Written by Lisa Truesdale. Reviewed by cleaning expert Sean Busch.
The interior of your vehicle can almost seem like a time capsule of your life -- the coffee spills from your stop-and-go commute, the Gatorade splotches from the soccer carpool, the bits of sand from your day at the beach, the sweaty-sock smell from leaving your gym bag in the back seat for too long.
But stains left untreated can turn into stains that will be harder to remove, so it’s best to clean them up as soon as they happen. Plus, who wants to drive around trapped inside a stained or stinky car?
Below, our Puracy cleaning experts share their most effective steps for removing all types of stains from your car’s upholstery. Before you get started, though, here’s the very best advice we can offer for stains: Tackle them as soon as possible, or they’ll just get worse as new dirt is ground into them. And if the spilled substance has an odor (like vomit or urine), the awful smell is going to get worse the longer you wait.
We recommend Puracy Natural Stain Remover. This naturally derived, hypoallergenic, non-toxic, biodegradable stain remover works great on cloth/fabric car seats -- as well as on any washable fabrics that might become stained. We’re proud to say it’s the only natural stain remover on the market that’s made with all 6 plant-based enzymes; the closest competitor only uses 3. Each of the 6 enzymes helps eliminate a different type of stain:
For most stains on car seats we strongly advise using a shop vac with water or a carpet extractor to fully remove and eliminate the stain. We recommend the Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe, which comes with a car attachment. The Bissell Portable Carpet Cleaner or a full-sized Bissell Professional Carpet Cleaner are also both great options. Use the car attachment for each device and make sure to carefully follow the manufacturer’s guidelines to avoid damaging your seats.
If you don’t have easy access to a carpet cleaning machine, then here’s a general method for removing stains from cloth/fabric car seats by hand:
Step #1: Vacuum as much loose dust and debris as possible from around the stain on the car seat. Use your vacuum cleaner’s hose attachment (with the upholstery tool attachment, if it has one) or a hand-held vacuum. If you have a crevice tool, use that to get way down into the crevices of the car seat, such as along the seams and between gaps.
Step #2: If the stain is fresh, use a clean Edgeless Microfiber Towel to blot the wet area. Continue blotting until your cloth isn’t picking up any liquid.
Step #3: Spray the affected areas liberally with Puracy Natural Stain Remover. Although our stain remover has been carefully tested and formulated to be color-safe, before you use any type of cleaner on your car seats, make sure you test it in an inconspicuous area first.
Step #4: For tough stains that look like they’re not going to budge as easily, massage the affected area with a soft-bristled brush. Don’t rub too hard or you could damage the fabric’s fibers.
Step #5: Let sit for at least 15 minutes, and preferably a few hours, to allow the plant-based enzymes to really work. The longer you leave an enzyme-powered stain remover on a stain, the better it will work.
Step #6: Fill a bowl with plain warm water. Saturate a clean microfiber towel in the water and gently wring it out. Press the damp cloth into the stain and move back and forth with mild pressure to pull the stain remover from the surface. Rinse the cloth in the plain water, wring it out, and repeat as many times as necessary until you’ve “rinsed “ all of the stain remover from the surface.
Step #7: Let the damp spots dry naturally, preferably by parking in the sun. Leave your windows cracked open to allow moisture to escape from the car. If you’re in a hurry because you need to drive the vehicle immediately, then you can help the drying process along by using a blowdryer or placing a clean lightly-colored towel down. (Note: If the stain is from urine, or if the stain is not completely gone, then do NOT dry the seat with a blowdryer; direct heat could cause the stain to become even more stubborn.)
If you spilled coffee on your car seat, then you probably already realized that it’s time to invest in a spill-proof travel mug. In the meantime, here’s how to get those ugly brown spots off your seats (this also works for dark-colored sodas and tea).
Step #1: If the coffee stain is fresh, then first blot it using a clean microfiber towel. Continue to blot the stain until your cloth no longer picks up any liquid.
Step #2: Pretreat the coffee stain by spraying it liberally with stain remover. We recommend Puracy Natural Stain Remover. It contains the plant-based enzyme mannanase, which works on food-based stains.
Step #3: For stubborn coffee spills or set-in stains that you should have cleaned days ago (shame on you!), massage the affected area with a soft-bristled brush to work the stain remover into the fibers.
Step #4: Let the stain remover sit on the surface for a few hours. This will give ample time for the plant-based enzymes to eat the stain off of your car seats.
Step #5: Use a shop vac with water or a carpet cleaning machine to fully remove and eliminate both the stain remover solution and your coffee stain from your car seats.
Step #6: Make sure the stain was fully eliminated. If not, then repeat steps 2 - 5 above. If the stain is gone, then dry the wet area with a hairdryer that’s turned to the lowest setting. Or crack open your car windows and let the area air dry naturally in the sun.
