It’s easy for car seats to get grubby, especially if you’ve got young children and pets. From mud streaks and spilt drinks to sticky sweets in the creases, seats can get dirty quickly during your car journeys.

They can also harbour plenty of germs. An investigation by Ageas, working with a scientific laboratory, showed that the average car interior had 19 times more bacteria than you might find on a toilet seat (that’s over 3,800 units of bacteria per square inch).

Here’s how to give your car seats a good, thorough clean.

How to clean fabric upholstered car seats

What you need

  • Dustpan and brush
  • Handheld vacuum cleaner, ideally with a nozzle for crevices
  • Toothbrush
  • Upholstery cleaner
  • Interior brush with soft or medium stiffness
  • Undyed cotton washcloth or microfibre towel
  • Air freshener / baking soda

First, give the inside a good brush and vacuum to get rid of the dust and dirt. Brushing seats before vacuuming will loosen fluff and hairs, making them easier to clean. To get into tricky folds and seams, try using a toothbrush.

After the initial vacuum, use an upholstery cleaner to shampoo your seats. According to Real Homes, the best upholstery cleaner is Astonish Fabric Stain Remover, but you can also use a diluted all-purpose cleaner.

When you use a cleaning product, be sure not to use too much, as excess moisture can lead to mould forming under the cloth.

Then, if you need to, give the seats a good workout with a scrubbing brush. Again, you can use a toothbrush for the crevices. Then dry the seats with a cotton washcloth or microfibre towel.

Finally, give the seats another once-over with the vacuum. This should get any last bits of grime you’ve loosened up.

How to remove mud from car seats

Cleaning mud, or other dry stains such as chocolate, requires a gentle approach. You can use a mild cleaning solution for mud. For example, you could mix one teaspoon of dishwashing detergent with about 240ml of water. This can be tepid or warm, but don’t use hot water, or you might set the stain.

Using a cloth, gently blot the solution against the fabric, and lift the mud. If you need something stronger, try using equal parts water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. If this still doesn’t do the job, it’s time to opt for a foam upholstery cleaner.

As above, be sure not to saturate the seats, and dry them with a cloth or microfibre towel when you’re done.

How to remove liquid stains

With most liquid stains, such as marks left by coffee or fizzy drinks, it’s best to act as soon as possible. Blot the area with a damp cloth first. Then use an upholstery cleaner, such as Astonish or Vanish stain remover for tougher stains. Remember to blot, not rub, as you don’t want to work the stain deeper into the fabric.

How to clean leather car seats

What you need

  • Dustpan and brush
  • Handheld vacuum cleaner
  • Leather cleaner
  • Interior brush with soft bristles
  • Two microfibre towels
  • Water-based, pH-neutral leather conditioner

Cleaning leather car seats involves a similar approach, although you should check for perforated areas first and keep any liquid used away from them. Also, be extra careful not to scratch them when you vacuum.

Spray a microfibre towel with leather cleaner and wipe the seats clean. According to Auto Express, the best leather cleaner is Dodo Juice Supernatural Leather Cleaner.

For deep cleaning, use a soft-bristled brush. And finish by wiping with a clean microfibre towel.

To keep leather seats in good condition and stop them from cracking, the key is to condition them regularly. It may be worth paying a little bit extra for a high quality conditioner, that will replenish the natural oils but not leave a greasy finish.

Gently rub the conditioner in with a microfibre towel. Park the car out of direct sunlight, as it’s better to let it set without UV light. Leave it for at least an hour or ideally overnight to let it set. Then use a clean microfibre towel to buff the seats.

It’s possible to over-condition leather seats, so you should aim to do this just a couple of times a year. By doing so, you can maintain luxurious supple seats with that lovely leather smell for years to come.

Once your car seats are back in shape, you may as well give your car interior a once-over. Read our guide for tips on how to keep it clean and organised.

For more car maintenance tips, go to Solved.