A child's car seat is being cleaned.

Keeping your kid’s car seat clean is essential to keeping them comfortable and happy on long car rides and road trips. On top of their own comfort, car seats are no small purchase, and the wear they go through over time can affect their performance and longevity. A worn-down seat can be a safety concern, but by taking the time to clean your kid’s car seat, you can keep them in good condition. 

Our team has researched and compiled recommendations for properly cleaning your car seat. We’ve got the scoop on everything from everyday household products to DIY deep cleaning. This guide will help you clean the stubborn stains and reach the small crevices that naturally fill with crumbs and grime.

Car Seat Cleaning: A Step-By-Step Guide

A child's car seat is being cleaned.

Cleaning your kid’s car seat doesn’t have to be a time-consuming or overwhelming task. The most important thing is knowing where to start and which cleaning products get the most effective results.

Read The Manufacturer’s Manual

Before cleaning your car seat, it’s not a bad idea to have a good understanding of your car seat’s user manual. Every car seat is different, but many manuals actually highlight specific instructions on how to clean your car seat. It also confirms whether or not the car seat padding is machine-washable, which is good to know for ease of cleaning your kid’s car seat.

Vacuum Where Possible

Before washing the car seat, grab a vacuum cleaner, ideally an easily maneuverable car vacuum. You’ll want one with a crevice tool for better accessibility. Vacuum out any crumbs, getting into smaller spaces that crumbs or debris may fall into and go unnoticed. This will make the cleaning process easier and prep the fabric areas for washing.

Car Seat Washing Process

After vacuuming and determining what parts of your car seat are machine-washable, the car seat cleaning process can begin. Below, we’ve highlighted some areas of your car seat that may need special attention to ensure the best quality, longevity, and performance.

What Cleaning Solution Should I Use?

A bottle of upholstery cleaner sits on a table.

While products like baking soda, upholstery cleaners, and bleach are often readily available as cleaning solutions, these more abrasive cleaners can actually affect the upholstery of your car seat, causing deterioration and wear over time.

With this in mind, the easiest solution to cleaning your car seat is dish soap, warm water, and clean cloths. A simple combination of dish soap and water in a spray bottle can get most stains out of car seats. It’s best to use this cleaning solution when you first notice stains to prevent them from soaking into the fabric, which can make them harder to get out. 

Try to keep excess moisture or soap suds from getting into the crevices of the car seat to prevent mildew or mold. Be sure to let all parts of the car seat air dry before reinstalling it into your vehicle.

Harness Straps

Your car seat harness straps are fragile and one of the most important parts of any car seat. The harness holds your child firmly in place and, in the event of a crash, the fibers absorb force and prevent your child from coming out of the seat. Because of this safety factor, it’s vital to ensure that if they need a good washing, you follow the right process.

If you need to clean your harness straps, we recommend using the above procedure: a cleaning solution of warm water and baby-safe dish soap. Use a microfiber cloth as needed to gently dab at stains. Be sure to let the straps air dry before putting your child in their car seat for their own comfort and to ensure the straps won’t build up any mildew or grime while in an enclosed vehicle.

Car Seat Padding

The fabric car seat padding may or may not be machine-washable, which is why it’s important to check the user’s manual before washing the padding. If the padding is machine-washable, you can use any laundry detergent to tackle tough stains or simply give the car seat padding a refresh.

Tackling Stubborn Stains

If needed, small amounts of stain remover can be used to spot clean. However, the sooner you can clean up a mess with dish soap and clean water, the better it is for the car seat’s quality and longevity. If a stain remover is needed, use a microfiber towel to dab gently at the stain.

You will want to wait until the area dries before attempting to spot clean the area again depending on the result. If you are not seeing a difference after the area has dried, you can follow the same method using a soft bristle scrub brush to spot clean tough stains.

Our Research Process

Our team has tested over a dozen car seats, taking special note of the materials used for each car seat to ensure they’re easy to get tough stains out of without damaging the upholstery. We primarily searched for products of Amazon while choosing only the seats that comply with United States Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

During our testing process, we looked at adjustability, ease of use, and material quality to differentiate each car seat in our rankings. For the purpose of cleaning car seats, we want to specifically highlight our testing process and experience to determine material quality.

Quality Of Materials

Our team looked at the quality of materials across every car seat we tested to ensure your child’s car seat will be comfortable and easy for you to clean. Many car seats have machine-washable fabrics to easily clean up spills and stains. These car seats scored highest in this criterion.

For easy cleaning, be on the lookout for car seats with soft materials, extra padding, and high-quality stitchwork. These factors mean that your car seat’s upholstery will be of better quality, and therefore easier to clean without damaging the surface. Car seats with durable stitching are also more likely to be machine-washable based on our research.

While we wanted to focus primarily on our testing processes for material quality, we also considered the ease of use and adjustability of each car seat we tested.

  • Ease Of Use: Car seats meeting federal guidelines are still unsafe when installed incorrectly. With an easy-to-install car seat with directions included in your purchase, the chances of user error are much lower, giving you peace of mind when putting your little one in the back seat.
  • Adjustability: As your child’s height and weight change, you’ll need to find a car seat that can accommodate their growth. Convertible car seats score well in this category, but many car seats also come with adjustable headrests and multiple harnesses to keep your child in one car seat for longer. The most adjustable car seats in our review scored higher in this category.

Why You Can Trust Us

Each year, we test over 350 auto products on vehicles and in our testing lab. A team of product testers thoroughly researches top products, unboxes and puts our hands on each component, and tests the items on real vehicles before making recommendations to readers.

We publish hundreds of product and service reviews to bring car enthusiasts detailed guides on automotive tools, detailing kits, car seats, pet products, and much more. For more information on our testing methodology and how we evaluate every product, check out our methodology page here.

How To Clean Car Seats: Bottom Line

Cleaning your child’s car seat can ensure longevity and continued performance. With simple household products of clean cloths, dish soap, and water, you can easily clean all areas of your car seat. This step-by-step informational guide highlights how to clean your car seat, tackle tough stains, and what parts of your kid’s car seat deserve special attention when cleaning.

Car Seat Cleaning: FAQ

Here are a few frequently asked questions about keeping car seats clean.

*Data accurate at time of publication.