How to Steam Clean Car Seats

You don’t need to be a detailing expert to benefit from steam-fresh car seats.

Many of us pass over the inside of our vehicles with a vacuum now and again. On the other hand, when was the last time you thoroughly cleaned your car seats?

The wear and tear of everyday use can be hard on your upholstery. Think of all the daily commutes to work and school, trips with your furry family members, and more.

Now we all agree that 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.

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.

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 out of one or more of the following steam-friendly materials:

  • Nylon: This fabric consists of fibers manufactured from synthetic plastics. It’s generally resistant to heat, stains, and age-related wear (1).
  • Polyester: These fabrics can be manufactured to be water-resistant and UV-resistant. As with nylon, polyester is typically durable (2).
  • Vinyl: Vinyl is the nickname for polyvinyl chloride (PVC). This flame-resistant plastic is found in automotive parts as well as upholstery (3).

As for leather, it’s either going to 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 real leather (4).
  • 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 (5).

How to Steam Clean Car Seats

Certain readers 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.

1. Rent or Buy a Suitable Steam Cleaner

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

If you want to buy one exclusively for your vehicle, bear in mind the following criteria:

  • Tank capacity: Do you have a large van, truck or SUV? You may want a larger tank capacity, so you don’t have to refill every 10 minutes.
  • Necessary attachments: A fabric steaming accessory or attachment is a must for car seats. You want to go over your upholstery evenly. Nozzles, which blast steam in concentrated streams, aren’t suited to this type of work. You may also want a brush head attachment handy for scrubbing.

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

Condensation is an inevitable product of steam — it is vaporized water, after all. The hotter the steam, the less condensate will be produced.

Regardless of the heat of your steam, your vehicle’s seats will likely be at least slightly 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 (6). Users who don’t have access to a garage should plan to work early in the morning on a sunny day.

3. Vacuum Meticulously

Take the opportunity to get rid of trash and unnecessary junk in 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 end up 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. That way, you’ll increase your chances of successful removal. Find an appropriate product for your material and apply it as directed.

5. Ready Your Steam Cleaner

Now that your car is trash-free, you can prepare your steam cleaner. Fill up the tank and 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: Don’t suffer the discomfort of kneeling on damp fabric. Begin steaming the top of your seats first, working your way down.
  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 (7).
  3. Move slowly in straight lines: Drag your fabric steamer over the seats evenly in smooth lines rather than random motions.
  4. Scrub stains out gently: If you come across residual stains, change attachments and use your soft-bristled brush to tackle it. 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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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 (8).

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

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About the Author

Amy Anthony

Amy is a stay-at-home-mom, seasoned writer, and a home cleaning and organization aficionado. Amy enjoys having an absolutely spotless home and has worked hard to develop strategies to keep it that way, despite having 2 kids and 3 dogs!