Even if you can’t treat a blood stain right away, it’s important to remove as much blood as quickly as you can. Blot the stained area as soon as possible (hopefully while it’s still wet) using a clean microfiber towel. Next, follow these steps...
Step #1: Spray Puracy Natural Stain Remover directly onto the stained area. If the stain is large, start at the edges of the stain and gradually move towards the center of the stain, to keep it from spreading. Let it sit overnight so the enzymes can get to work breaking down the stain. The longer it sits, the better it will work.
Step #2: Do not attempt to clean blood stains from your car seats by hand. When it comes to blood stains, you need to get the seat wet by applying warm water with a wet cloth. Do not oversaturate your car seat, as you don’t want to damage the electronics and other components that might lie underneath it. Next, extract the stain using a shop vac or a carpet extractor. Either will do, and both will be far superior than using a wet towel by hand.
Step #3: Using a clean, dry microfiber towel, dry the area by gently pressing the cloth into the previously stained area.
Expert Tip: Puracy Natural Stain Remover works on old, set-in blood stains too. For better results on older blood stains, spray them liberally with stain remover, then agitate the affected area with a soft-bristled brush. This will work the stain remover deeper into the stain, improving your results.
Vomit stains on car seats are particularly challenging, because the acids in vomit can permanently damage the fibers in the fabric. You’ll want to treat vomit stains as quickly as possible, and you’ll be motivated to do so because of the unpleasant smell. Grab your Puracy Natural Stain Remover and an Edgeless Microfiber Towel, then try this:
Step #1: Wearing rubber, silicone, or nitrile gloves, scrape any solid particles off the car seat. You can use two small pieces of firm cardboard, two thin pieces of rigid plastic, a small dustpan, etc.
Step #2: Spray the stain liberally with stain remover. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes or as long as overnight, because the powerful enzymes need time to work.
Step #3: Do not attempt to clean vomit stains by hand. Instead, use a carpet cleaning machine like the Hoover Power Scrub Deluxe and carefully follow all instructions to extract the stain from your vehicle. For extra cleaning power, pair it with Puracy Natural Carpet & Upholstery Shampoo to remove stains from your car seats the natural way.
Step #4: If any odor remains, this means you didn’t remove all of the stain from your car seats. Repeat steps 2 - 3 above. As a final (and optional) odor-busting step, wait until the surface is dry, then sprinkle the affected area liberally with baking soda. Let it sit for at least 2-3 hours, then vacuum it up with a wet/dry vac.
The oils and grease that might get on your cloth/fabric car seats are similar to those in your kitchen, so try Puracy Natural Stain Remover, which contains the grease- and sweat-busting enzyme lipase. For stains on car seats, our first preference is to always use a shop vac or a carpet cleaning machine if you have one. If you don’t, then try the following steps to eliminate oil and grease stains by hand:
Step #1: With the hose attachment on your vacuum cleaner (or a small hand-held vacuum), try to remove any loose dust and debris. Use your vacuum’s upholstery tool attachment, if it has one. The crevice tool is perfect for getting down into the small crevices (along the seams and between the seat and the back of the car seat).
Step #2: Saturate the stain liberally with stain remover. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes so that the stain-busting enzymes can get deep down in there and do their work. Let it sit for several hours if possible; the results will be better the longer you’re able to wait.
Step #3: Fill a bowl or bucket with plain warm water. Saturate a clean microfiber towel in the water and then wring it out gently. Press the cloth into the stain, using light pressure as you move back and forth. This will help pull the stain remover from the surface. Rinse the cloth and wring it out as necessary, repeating until all of the formula is removed from the surface.
Step #4: Using another clean (dry) microfiber cloth, blot the area again until dry or mostly dry. If it’s still slightly damp, let it air-dry completely before sitting on the car seat where the spot was. Crack open your car windows to release moisture and park your car in the sun to speed up the drying process.
Don’t be too nervous if your car has leather seats instead of fabric ones. Most modern leather, especially in cars, has a thin protective coating that makes cleaning it easier than you think.
To remove stains from coated leather, all you need is Puracy Natural Multi-Surface Cleaner and a clean Edgeless Microfiber Towel. Spritz one trigger spray of cleaner onto your cloth, then gently rub the stain using circular motions. It might require a bit of “elbow grease,” but don’t be too rough. If the stain is particularly stubborn, then you might need a few extra sprays of cleaner.
Consistent routine maintenance is the best way to keep your car looking (and smelling) like new. Here are some other tips for maintaining your car’s interior:
With these handy (and effective) stain-removal tips, stubborn stains on your car seats will soon be a distant memory in the “time capsule” that is your family’s vehicle. But just in case, you should keep some clean microfiber towels on hand in the glove box. They can be used for spills, wiping haze off the windshield, and even wiping your sunglasses or your car’s navigation screen.