How To Get Stains And Smells Out Of Your Car Seat

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Let’s face it, children (and sometimes us adults too) are messy and we all end up with a stain or smell in the car at some point. Whether it’s time for a routine freshen up or you have an unexpected spill that needs immediate attention this article is for you. 

Let’s first discuss general car seat and child car seat cleaning tips, and then delve into specific methods for getting rid of some of the most common causes of stains and smells.  

  • First, gather your supplies. 
  • Next, identify what the stain or smell is and where it is coming from. 
  • Move fast if you can. The quicker you can get to spill the more likely it will come out. A dry spill might wait but a wet one usually won’t. 
  • Start by blotting up any wet mess as possible using a rag or paper towel. A wet wipe will work too if that’s all you have to hand. Clean off any dry mess using a vacuum cleaner or dustpan and brush. It will be much easier to clean off your car seats when you get rid of as much debris as you can in the beginning.
  • There are a wide range of seat cleaners and stain removers on the market. Many of these solutions are water free and promise not to leave water stains. Alternatively, you can use a homemade solution. It’s important to note that you should only use a gentle soap and water solution to clean a child’s car seat.
  • Dry and air out the car. This is the best way to avoid any smells or water stains after cleaning.
  • You could purchase a charcoal smell absorber that works to neutralise, rather than mask smells. Another tip is to put a few drops of an essential oil onto a cotton ball and place it in the car. 
how do you remove stains and smells from car seats

What household items can you use to clean car seats?

Old towels, rags and toothbrushes can make great cleaning tools. A hand-held vacuum cleaner or a dustpan and brush is important. There are also some tried and tested items from your kitchen cupboards that are proven to help with stain and smell removal. Baking soda, vinegar and washing up liquid can all be helpful. 

Of course, you may prefer to buy a pre-made cleaning solution that is ready to go. This can work on removing stains, smells and unsightly marks. No matter what you choose, you should always do a spot test on a hidden section of your car seat when using any cleaner for the first time. 

Can I clean my car seats with soap and water?

Yes, you can. Warm water with a few drops of gentle washing up liquid or soap can work well for a basic clean and may remove some stains and smells. You will want to be careful to avoid water stains.

How do you clean car seats without leaving water stains

Make sure the whole seat including the seams gets wet. You can use a damp cloth or spray bottle to apply the water to make sure you get an even coverage. Add a few drops of gentle washing up liquid or all purpose spray to the mixture. Scrub the seats thoroughly and then wipe down one last time with a clean, damp cloth. 

How to get rid of stains and smells from your child’s car seat?

You might be ready for (or need to) do a full, deep clean of your child’s car seat.

Take off any fabric pieces and remove any straps and buckles that you can. You might like to pre-soak the fabric parts for half an hour in a bucket of warm water with a few drops of washing up liquid added. Afterwards, run them through the washing machine according to the directions listed in the car seat’s manual. You can usually search for the manual online by going to the manufacturer’s website and using the code on the label along the side of the seat.

Fill a new bucket of warm soapy water, grab a cloth and wipe the plastic and metal car seat parts and straps. You can use a toothbrush to get into tight spots. Wipe the seat over again using warm water and dry gently using a clean cloth. If you can leave the seat outside to dry completely, this will help to air out any smells. 

Let’s look at other ways to remove some common stains from child car seats:

maxi cosi pearl


Scrape off the excess crayon with a butter knife. Soak the area with warm water and add a spot of washing up liquid and work it into the fabric. Gently wipe down the area to remove the stain. You may have to repeat this step a few times and then leave it to air dry.


Wait until the chocolate has hardened and then carefully remove any excess chocolate from the seat using a butter knife or toothbrush. Then mix warm water with a few drops of washing up liquid and blot the stain until the area is damp. Continue to blot the area with a dry cloth until the stain has gone. Dab rather than rub the stain so that it doesn’t get ground into the fabric. 


You should follow the same steps as when removing chocolate but this time use cold water in your solution mixture. Spray or dab the liquid onto the spill and then blot with a clean, dry cloth.


Try to blot up as much liquid as you can. Then mix up a cup of warm water with 2 tablespoons of baking soda and dab the solution on top of the spill. Let it sit for half an hour and then blot away until the stain lifts out. Next, spray a vinegar and warm water solution over the area. Use a dry cloth to absorb as much water as possible. 


Put distilled white vinegar on a clean cloth and dab it over the ketchup stain. Let it rest for 10-15 minutes and then blot the area to remove the stain. Next use warm water with a drop of washing up liquid on a new cloth and wipe the area. Finally, take a dry clean cloth and soak up any excess moisture.


As well as leaving a nasty stain, milk can also leave an unpleasant odour in your car. Use vinegar as directed above to get rid of both.


