How to Clean Your Car's Upholstery

Car interior with leather seats

Learn the techniques and get the products you need to clean car leather, vinyl, or cloth upholstery

A spilled cup of coffee. A sticky piece of hard candy. Mud, sweat, and tears. You try to keep your vehicle neat but stains have set into your upholstery. Cleaning those stains up is worth the effort. You’ll protect your resale value and your friends will stop grimacing when you offer to drive. All you need to get started are the right products and a little know how.

Vehicle System
Appearance, Body, & Towing
Skill Level

This is a good project for new DIYers

Time to Complete
Less than 1 hour
  1. Determine if your upholstery is leather, vinyl, or cloth. Purchase the appropriate supplies. Check with your Advance Auto Parts Team Member for help.

  2. Vacuum your interior thoroughly.

  3. Use a clean, damp cloth to remove any surface debris or grime.

  4. Pro Tip

    We recommend spot testing products first on a hidden section of your cloth/leather.

    To clean leather upholstery
    1. Apply a small amount of leather cleaner/conditioner to a clean damp rag.
    2. Wipe the leather clean using small, overlapping circles. Be sure to get into the cracks and crevices of the seat and seams.
    3. Wipe any excess conditioner off with a clean, dry rag.
    4. Repeat this process several times a year to maintain your leather’s appearance, or as needed. It'll make a big difference in the leather's longevity.
    To clean cloth upholstery
    1. Spray the stains directly.
    2. Allow the cleaning product to penetrate before blotting with a clean, damp cloth. For more stubborn stains, you may need to lightly scrub them with a soft bristled brush.
    3. If possible, leave the windows down and let the fabric dry completely. 

    Places like armrests and headrests tend to see a lot of wear and can get pretty stained. For textured cloth and velour-like material with ground-in stains, try baking soda, seltzer and salt (just like you would to remove stains from clothing or carpet). Let the baking soda sit and do its thing for awhile before scrubbing it away.

    If you find your cloth seats are still too soiled after a light hand cleaning, consider renting a steam cleaner with an upholstery attachment. Be careful not to oversaturate your fabric, which could encourage mildew. You may need to go back and repeat in a couple of days, depending on how soiled the fabric was.

    To clean vinyl upholstery
    1. Clean with a damp cloth and the appropriate cleaner/conditioner product.
    2. For a more textured or heavily soiled surface, scrub with a soft brush.

    To prolong the life of your vinyl, treat your seats several times a year.

Last updated January 19, 2021