came with a protective cloth, put it on.

Soft Brushes Only

Don’t use metallic or rigid brush heads on your car seats. You could pull out fabric or otherwise scratch up the material.

6. Start Steaming Your Car Seats

You’ll find manipulating your steam cleaner similar to handling a vacuum. Choose whether you’re going to start in the back or front, and begin:

  1. Top to bottom: Begin steaming the top of your seats first, working your way down, so you don’t end up kneeling on damp fabric.
  2. Avoid steaming metal parts: Try not to saturate zippers or other metal components in or around your seats with steam. They can turn rusty, especially if you steam clean regularly (4).
  3. Move slowly in straight lines: Drag your fabric steamer over the seats evenly in smooth lines rather than in random motions.
  4. Scrub stains out gently: If you come across residual stains, change attachments and use your soft-bristled brush to tackle them. Don’t apply too much pressure or focus on one spot indefinitely.
  5. Wipe seats: Run a clean microfiber cloth over the areas you’ve steamed to remove any excess moisture.

Watch Out For Real Leather

Work swiftly with your steam cleaner, and don’t hover in any one area too long. Remember that excess heat and moisture can result in damage.
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7. Let Vehicle Interior Dry

Your seats should be dry within three to five hours. Keep the windows open or park in a sunny spot to speed up the process. You can also use a fan if you’re in a rush.

8. Finishing Touches

Condition your leather or faux leather to give it a glossy luster. Spray an upholstery-compatible freshener in your interior for that new-car smell.

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Does Steam Cleaning Car Seats Remove Stains?

Steam cleaning car seats does remove stains, especially the ones that are hard to shift. However, it depends on the car seat material. Polyester, nylon, and vinyl are all steam cleaner-friendly.

Real leather is the trickiest to manage because too much moisture can cause the material to shrink.

What is the Best Way to Clean Leather Car Seats?

The best way to clean leather car seats is to use the blotting method. Press down on the stain and lift it away rather than rubbing it. If you rub the stain, you risk grinding the dirt into the leather grain and causing a permanent blemish.

Can You Use a Steam Cleaner on Car Dashboard?

You can use a steam cleaner on a car dashboard. Car dashboards accumulate grease, dirt, and dust, so using a steam cleaner enables you to get into the tight spots where dirt collects, like cup holders and air vents.

Can You Use Carpet Cleaner on Car Seats?

You can use carpet cleaner on your car seats. Always check the instructions on the label before applying the carpet cleaner, and allow the chair to dry before using the car.

Enjoy Steam Detailing

Steam cleaning your car seats every so often is worth your while. Steam is excellent for sterilizing surfaces to protect yourself and your family from germs (5).

It’s also less harmful and effort-intensive than scrubbing your upholstery with a sponge. Plus, steam cleaners can be fun to use. You might find yourself looking forward to a task you previously dreaded.

Remember always to exercise caution with leather seats. Avoid steaming them too frequently, don’t use harsh attachments, and keep treatment brief.

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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy Anthony is a cleaning expert, author, and contributing writer for Oh So Spotless, a leading online resource for all things related to cleaning, organizing, and maintaining a spotless home. With over 15 years of experience in the cleaning industry, Amy has gained extensive knowledge and expertise that have made her a trusted authority on best practices, efficient techniques, and innovative cleaning solutions.