Once again, use a vinegar and water solution to get rid of both the mould itself and the distinctive, unwanted smell from car seats. 


The best solution to remove poop is a simple mix of warm water with a squirt of soap. Fortunately, poop usually cleans up well if you can get to it quickly. 


Use a vinegar and water solution to remove both the stain and smell of urine. Have a look at the directions for ketchup removal for the step by step process.


Vinegar and water wins the prize for the best way to remove the smell and stains caused by vomit from your car seat. Clear off as much of the vomit as possible first to make cleaning much more effective.

How to remove any car seat stains and smells caused by your pet?

Pets bring great joy to many families. They can also bring hair, dribble, mud and sometimes even urine or poop leaving behind stains and smells. Let’s have a look at how to get rid of two of them.

dog in car seat

Cat Urine

Start by blotting up as much of the urine as you can. You can try one of the many pet stain removal products on the market or use a vinegar and water solution to get the stain out. 

Dog Hair

Spray water over the car seat until it is damp. Use rubber gloves to wipe the seats and collect the dog hair. Then finish up using a vacuum cleaner to make sure you get it all.

How to remove some other car seat stains?

Here are some other tips for getting rid of other nasty stains and smells from your car seat:

Baking Soda

Baking soda is fantastic for stain removal in its own right but it can leave a residue if left untouched. Use a warm water and vinegar solution to clean the area well and then soak up any excess fluid with a dry, clean cloth.


Mix 1 part warm water with 1 part vinegar and a splash of washing up liquid. Use a clean cloth to apply the solution and scrub the stain out of your car seat. 


Add two teaspoons of salt to a cup of cold water. Dip a clean cloth into the solution and gently blot the stain until it is removed. You may need to repeat the process a few times to get it out completely. 

Candle Wax

Wait until the wax has hardened and then remove as much as you can with a butter knife. Put ice cubes into a sandwich bag and hold the bag on the wax stain for a few minutes. Then scrape again with a knife and repeat until the stain is gone.

Chewing Gum

Follow the same steps as for wax above. Finish up with a final clean using a vinegar and water solution.


Blot as much of the coffee as quickly as you can and then bring out that warm water and vinegar solution again. Dampen the area and rinse the cloth as often as needed until the stain has gone.


Scrape off as much of the deodorant as possible. Using a solution of warm water with a squirt washing up liquid scrub the area using a toothbrush. Blot as you go with a clean cloth.


An upholstery vacuum is commonly recommended for getting this stubborn stain out. You could also try nail polish remover in small dabs and then wipe clean with a vinegar and warm water solution.

Eye Shadow

Mix two teaspoons of baking soda into a cup of warm water and dab into the stain. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes and then blot away at the stain. Use a toothbrush as needed to scrub. Wipe the area clean with a vinegar and warm water solution afterwards.

Hair Dye

Use a mixture of 1 part vinegar, 2 parts cold water plus a drop of gentle soap to clean the stain with a clean cloth. Once the stain has gone, wipe the area down with cold water.

Hand Sanitizer Stain

Use vinegar, warm water and a drop of gentle soap to clean the stain with a clean cloth. Once the stain has gone, wipe the area down with cold water.


Do exactly what is suggested above for removing a hand sanitizer stain and the ink should disappear.


Remove as much of the lipstick as possible and then follow the same steps to remove an eye shadow stain.

Nail Polish

Scrape as much of the polish off as possible using a butter knife or tweezers. Dab a small amount of hydrogen peroxide onto the stain until the nail polish has gone. Wipe the area clean with cold water.


Blot as much of the oil as possible and then use hot water and a clean cloth to wipe down the area. Use vinegar, warm water and a drop of gentle soap to clean the stain with a clean cloth. Once the stain has gone, wipe the area down with cold water.


Blot the paint if it is wet or scrape as much off as you can if it is already dry. Fill up a bucket with hot water and get scrubbing with a toothbrush. You can use a spot of rubbing alcohol on any tough spots but remember to wipe the area clean again afterwards with cold water. 


Hot water with a splash of vinegar is your best bet for removing sweat stains from your car seat. Give the seats a good scrub using a rag or cloth and this solution. 


Can I use carpet cleaner on car seats?

According to a number of bloggers you can. I would recommend proceeding with caution and reading the instructions well before using any cleaner on your car seats. Always do a spot check with any new cleaner before using it widely.

Can you pressure wash car seats?

It’s not advisable to use a pressure washer to clean car seats. You run the risk of driving dirt deeper into the fabric and you even might damage the material.

Can you clean your car seat with baby wipes?

If baby wipes are all you have to hand then by all means get started with them. Baby wipes can help to blot up any dirt and liquid until you get home. Once you can, revert to the guide above to give your car seats a great and stain-free clean

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