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Ahh, springtime. The birds are singing, the sun is shining—and we’re all forgetting to roll our windows up before the weather swings wildly from sunny and clear to a torrential downpour. If you find yourself with severe water stains on your cloth or leather car seats, don’t panic. This type of detailing takes some elbow grease, but you can do it yourself at home

Read on for DIY tips about how to remove water stains from car seat upholstery.

Use the right tools for the job

Black leather seats in an old classic car. Water stains on car seats can be frustrating, but they can be removed
Leather classic car seats | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images via Getty Images

How do you get water stains out of seats? It starts with having the right tools and equipment—fortunately, you’ll likely already have most of them in your house. These are some of the proper tools needed for water stain removal: 

  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Upholstery brushes
  • Car vacuum
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Upholstery shampoo or leather cleaner
  • Leather conditioner (if needed)
  • Carpet shampooer (optional)

Removing stains from car seats takes some effort, but it’s possible. Learn about how exactly to clean tough dried water stains.

Take a vacuum to the car seats 

Before you start worrying whether the water stains will ever come out of your car seats, get the vacuum. The faster you can address the problem, the less of a problem it will be. Using a cordless car vacuum is a fast and easy way to remove any dirt, sand, or debris from your seats. Gritty specks can make a water stain worse.

If the water stains happened recently and the upholstery is still wet, be sure to use a shop vacuum that can handle some moisture. If the upholstery is dry, you can use a regular car or home vacuum cleaner.

Avoid hard cleaners when tackling dried water stains

There are many stain remover options for car seats, but Family Handyman recommends starting with something gentle. A simple water-and-vinegar solution may be enough to get dried water stains out of upholstery. But, if it’s a tough-set stain, you may need to step it up. However, “avoid harsh solvents such as acetone, kerosene, and alcohol-based cleaners.”

Watch the video above to see a few of the best car upholstery cleaners for water stains.

Shampoo cloth seats or clean and condition leather seats to remove water stains

How do you get dried water stains out of upholstery? A high-quality upholstery shampoo or leather cleaner can make a world of difference. Experts via Family Handyman recommend the Woolite Upholstery & Carpet Form as the best cleaner for cloth car seats. Said experts suggest the Lexol line of leather and pleather cleaners to remove water stains from leather car seats.

Make sure you know whether your car has faux leather or real leather seats. That may affect the type of cleaner you buy.

Use car seat fabric guard spray or leather conditioner to protect against future stains

What causes water stains on car seats? According to WashTec, water stains in cloth or leather upholstery are caused by the amount of lime in the water. You can use special sprays designed to guard or waterproof fabric to protect your upholstery from future water stains. When you clean leather car seats, always apply a high-quality leather conditioner to the material after you finish.

Always test any new product in an inconspicuous area before slathering it all over your seats.

Cleaning car seat upholstery is easier than you may think

Don’t get me wrong—paying someone to detail your car can be worth the cost. Cleaning car seat upholstery, whether cloth or leather, is simple, but it is time-consuming. 

The video above from ChrisFix is one of my favorite how-to instructions to get stains out of car seats. Water stains, pet stains, dirt, sand, salt—any of these can make your vehicle’s upholstery look terrible. But, getting seats clean again is easier than you might think.


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