Best Car Upholstery Cleaner (Review & Buying Guide) in 2022
Take your car’s seats from dirty and grimy to pristine and clean with the best car upholstery cleaners.
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BY Heather Fishel / LAST UPDATED ON November 12, 2021
Whether you have leather, vinyl, or fabric upholstery in your car, it’s bound to get dirty at some point. Spills, grime, and stains are inevitable, that is unless you’re keeping your car’s upholstery and carpets covered in plastic like your grandmother did with her sofa. The best way to keep your car’s upholstery looking fresh and clean? A high-quality car upholstery cleaner. While there are dozens of products to choose from, each promising to deliver miracles, we’re here to help you decide which are worth your time and money, and which are better left on the shelf. We’ve done the research and put together a solid roster of great car upholstery cleaners, complete with our informative buying guide.
This multi-surface cleaner uses nanotechnology to clean your car on a molecular level. You can clean upholstery, vinyl, wood trim, metals, and rubber. It works to clean up tough stains such as grease, bird poop, and tree sap.
- This upholstery cleaner works on many surfaces, which makes cleaning your car easier.
- It won’t leave behind a sticky or slimy-feeling residue.
- It comes with a money-back guarantee if you’re not happy with how the cleaner performs.
- Do not use this product to clean glass or sensitive electronics screens.
- It’s only a cleaner, so you’ll need to follow it with a conditioner or UV protector.
An affordable car upholstery cleaner that works hard without requiring a lot of effort to lift away dirt old and new, stubborn and hard-to-remove.
- Affordable price
- Foaming formula doesn’t require rinsing
- Lifts away dirt and stains with no water or extra tools needed
- Not suitable for use on leather or rubber
- Tough or longtime stains can require multiple applications
This product does a thorough job of removing some of the oldest and toughest stains in your vehicle. It offers a dual-action sprayer that lets you spray a wide mist that’s great for larger, more general cleaning, or a precise, narrow stream for targeted action.
- You can rest assured that this product comes from a highly regarded company and gets tons of excellent user reviews.
- It dries clean, and doesn’t leave behind any sticky residue or dark borders around the spots you worked on.
- It has a pleasant scent that doesn’t overpower or come off too strongly.
- This product is a little on the pricey side.
- It doesn’t include a scrubber with the bottle, like some of our other recommendations.
Why Trust Us
Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
To select our picks for the best car upholstery cleaners, we took a look at what really matters: effectiveness. We looked at the details of each cleaner’s formula, examined which surfaces each cleaner is suitable for use on and assessed their ability to lift away dirt and eliminate stains. Products that worked on set-in stains and longtime dirt and grime were our preferred picks, as they offered the most potent and effective cleaning solution. We also considered users’ real-life experiences putting the upholstery cleaners to use to decide how well each worked against tough messes from kids, pets, spills, and everyday dirt.
Best Car Upholstery Cleaner Reviews & Recommendations
Our Verdict on Car Upholstery Cleaner
Our pick for the best car upholstery cleaner is the CarGuys Super Cleaner, a product that offers great versatility and tackles a wide variety of different kinds of dirt, messes, and stains. And if you’re looking for a combination of good cleaning power and great value, we like the Shout Auto Multi-Purpose Car Cleaner. This affordable pick delivers impressive results without blowing your entire budget.
What to Consider When Buying Car Upholstery Cleaner
Car upholstery cleaners come in many different shapes, sizes, cleaning potencies, and formulas, meaning no two will deliver the exact same results. So, how can you pick out a quality product? We’ve got the most important details you need to consider right here.
Types of Car Upholstery Cleaner
Sprays are some of the most common car upholstery cleaners as they’re easy to apply and can clean various surfaces in a car interior, saving you money and time. Most can be sprayed on large areas or specific spots, though it all depends on the nozzle. Spray cleaners can come in foam-based or liquid formulas.
Cleaning gel is ideal for the crevices of your car. It can easily get rid of dirt on door handles, air vents, dashboards, and the steering wheel. It’s easy to use but should be used on water-resistant surfaces. Just place the cleaning gel on the surface you want to clean, press it two to three times, then lift it. Dirt and dust will stick on the gel without leaving any residue.
Wax cleaners can eliminate light scratches, oxidation, and other minor issues. However, wax cleaners on the market are meant for the leather surfaces in your car. This is why they’re sometimes referred to as leather cleaners or balms. A wax cleaner rejuvenates your car’s leather, protecting it against UV rays and even refreshing your car’s dull paint.
Car Upholstery Cleaner Key Features
Free of Harsh Chemicals
Sure, harsh chemicals might seem like the best choice for getting super dirty car upholstery clean, but it’s actually better to choose a cleaner that’s non-toxic and safe to use. While harsh chemicals certainly can work wonders on grime, grease, stains, and dirt in general, toxic chemicals can be too hard on your car’s fabrics and your own health. Instead, opt for cleaners that are water-based, alcohol-free, ammonia-free, and pH balanced. These won’t leave any fumes or potential fabric-ruining effects behind.
