How to Clean Car Upholstery

There’s nothing worse than going to jump into the passenger seat of a friend’s car, only to look at the seat and see a small ecosystem building in the nooks and crannies of the upholstery. Keeping your car clean is an easy way to ensure that its value remains as high as possible. Let Scrap Car Comparison guide you through a few hints and tips on how to ensure your upholstery remains as clean and tidy as possible.

Types of upholstery

Before you get started, you’re going to need to know exactly what you’re working with when it comes to material. There are four traditional types of material used on car upholstery, each of them requiring its own specific treatments.

  • Nylon: the most common material found within a car, nylon seats are pretty durable, so you’re less likely to be carrying out any repairs, but they are far more susceptible to collecting dirt. Regular cleaning should keep them at their best, but you may find yourself wanting to replace them if they get too grimy.
  • Polyester: Designed to look like suede, polyester is regularly found in car upholstery. A comfortable fabric, it can be prone to rips and tears.
  • Leather: Often found in some of the higher-end vehicles, leather requires much more care and attention than other types of material. Leather seats are much stronger than nylon or polyester, but any repair work is likely to set you back a little more than expected as it is much more difficult to rectify any damage – and can look incredibly bad if done incorrectly.
  • Vinyl: A cheaper, animal-friendly option for those wanting the leather look in their car. Strong and easy to clean, it is a popular option for luxury cars looking to keep the costs down (or keep their usage of animal products down). Like leather, however, it can be difficult to repair.

How to get smells out of car upholstery

If you step into your car and the first thing that hits you is the pong of a rather musty set of upholstery, then you don’t have to call out the professionals straight away, although that may be the easiest (and most expensive) option. Here are just a few DIY options to remove unwanted odours.

  • Air Fresheners: An obvious option, air fresheners are cheap and cheerful ways to get your car smelling the way you want. However, an air freshener doesn’t remove smells from your upholstery, instead just masking the odour.
  • Baking Soda: Available from all good supermarkets and convenience stores, and not too expensive, by leaving a bowl of baking soda in your car overnight, it should absorb any unwanted smells. Just don’t forget it’s there before you drive away…
  • Tumble dryer sheets: Pop a couple of sheets in the pockets of your seats and doors and your car should be smelling cleaner before you know it.
  • White vinegar: What’s one of the easiest ways to remove strong smells? With an even stronger smell, obviously. While you may think this fits into the same category as air fresheners by just masking bad smells, this time the vinegar acts much like the baking soda and absorbs the unwanted pong. A small cup of vinegar overnight should do the trick, although if you can pinpoint the exact location of the bad smell, use a damp cloth with a diluted vinegar solution. Never use neat vinegar in your car, as that will create an even harder smell to remove.

Now that you’ve removed the smell, you will want to ensure it doesn’t come back. Regular cleaning (to come later in this article), air fresheners, seat covers and avoiding bringing strong smells into your car (for example, through smoking) will all help to keep it smelling as fresh as possible for longer.

How to repair car seat upholstery

Cuts, rips and tears are the worst enemy of car seats. Rather than just being able to give them a clean, this requires some work to get them looking nice again. Before you start, however, you need to go in with an open mind. You’re never going to get the seat looking “like new”, but you can certainly make it look less bad.

If you’re looking at repairing just a small defect, such as a small tear or a cigarette burn, then the easiest method is to simply patch over the defect. By matching the material, or getting as close as possible to the original material, you should be able to get away with it – if done well enough you’ll have to be specifically looking for the patch to notice it.

If the damage is larger, though, a patch simply isn’t going to work and will leave the seat looking even worse than when it had exposed damage. In this instance, your best bet is to go to a professional and get it sorted, but if you’re dead set on avoiding calling in the pros, then you’re going to need to try and stitch it back together yourself. Holding both sides of the torn fabric together, you’ll be needing to take a curved needle and thread and stitch them together using an X stitch from top to bottom. Once they’re connected, it’s time to apply a patch, similar to that of a smaller repair.

How to repair leather upholstery in car

When it comes to leather or vinyl seats, things get a bit more complex. If it has split and isn’t near a seam, you may be in luck as you could get away with glueing the two parts together and fitting in any gaps with a specific leather seat filler. When applying your adhesive, you’re going to want to make sure that the fabric isn’t connected to any padding, carefully freeing it with a knife if need be.

Apply just a small amount of adhesive, enough for both sides of the fabric (ideally a scrap of suede or heavy-duty duck cloth), and slide your patch behind the seat upholstery, ensuring it is in contact correctly. Hold both sides of the rip together to close the gap while the adhesive dries. 

Now apply consistent weight or pressure to the area so that the patch sticks to the adhesive – the glue can take a while to dry. Weight and a pressure clamp may be required as you need to ensure the weight stays in place exactly how you want it to, plus you need to make sure you’re putting enough pressure down to flatten the curve of leather made by the padding in the seat. Make sure you’re covering the entire rip, particularly if it’s a large one, as not doing so could mean it reappears, potentially worse than before. Once completed, fill in any gaps with the correct type of filler to bring back an even surface.

How to replace car seat upholstery

Replacing your car’s upholstery – otherwise known as reupholstering – is not a simple job and, usually, it’s best to leave it to the professionals. Again, if you are desperate to do it yourself, then you’re going to want to take it very, very carefully.

Remove the seat from the car using the appropriate tools, ensuring you detach any electrical components such as heated seat or seat movement controls. Place the seat onto a suitable workbench and begin by removing the headrest. Unzip the upholstery from the seat backing to gain access to the seat base. Unscrew the base from the frame, but do not remove it. Carefully detach the clips holding the base to the cushion and then detach the inner clips while removing the upholstery entirely. Do the same for the backing. 

Get your new upholstery for the base and stretch it over the cushion to connect it to the first clip at the rear, then connect the clips to the cushion working from back to front. Reattach the seat base to the frame, and repeat the process for the seat backing. Once the backing is secure, zip it up once again. Reattach the headrest, reconnect the seat to the car and you’re done. Now repeat that process however many times you need to for the other seats in your car… (we told you it’d be easier to get a pro to do it).

Get the best price for your old car

If all of that sounds like far too much work for you and you really don’t want to go through the effort or costs to get your seats back into a decent condition, then you could simply get rid of the car altogether. By using Scrap Car Comparison, we’ll come and take your car directly from your door and leave you with a lump sum of cash in your bank account to put towards a new car, with a pristine interior.

By using our online quote generator, we’ll scour the nation for the best price available to you, providing you with figures from our network of specialist scrap and salvage buyers. Within a minute you’ll be given the best price possible and we’ll sort the rest – including arranging a collection at no cost to you whatsoever. Get started today to find out just how much your tired old car could be worth.

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