Cleaning and Maintaining Your New Automotive Upholstery

When you’ve finally saved up enough to buy your own vehicle, you may become quite possessive and protective about the automotive upholstery. The upholstery is a source of pride, especially if you are lucky enough to have suede or leather seats. Even PLU or polyurethane upholstery can be a source of pride when well-maintained. 

But that’s the problem: just how do you maintain your automotive upholstery to that just-off-the-showroom look? 

Types of Stains and Dirt That Automotive Upholstery Faces

Your vehicle travels, which means it is often in places where there is dirt, dust, mud, water, food, liquids, and other random spills. Common stains on upholstery are food-related, environmental stains like mud or water, and passenger-related stains such as body lotion or body oils.

Each of these stains will require a different approach to clean off, but all of them can be avoided with the right care routine to prevent staining from happening in the first place. 

Stains in Your Car: Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Prevent stains from forming in your car to avoid having to clean up unnecessary fluids and solids from your upholstery. To eliminate stains, a few simple tricks will help you keep things clean and tidy. 

1. No Eating in the Car

It seems like such a small thing, but ensure you and your passengers don’t eat inside the vehicle. This may mean saying no to the drive-through at your favorite fast food place, or waiting until you are home or at a park where you can get out of your car to eat. 

Avoid eating in your car as it results in unintended and unanticipated stains. For one, eating in your car produces crumbs and liquid spray from saucy foods. Secondly, when you eat in your vehicle, you will be exposing your upholstery to sticky hands, oily fingers, and salty residue.

2. Use a Grocery Carrier

The second cause of stains and spills in your vehicle is from your groceries. Open bottles, broken packets, and spilled fresh foods can all create a sticky residue that will stain your upholstery. Rather pack your groceries in a grocery carrier or organizer in your trunk or the back of your SUV so you don’t have to worry about what that milk bottle is doing when you take a turn while going 40 mph. 

3. Wash Your Hands Before You Drive

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about our hands during lockdowns, it’s that our hands carry stuff that we can’t even see. Your hands can be oily or dirty or even bring in corrosive materials such as sweat or body products that can all damage your upholstery (including your steering wheel). 

Get into a routine of washing your hands before you drive or before you (or your family) get into your vehicle. If you are in a pinch, use a hand sanitizing spray (which evaporates) to prevent any oily residue from lotions. Wiping your hands on a baby wipe or Kleenex can also give you an idea of how clean your hands are.  

Dealing With Stains

When dealing with stains, identify the type of stain, what automotive upholstery type the stain is on, and then consider the ways to remove the stain without damaging the fabric. 

Whatever fabric your seats or flooring are upholstered with, be sure to go into stain management mode first. Cleaning up the stain comes after the initial damage control. 

Emergency Care for Spills and Messes on Automotive Upholstery

As soon as you drop that coffee lid on your leather seat, you had better be ready for action. The more the liquid absorbs into the upholstery, the deeper the stain will become ingrained. Keep an emergency stain management kit in your vehicle to help you minimize the damage and do minor clean-ups until you can get home and do a full cleaning. 

Emergency Cleaning Kit

In a plastic container or Ziploc bag, keep a packet of hygiene wipes or baby wipes that are non-moisturizing. Add a packet of 3-ply tissues or Kleenex to the container as well as a plastic spoon. Also, include a small plastic spray bottle with two tablespoons of white vinegar and water. 

Using the Emergency Cleaning Kit

When you accidentally spill or mess in your car, use the items in the care kit: 

  • Use the spoon to lightly scrape the excess of the spill from the upholstery. 
  • Next, use the baby wipe to gently dab at the spill, working from the outside of the spill to the inside. 
  • Spray one to two pumps of the spray bottle with vinegar solution to the spill before using the tissue to dry off any excess liquid. 

By religiously cleaning up a spill before it becomes a stain, your vehicle upholstery will remain stain-free. 

Stain Removal Tips

  • To remove spills that have become stains, you would need to assess the severity of the spill and stain. If there are external parts to the stain, such as that lasagna that spilled in the back of your SUV (and you only remembered the lasagna the next day), you would need to remove the excess before tackling the stain. 
  • Use a tablespoon or a blunt-tipped knife to scrape away any excess particles that have dried to the stain. Next, spray a few pumps of a mixture of two tablespoons of vinegar and five drops of dishwashing detergent into a gallon of warm water. Let the mixture sit on the stain. 
  • For extra power, you can sprinkle a bit of baking soda over the stain (if it is on fabric upholstery or floor carpeting), then spray the vinegar and dishwashing detergent over the powder. Allow to fizz, then gently wipe up the stain with a clean, lint-free cloth. 
  • For leather upholstery, ensure you have a supply of leather conditioning and leather cleaning wipes handy. Unlike manufactured fabrics, leather requires nourishment to repair damage caused by spills. 
  • Ink stains from that leaky fountain pen? No problem. Simply mix rubbing alcohol with equal parts water, dab at the stain with a lint-free cloth, then dry. 
  • Oils from body lotions and oily foods are also no challenge to a good spray with a solution of 50% water to white vinegar and a few drops of dishwashing detergent. Dab at the stain – don’t scrub. Once the stain has been lifted, dab with a paper towel to dry the fabric. 
  • Coffee stains can be lifted by first diluting the stain with cold water, then applying a warm water solution with a few drops of dishwashing detergent. Once the stain is gone, dry with a paper towel or lightly dry with a hair dryer. 
  • Struggling with a car-sick relative or vomiting puppy in your vehicle? Get rid of the stain and the smell by first removing the vomit particles with a spoon, then gently dab up the rest of the liquid with a paper towel. Wash the stain with a lint-free cloth and warm, soapy water. Sprinkle baking soda and let this dry overnight before vacuuming the area the next day. In a pinch, you can also apply a bit of plain club soda or soda water to the stain, letting the fizzing action remove the smell and any vomit particles. 
  • While you’re not likely to load a body in your vehicle, the occasional blood stain may happen from an injury or random papercut. To remove blood from your upholstery, be sure to gently blot the excess blood by dabbing at it with a dry cloth. Next, apply cold water with three to four drops of dishwashing detergent while continuing to dab. Never use warm water, and don’t scrub as this will let the stain set. If the blood is still visible, apply a few drops of club soda or sprinkle baking soda to lift the remaining stain. 

Finishing Off After Stain Removal

Once the spill or stain has been lifted and dried, it is important to finish the upholstery fabric so it has the same texture as the rest of your upholstery fabric. Use these methods to ensure the fabric has no blemishes or streaks.

  • Vacuum the upholstery with a special upholstery brush fitting for your vacuum cleaner. Be sure to move the vacuum cleaner in one direction across all of the seats to ensure the fabric pile is lying in the same direction. 
  • If needed, wipe the fabric with a damp lint-free cloth, but wipe all of the upholstery, moving the cloth in the same direction in even strokes. Finish off by wiping with a dry lint-free cloth and wipe in the opposite or perpendicular direction. 
  • Brush with a stiff-bristled brush, moving the brush in the same direction across the whole seat. For highly textured or velvety upholstery, this method works best. 

The Final Car-Clean

Spills and stains can really wreak havoc on your upholstery at home but also in your vehicle. Being prepared helps you avoid spills becoming stains, but it also requires taking the initiative to prepare a stain management kit. 

Likewise, frequently cleaning your vehicle and vacuuming upholstery will ensure the spills have fewer particles to cling to, reducing the chance of stains forming. Act quickly, and your upholstery can keep looking like new in your home and in your car. If you are unlucky and have a fatal stain on your automobile upholstery, then check out the great range of replacement automotive fabric that Kovi has in stock.

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