How to Clean Car Upholstery

By Charles Hopkins Published 07/6/2006 | Auto and Trucks

We do a lot of living in our cars. No longer just a mode of transportation, our cars sometimes serve as a rolling breakfast nook, lunch counter and dinner table. In between meals, we may have an open can of soda or two. Sometimes, an ice cream cone while happily rolling down the street is in order. Along with munching down, people also have been known to apply makeup, toss soiled gym clothes in the back seat, transport plants and step into the car wearing muddy sneakers.

All these situations result in upholstery that needs to be cleaned. However, before you grab a cloth and some household cleanser and head for the car, take a moment and read a few tips about cleaning your car's upholstery. 

Of course, the first consideration you should make is to understand that not all cleaning agents are right for all types of upholstery. What works fine with leather may not do the trick with vinyl and vice versa. Fabric upholstery is another thing altogether. Once you understand what type of material is involved, determining the right cleaners is relatively easy.

There are a few things you can do that pretty much work with any type of upholstery. As an example, if you have somehow managed to get a lipstick stain on your upholstery, you can usually remove that from any surface with the use of plain white toothpaste. Gently rub in a small amount of the paste into the stain and then wipe with a clean damp cloth. If there is still any residue of the lipstick, then repeat the process.

Stains from food condiments such as ketchup or mustard can be removed by a solution made by mixing a teaspoon of dish washing liquid with a quart of water. Make sure the mixture is thoroughly blended and use in a spray bottle. Spray the area, then blot with a clean dry cloth.  Repeat as necessary.

Stains from dairy products such as ice cream can also be removed with the same mixture. After spraying the area, let it set for a minute and then blot the area. If the stain has already dried, be prepared to repeat the process several times.

Juice and cola stains will most likely have sunk into your upholstery, especially if you have fabric. A mixture of a half-teaspoon of vinegar in a cup of water may lift the stain, if it has not set for too long.  As with other types of stains you will need to apply and then blot. If the stain will not come out, you will need to head to your local auto supply store and purchase an upholstery cleaner that is formulated for your type of upholstery.

Mold and mildew sometime come into our lives and our cars. This may be due to leaving our sweaty socks in the back seat over night too many times or tossing a wet jacket onto the seat and leaving it there. To help bring back the fresh scent and cleanse the upholstery, consider investing in a citrus-based cleaner from the auto supply store. Give the cleanser several minutes to soak into the mildew and then blot it clean. Continue to blot until the area feels dry to the touch. 

Enjoy your car to the fullest, and keep right on enjoying that morning coffee and that afternoon ice cream cone. Just remember that clean upholstery not only is more pleasing to the eye, it also wears better and will be a big plus should you decide to sell the vehicle.