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It’s amazing that there are some people who wouldn’t dream of living in a filthy house, yet are quite content to drive around in a car that should be declared a bio-hazard.
And when you think about it, the bits of a car that should be cleaned most frequently are what car designers call the touch-points.
These are the actual bits and pieces of the interior that you come into contact with when operating the car; the steering wheel, switches and stalks as well as things like the door handles and seat-belts. And, of course, the seats.
If you think a lounge or sofa has a hard life with people sitting on it for hours and kids and pets jumping all over it, spare a thought for the seats in your car.
Not only are you strapped into them sometimes for hours, the car’s movement forces you to move against the seats and the temperature inside a car in summer will easily overtake that of the room your lounge lives in. So, yeah, car seats take an awful hammering.
That means they get dirty. Dirt and grime gets ground into them and dust that settles on them is also eventually embedded into their surfaces.
And that’s before we get to a car that does double duty as a dining room and a back-seat that serves as a trampoline, an ice-cream receptacle and a petting zoo.
You can wash the outside of the car all you like, but it’s the interior that should get more attention.
Of course, this stuff is just part of modern life and reflects the way cars have become such a big part of our daily existence. But it also means that for a car to remain safe, hygienic and looking good, the seats are going to need a cleaning every now and then.
But what’s the low down on how to clean car seats, given carmakers can’t agree on what they should be made from? And what’s the best way to clean car seats?
After all, the tips on how to clean fabric car seats are very different to the best way to clean leather seats.
The first thing is to figure out what material your car’s seats are covered in. From there you can make a start.
That begins with making sure the seat is as clean as it can be before you start with the chemicals and water-based cleaners. Which means grabbing the vacuum cleaner and spending a few minutes shifting the loose dirt.
Make sure to get all the grit, grime and dust from all the pleats and stitched joins so you’re not simply shoving those nasties further into the material as you 'clean' it.
With that done, here’s car detailing industry’s view of how to proceed, based on different materials.
Probably the easiest to deal with since vinyl is hard-wearing and doesn’t tend to absorb stains and contaminants in the first place.
Usually, a quick wipe off with warm soapy water is enough to get rid of most nasties. You can use proprietary cleaning products designed for vinyl, but the homemade soapy water method is about as good as any of them.
The first thing to do is make sure what sort of cloth you’re dealing with.
Most cloth interiors will be a mixture of natural and synthetic fibres so get a cleaner or shampoo that works for that blend.
Cloth upholstery is also pretty tolerant of baking soda as a cleaning agent (most commercial cleaners use baking soda as an ingredient) but to be safe, test this on a part of the trim that’s normally hidden.
Leather is another car-seat covering that is hard-wearing and seems to resist stains well.
Again, warm soapy water will usually do the trick, but stains can be tackled with specific products aimed at this material.
The big trick in how to clean leather seats is to realise that leather is a living product, so it also needs to be 'fed' to keep it supple and looking good and preventing cracks appearing.
For this, you need the correct cleaning products, followed by a specific leather conditioning product which is wiped on and allowed to penetrate the surface of the leather.
This is a tricky one, especially since velour trim was popular in the 1980s and '90s, so it’s already old. But velour can also be delicate, so you really need to know what you’re doing.
Start by looking for a tag stitched onto the seat somewhere out of sight (check under the lower edge of the seat) which will give you a code.
W is for water cleaning only, S means you can use a solvent, WS means a combination of water and solvent is fine and X means the cloth should only be vacuumed. Of course, not all cars have this info, but it’s worth checking for.
Beyond that, cleaning velour involves warm water and a specific soap (with no added colouration) which are mixed but not to the point where they form suds.
That water is than applied to the seat with a muslin cloth (muslin won’t hold heaps of water) wrung out till damp and the velour then left to dry naturally.
This stuff seems to have an ability to attract grime. Check out a car with an Alcantara steering wheel or gear knob and chances are it’ll be pretty disgusting. So there are tips to follow.
The first thing to do is to vacuum away anything loose before using a cleaner designed specifically for this material. That means nothing solvent-based as that can ruin the pile of the fabric.
The big trick here is to spot clean the worst of the grime first. That way, you won’t be spreading it to cleaner areas of the material.
You also need to use a micro-fibre cloth to apply the cleaner, but remember to keep turning the cloth to keep a clean surface doing the work.
Another fantastic material for a car’s interior, but another one that needs special care.
Specialist cleaning products are the go here, but if you want the DIY alternative, white vinegar diluted with water is also a very good way of cleaning suede. Again, test a small, inconspicuous part of the trim before committing.