Type of Upholstery
Most cars have vinyl, leather, or fabric upholstery. These materials require different types of upholstery cleaners. Be sure to choose a cleaner that’s ideal for your car’s upholstery or you risk damaging it. There are so many different kinds of car upholstery now, from classic fabric to vinyl to vegan leather. Vinyl is easy to clean as it can be wiped down with a microfiber towel. Leather upholstery needs a dedicated cleaner, wax, and conditioner. Fabric upholstery is the easiest to clean, there are many fabric car upholstery cleaners on the market. Bamboo and other breathable textiles are similar to fabric in terms of care. When it comes to vegan leather, most cleaners can’t penetrate the material, so your best bet here is to use a UV-protection product to keep fading and cracking at bay.
When buying a car upholstery cleaner, don’t pinch pennies. Selecting a cheap cleaner for your precious car is something you may regret later on. Instead, look for quality, professional-grade formulas that are specifically made for vehicle interiors and fabrics. You’ll have a lower risk of winding up with an upholstery cleaner that doesn't leave patches, residue, or color problems behind.
Brands to Know
In 1901, Frank Meguiar, Jr. produced his first bottle of furniture polish. Meguiar's line of automotive products was launched in 1973. The company’s headquarters are located in Irvine, California. Its products give car enthusiasts a chance to express their pride and passion for cars.
The Tuff Stuff® brand was established in 1969 by Union Carbide. Initially, the company was known as Prestone® Tuff Stuff. It produces powerful cleaning products for surfaces that are hard to clean—hence the name. Its popular multipurpose foam cleaner was initially sold for 88 cents. The company has been part of Clorox and First Brands but is currently owned by the Armored AutoGroup.
Chemical Guys believe it’s more than a company, it's a lifestyle. Founded in 1968, it manufactures numerous car detailing products. Its headquarters are in Los Angeles, California. The company’s driving force is “a passion for shine.” It possesses a massive library of car detailing information. Chemical Guys redefine the car detailing industry by producing small-batch waxes, nano-polishes, and hybrid coatings.
A new entrant into the car detailing market, Car Guys was established to produce affordable, high-quality car care products. Its formulas are developed and blended in the USA. It manufactures non-toxic, biodegradable products that don't affect your health. The company works with formulators to research, test, and develop its products. The products are not released until they have met all standards for quality.
Founded by Benjamin Hirsch back in 1941, Turtle Wax was originally known as Plastone. Hirsch changed the company’s name to make it synonymous with a turtle’s hard shell. Turtle Wax is headquartered in Addison, Illinois, and is a popular manufacturer of automotive products.
Car Upholstery Cleaner Pricing
You don’t have to spend a whole lot to stock up on quality car upholstery cleaner. In fact, you can find products priced for less than $10, making a good cleaner a cheap investment. However, on average, you should expect to spend between $10 and $20. Car upholstery cleaners priced under $10 can be great, but they’re often designed to clean just one or two material types. Step up to the $10 to $20 range, and you’ll find more variety. And if you’d like, you can find products for $21 or more, but these tend to be more comprehensive upholstery detailing kits.
Tips and Tricks
As with something you do for decades upon decades, you pick up a few tips and tricks along the way in terms of selecting the right product, and/or using it. That’s the case with us and car upholstery cleaner. To help you bridge the information gap, here’s a selection of what we’ve learned along the way.
- Effectiveness. The best car upholstery cleaner is effective and user-friendly. It can remove numerous stains. Drink, food, and sweat stains can be a challenge to remove because they stubbornly stick to the upholstery. Apart from cleaning dirt and stains, a good upholstery cleaner should also repel dust. It should prevent dust from settling in the car’s interior.
- Type of Cleaner. There are many types of upholstery cleaners: sprays, foams, liquids, and gels. Sprays are easier to use but less effective compared to other cleaners. They are ideal for cleaning smaller, more recent stains. Gels and foams deliver superior cleaning results but take longer to work. The best car upholstery cleaner should clean most or all of the surfaces in a car’s interior.
- Durability. A durable car upholstery cleaner is made using high-quality components that deliver a long shelf life. Since you aren't likely to use the entire cleaner at once, you can store it once you’re done for future use.
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers!
Q: How do I use an upholstery cleaner?
Upholstery cleaners vary depending on what formula they’re made of. Your best bet is to follow our How to Deep Clean Your Car’s Interior here. Then, follow the manufacturer’s directions on the bottle for the best technique. Always be sure to do a patch test to check for colorfastness on an inconspicuous area before cleaning your entire car.
Q: What do professionals clean car upholstery with?
Every auto detailing pro has his own favorite car upholstery cleaner, and products can vary, depending on the kind of material a particular car contains. If you’re looking for professional-level results, you’ll want to seek out professional-grade cleaners, or cleaners that are made by professionals with longtime auto experience. We’ve got plenty of these options on our list above.
Q: Can car upholstery cleaner remove seat stains?
Many car upholstery cleaning products promise to remove stains, but results can really vary. If you’re dealing with set-in stains or challenging stains (like coffee spills, salt stains, or pet messes), you’ll want to choose a cleaner that features a stain-fighting formula. Or, you may want to opt for a cleaning product that’s specifically made to target stains. Oxy- or oxygen-based products tend to be particularly great at fighting stains. But remember—no matter what product you pick, you’ll probably need multiple applications to get rid of extra-tough stains.