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How to Remove Stains from Your Vehicle's Carpets or Seats

5min read

Not sure how to get those stubborn stains out of your car's seats or carpets? This guide will help you quickly remove dirt stains, soda or food spills, sweat stains, and more. Your car will be looking like new in no time!

Whether it’s a dark soda from a spill or a light colored water spot that won’t fade, car seat stains are unsightly. They can hurt the value of your car and make you feel a little embarrassed every time you pick someone up. Not to mention the nasty things they might be holding like harmful viruses, bacteria, pollen, mold, mildew, and more. Here's a guide on what kinds of tools you'll need, the chemicals required, and the methods to removing all of those unwanted stains.

Tools You'll Need

There are a couple household items that you can use to tackle most light stains.

  • A chemical cleaner

  • A soft bristled scrub brush

  • A microfiber rag or similar towel to absorb the leftover moisture

We will cover each of these tools in more detail throughout this guide.

For tougher stains you may need to apply heat and more pressure to break up the the stain. These tools aren't common household options, but they do exist if you're looking to get more serious about stain removal.

  • A Drill Brush

  • A Steamer

  • A Hot Water Extractor


While many DIY articles on the internet will tell you to try a vast array of home remedies like dish soap, nail polish removers, vinegar, or baking soda, we do NOT recommend these approaches. They seldom work, and can cause damage in certain situations. However, if you're not willing to get a cleaner made specifically for carpet and upholstery stain removal, you may have success with Dawn dish soap. It is a stronger degreaser and is good at breaking down most organic and some synthetic compounds. Additionally, a home remedy that we have seen work on some stains is vinegar. Simply mix one cup of vinegar with one gallon of HOT water.

We recommend using a dedicated carpet and upholstery cleaner. The most effective and affordable option that we've found to work is ZEPS Carpet & Upholstery Spot Remover. You can find this at most Home Depot locations or other local hardware stores. There are a lot of similar brands, but a dedicated carpet and fabric shampoo will give you the highest chance of removing any stain you're up against.

Once you've acquired the tools you'll need and the chemical cleaner of choice, it's time to get to work!

Let's Get Rid of Those Stains

Whether you're working on seat or carpets, the following processes will be the same. But keep in mind, if you are trying to remove a stain in other upholstered areas such as the headliner or door panels, you'll need to be very gentle and avoid using any heat. These areas are typically glued onto foam backings, and too much pressure or heat will cause the glue to fail. If you recall ever seeing saggy headliners or upholstery on older cars, this is usually what caused it.

First Step: Prep Your Work Area

The first thing you'll want to do is position the vehicle so that you're not working in direct sunlight. Direct light can cause your chemicals to dry up faster than you can work with them, which becomes a nightmare to deal with.

Additionally, you're going to want to vacuum the area thoroughly. Removing any loose debris will eliminate the possibility of smearing anything into the fabric that you're aiming to clean. This will also ensure that your chemicals are being as effective as possible by being applied directly to the stained fabric.

Step 2: Apply Your Chemical

Using a spray bottle, you're going to apply your chemical to the stain. You want to saturate the area enough that the chemical is penetrating the fabric, but not too much. If you apply too much moisture it can soak down underneath the fabric and cause problems in the foam or layers below.

Give the chemical 1-3 minutes to begin breaking down the stain. For tougher stains, it is recommended to saturate a little more and let sit for 5 minutes.

Step 3: Use Your Tools to Agitate the Area

Using your scrub brush, you're going to want to lightly scrub the area that the stain is in. You should start to see the colors breaking up. If not, determine whether you need to apply a little more chemical, or scrub with a little bit more pressure - but not too much of either! The best way to tell if your chemical is working is if you see it starting to foam up. This means the chemical is reacting and working on the stain.

If you're more serious about stain removal, using a steam machine will allow you to not only agitate the area with high pressure steam, but it will also allow you to apply heat, usually around 250 degrees. A Hot Water Extractor has similar effect and is the most reliable way to eliminate stains. Extractors apply pressurized hot water, like steamers, but they combine this agitation step with a vacuum tool to instantly suck up anything coming up, rather than allowing it to fall back down into the fabric.

Step 4: Absorb the Remaining Moisture

Once you've eliminated the stain you'll want to immediately absorb as much moisture as possible. Using your microfiber rag, pat the area with moderate pressure. Flip to another side, or grab additional rags as needed. You can also use your vacuum to help suck up some of the moisture as long as it is rated for wet pickup (check the manufacturer instructions).

Step 5: Allow to Dry and Assess

You're all done! At least for now. Allow the area to dry. Sometimes it's hard to tell if the stain is really gone while the area is still wet. Once it has dried it will become clear if your efforts worked or not. Sometimes you will need to repeat steps 2-5 a second or third time to fully remove the stain. This is because once you've applied the chemical it could still be working to lift the stains even after you've agitated the area and absorbed the moisture with your rags.

If this didn't work for you, consider turning to the professionals. If you're in the Greater Orlando area, our team at Quickease offers full shampoo and detailing services with years of experience fighting the toughest stains. We utilize the most effective products and tools to give you the best results. Book your appointment today and let us do the dirty work!

No matter what you decide, we're here to help keep your car looking great. If you have any questions, contact us, and good luck!


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