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How to Clean a Car Seat in 6 Easy Steps

There are a lot of things that are difficult to clean, but your car seat doesn't have to be one of them.

Taylor Freitas Contributor
Taylor Freitas is a freelance writer and has contributed to publications including LA Weekly, Safety.com, and Hospitality Technology. She holds a B.A. in Print and Digital Journalism from the University of Southern California.
Taylor Freitas
4 min read
Illustration of a child in a car seat - getty 1296096794
Aleksei Morozov/iStock/Getty Images

As a parent or caregiver, your kids' health and safety are always your first priority. Although you can't protect your kids from everything, there are some things that you can control, including the cleanliness of their car seats.

Keeping your child's car seat clean is a simple way to protect them from harmful germs and bacteria -- and as long as you follow a few basic rules, cleaning their seats is a pretty painless task. You'll need a few basic household items, like a bristle brush and mild soap, and enough time to let the seat air dry after you've cleaned it.

Below, we've outlined step-by-step instructions that explain how to clean a car seat. Whether you're dealing with the aftermath of a back-seat accident or your car seat is overdue for a clean, you can use the following tips to ensure that your kids' car seat is safe and sanitized.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Properly Installing Your Child's Car Seat

What you'll need

Since car seats are constructed from several materials (including fabric, plastic and metal), you'll need a few different items to clean each part effectively. Having multiple tools at your disposal can also come in handy when dealing with stubborn stains and spills.

  • Vacuum: It's the easiest way to remove loose food, dirt and other debris.
  • Gentle soap: You'll need it to clean the fabric and plastic components of your car seat. Dish soap or mild detergent should work well.
  • Small bristle brush: Depending on how dirty the seat is, you may need a small brush (like a toothbrush) to scrub stains away.
  • Reusable cloth: Washable cloths are perfect for wiping down buckles, straps and other movable parts.
  • Bowl of warm water: If there's anything stuck in the buckle, you can soak it in water to dislodge it.
Child safety seat in the back of the car. - getty 1077314940
bigtunaonline/iStock/Getty Images

Step 1: Vacuum the cover

Keeping the cover on, use a handheld or cordless vacuum to get rid of crumbs, sand and other particles that may be hiding in the cracks of the car seat. If you have one, use your vacuum's extension wand or crevice tool to remove as much loose debris as possible. The more you get rid of now, the easier the other steps will be.

Step 2: Scrub any stains

If there are any unsightly stains on the car seat cover, now is the time to spot clean them. You can do this by grabbing a clean, wet cloth or small bristle brush and using it to scrub each trouble area. For more stubborn messes, apply a pinch of gentle soap (such as dish soap or baby wash) to the stain and scrub with your cloth or brush.

Step 3: Wash the cover

These days, most car seat covers are machine-washable, but you should check your instruction manual to be sure. If yours is safe to wash, place it into the washing machine on a delicate cycle with mild detergent (or whatever type of cleaner your manufacturer recommends). Otherwise, you can hand wash it. When you're done, let the cover air dry completely before reattaching it to the seat. Avoid throwing the cover in the dryer, as this can damage the material and make the seat less safe.

Step 4: Clean the straps and buckle

Next, remove the shoulder straps from the car seat. Use a damp cloth or brush to spot clean any stains on the straps, adding mild soap if necessary and being careful not to get them soaking wet. Then, dunk the buckle and clips into a bowl of warm, soapy water to get rid of any food or dirt. Finally, let everything air dry, ensuring that the buckle is hanging upside-down so any water can drain.

Step 5: Vacuum and wipe down the base

While the cover and straps are drying, vacuum the car seat base to remove any remaining debris. After that, take a damp reusable cloth and wipe down the plastic part of the base, cleaning up any sticky or dirty areas. Allow the base to dry fully before reassembling the car seat.

Step 6: Put the seat back together

When all of the components are clean and dry, you can reassemble the car seat. Consult your instruction manual to make sure that you're putting everything back in the correct place. We also recommend taking photos of the seat before you clean it (more on that in the next section). After cleaning, double-check the straps and buckle to ensure that they're fitted to your child's body. 

Front view of an empty child car seat - getty 1346266924
Catherine McQueen/Moment/Getty Images

Things to keep in mind when cleaning a car seat

Cleaning a car seat might not be the most difficult thing in the world, but there are important things to know before getting down to it.

  • Only use gentle, baby-safe soap. Bleach, vinegar and harsh chemicals can weaken the cover and straps, putting your child's safety at risk.
  • Putting a clean car seat back together after washing it can be tricky. Before dismantling the seat, take a few photos and videos to help you reassemble it after it's clean.
  • Don't reassemble your car seat until all components are completely dry. Reattaching damp components could lead to mold growth.
  • Some car seat parts are replaceable. If you're frustrated by a particularly tough stain, don't panic. Instead of spending hours trying to get it out, you may be able to order replacement parts from your manufacturer.
  • Every car seat is different. These guidelines provide general advice, but don't forget to consult your instruction manual before cleaning your car seat.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.