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Cleaning Your Car Seats: At Some Point, It’s an Effort We All Must Make

I have a Toyota Prius with cloth seats. Big mistake. Having two teenage boys, I should have bought a Prius with leather seats which are much easier to clean. My big issue now is that the arm rest between the driver and passenger seat is grungy and dirty. I’d love to be able to replace the material but it’s an option that doesn’t seem to exist at relatively low cost. Therefore, it’s time for a little elbow grease, a little cleaning solvent, and a little time. Submitted for your approval, here’s how you clean a car’s interior whether your a private owner or used car dealer.

Material Types

Cars come with three basic material types; leather, vinyl, and cloth upholstery, each requires a different approach to cleaning. Leather is by far the easiest to clean, especially black leather which rarely shows it’s dirty side. However, beige and lighter colored leathers can be a pain in the backend to keep clean.


Over time, and especially if you have kids, lighter colored leathers can become dingy and dirty. Dirt collects in folds and crevices, and clothing dye wears off and is easy to see, especially on white leather. Fortunately, there are a number of leather cleaning products on the market that clean leather in a jiffy.

Spray or apply the cleaning material onto the leather and work it in accordingly. Make sure to use a number of towels and use as clean a surface as possible else you’ll simply smear the dirt and grime across the seat. Make sure to flip and fold the towel to accommodate the technique. There are a number of cleaners and leather treatments available. Make sure to avoid using leather cleaners that have alcohol like Armor All.

Once the cleaner dries you’ll want to use a leather conditioner like “Leather Honey” which can be researched and purchased at Leather Honey. The sheen and smell of your vehicle will be restored in a two-hour period at a very low cost.


Try Formula 44, Simple Green, or soap and water. Vinyl is very easy to clean. Spray, count to 20 and wipe dry. Use a clean cloth, rag or paper towel and you’re good to go. Pen and markers are hard to get out, if not impossible with standard cleaners. I suggest WD-40 or nail polish remover...the ink will come off immediately without damaging the vinyl.


Cloth seats are an absolute pain the backseat. They carry odors and smudge easily, and smudges are very difficult to get out, especially ones ground in by elbows or arms doors or arm rests. Food stains are a real headache as well, but you can get most of these out...but not all by a long shot.

I strongly suggest you simply buy Scotchgard stain remover (Scotchgard Auto Fabric and Carpet protector) and use the nuclear option from the get go. Do not expect to get all of the stains out, especially if they’ve aged into the material. If any odors are present, baking soda is a fantastic way to eliminate stink as it is heartburn or nausea (bet you didn’t know that).

If you use liquids in too much quantity you soak the material and instead of cleaning it you spread the stain out in a circle. Drying might be an issue as well and liquid can reactivate the odor that stain may have delivered when it first appeared. Gently dab an area to see how effective the cleanser is before you go too wild and make more of a mess.

I once bought a Hyundai from a former smoker and had to saturate the entire interior with baking soda 3 times before I could get the cigarette odor to an acceptable level. Hot and wet days would create the perfect conditions to lift odors into the air and stink up the car. Repeated treatments of baking soda were needed to finally eliminate those remnant smells.

As a used car dealer, best practices require you to do what’s necessary to present the best possible product to the public. Do not take seat cleanliness lightly by any means. For just a few dollars of cleaner, and a little elbow grease, the perceived value of your vehicle can increase substantially. As a car or truck owner, driving a clean vehicle, free of odor and stains can improve people’s perception of you as well.