How to get water stains out of car seats [DIY Guide]

water stains in car seat

Car seats are subject to a pretty tough life.

We’re constantly climbing in and out of our cars, sometimes even with food in our hands, so they’re susceptible to many different kinds of damage.

The most obvious types of damage that occur would be tears and food stains. However, water stains are also incredibly common.

Water stains are an invisible threat. How many people will spill water in their car and think “oh, it’s just water” and proceed to let dry on the seat?

I’ve done it myself. It’s not like it’s coffee or ketchup right?

Even though water is perfectly clear and in many situations will dry without issue, sometimes minerals and contaminants get trapped in the water.

Depending on where the water comes from, the contamination will flow to the edge of the spill and dry there, causing a clear outline of the spill.

Another factor to consider is the level of contamination on your car seats.

If your car seats are heavily soiled, whenever the water touches the fabric, it may lift up dirt, once again moving it to the edge of the spill and drying with an outline.

Thankfully, because more often than not it’s just a combination of water and dirt/dust, these stains are super easy to remove.

Listed below you’ll find out how to get water stains out of cloth car seats and leather car seats. I’ll also tell you how to prevent them from happening in the future, though it may be obvious already!

How to get water stains out of cloth car seats

fabric car seats

It’s very easy to remove water stains from fabric car seats. You only need a handful of products, most of which you’ll have around the house and a little bit of elbow grease.

Professional detailers will often clean car upholstery using wet & dry vacuums or steam cleaners. These are also an option, but are not necessary. You definitely shouldn’t rush out to buy one just to clean your car seats.

Everything you’ll need


Step 1 – Vacuum The Area

Normally, whenever I clean the interior of my car, I’d vacuum the whole interior first.

Doing this will remove any loose dirt and debris, preventing you from creating any more stains and stop you from going round in circles.

If you’re only looking to clean one chair, because you’ve noticed a stain, you could vacuum that seat and its surrounding areas.

With that said, you’re probably better off just cleaning the whole of the interior while you’re at it.


Step 2 – Use A Fabric Cleaner

When cleaning car upholstery there are many different types of material that you could encounter. Each material requires a different cleaning technique and sometimes a different cleaning product.

For fabric car seats that are made out of nylon or cloth, your best option is a fabric cleaner.

I personally use the Chemical Guys Citrus Fabric Clean, it will remove any water stains from your seats, while leaving behind a fresh citrus smell.

It doesn’t really matter what brand of fabric cleaner you use, as long as it’s safe on cloth.

You could also use a heavily diluted all-purpose cleaner if you want.

Saturating the seat in product may seem like the right idea but it will create much more work, and potentially more stains if it were to dry on the seat.

Apply liberally. Don’t get carried away.


Step 3 – Agitate The Dirt

Once you’ve applied the product to the car seat, it’s time to grab a brush and agitate the area.

Depending on the strength of the fabric, you may be able to use a scrub brush, soft-bristled brush or even a drill brush.

If you’re working on a seat that’s very delicate, or already has some tears in it, you may want to opt for a boar hair brush. They’re softer and less likely to cause any further damage.

Pay attention at all times and make sure that the product doesn’t dry into the fabric.


Step 4 – Wipe The Seat

After agitating the product into a foamy mess, it’s now time to wipe it away. Grab a microfiber cleaning towel and start wiping the dirt and grime off the seat.

Some upholstery cleaners recommend wiping them away with a damp towel. This is perfectly ok, as long as it’s damp. Taking a soaked towel to the seats will just create more issues.

As you wipe away the solution, you’ll start to see your microfiber towel get dirty. When the towel becomes heavily soiled, it’s best that you swap it for a fresh one, otherwise you’re just adding dirt back into the seat.

Repeat steps 1-4 until you have a clean seat and then move onto step 5.


Step 5 – Dry The Seat

You only need to manually dry the seat if you’re expecting to use it on the same day.

Seats retain liquids pretty well, but you’ll have already removed most of it when wiping the solution away.

If you want to use the seats quickly, you may have to resort to using a blow dryer, fan, hairdryer or heat gun to speed up the drying process.


How to get water stains out of leather car seats

leather & vinyl car seat care

Water stains on leather are a little different. In this case, you’re dealing with water spotting which has dried the leather out or damaged it in another way.

When the water evaporates, it will pull away oils and moisture from the leather creating a harder, sometimes discolored dry spot.

Don’t worry though, this can be easily fixed.

Because leather is a softer material and is easier to wipe clean, you should think of this as conditioning rather than cleaning.

Everything you’ll need


Step 1 – Use A sponge

First up, you want to grab your sponge and dampen it.

Covering your sponge in too much water will result in the leather being soaked. If the water was to dry on the leather once again, it may create further stains.

Once damp, begin to dab the stain and its surrounding areas. Work your way from the stain to the outside of the leather panel


Step 2 – Blot The Area

This is probably the most important step in the process. Any water left behind that has not been blotted away could result in further stains.

When any liquid finds its way onto your leather seats, you should make sure to dab it away so that it doesn’t leave behind any stains or sticky residue.

Follow this rule whether it’s water, soda or cleaning product.


Step 3 – Apply Leather Conditioner

Once the leather seats are dry, you can now use a leather conditioner to restore natural oils and potentially even add protective properties to the leather.

I like to use Meguiars Leather Cleaner and Conditioner spray. It’s a 3in1 product, that’s designed to not only clean and condition but protect your leather as well.


While overall, cleaning leather is much less effort, it’s much more frustrating.

You may find that no matter how many passes you make, some of the older leather may always have faded spots. This is because they’ve gone untreated for so long, and may have been sun damaged as well.

As long as the condition of the leather keeps improving after every pass, you should continue to clean the area.

If the leather condition stays the same after multiple passes, it’s probably too far gone.


How To Prevent Water Stains On Car Seats

The number 1 way to protect water stains, or any stains from occurring is to deal with them quickly and appropriately.

It’s always good to carry a brush, a microfiber cloth and/or upholstery cleaner with you in your car. It can be hidden away in the glove box or in the boot, ready to go for your next spill.

If you’re not prepared to carry around cleaning products, the second-best option is to clean your car seats often and protect them using sealants or protectants.

As long as you stay on top of car maintenance and cleaning, water stains will be an inconvenience at most

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About the Author: JoshWilkins

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