The Best Car Upholstery Cleaners: Keep Your Ride Looking and Smelling Like New
Refresh and revive your tired upholstery with these top-quality car upholstery cleaners.
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BY Lisa Conant / LAST UPDATED ON May 25, 2021
Whether you have leather, vinyl, or fabric upholstery in your car, it’s bound to get dirty at some point. No matter how hard we try, spills, grime, and stains are inevitable. Unless you’re keeping your car’s upholstery and carpets covered in plastic sheeting like your grandmother did with her new sofa, you need to invest in a high-quality car upholstery cleaner at some point.
The thing about car detailing products is that there are dozens to choose from, each promising to deliver miracles. How do you decide which ones are worth your time and money, and which ones are better left on the shelf? Thankfully, The Drive has your back. We’ve done the research and have put together a solid roster of great quality products, complete with our informative buying guide to help you get the best car upholstery cleaner to suit your needs.
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of a Car Upholstery Cleaner
- Helps retain vehicle value. The best car upholstery cleaner can help retain your vehicle's value. Dirt, dust, and stains can deface a car’s interior, making it look old and unsightly. If you plan to resell your car someday, clean the interior regularly. You’ll preserve the car’s value and ensure it stays in optimal condition, appealing to buyers all the more.
- Prevents health issues. A car’s interior is a closed environment that can be harmful to your health if the air quality is bad. An upholstery cleaner eliminates odors, dust, germs, grime, and other particles that may have accumulated with time. It helps prevent allergies and promotes good air quality in your car’s interior.
- Protects upholstery. If your car’s windows aren't tinted, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can destroy the upholstery fabric and finishes. Spilled substances can also leave stubborn stains that look bad and damage the upholstery. The best car upholstery cleaner removes stains, restores color, and preserves your upholstery.
Types of Car Upholstery Cleaners
Sprays are some of the common car upholstery cleaners. They can clean various surfaces in a car interior, saving you money and time. Most sprays are easy to use and can be sprayed on large areas or specific spots—it all depends on their nozzle. Some sprays have a fresh, lovely scent and make your car smell pleasant. Others protect against UV rays, which is an advantage.
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 is easy to use but should be used on water-resistant surfaces. To clean your car, 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. A lot of the wax cleaners on the market are meant for the leather surfaces in your car. This is why they are sometimes referred to as leather cleaners or leather balms. A wax cleaner rejuvenates your car’s leather, giving it a great look and also protecting it against UV rays. It can also be used to refresh your car’s dull paint.
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. Meguiar’s never releases a product into the market before testing its quality. Its best car upholstery cleaner is the Meguiar's Upholstery Cleaner.
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. One of its popular foam cleaners is the Tuff Stuff Fabric MultiPurpose Cleaner.
Chemical Guys believes 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, Calif. The company’s driving force is “a passion for shine.” It possesses a massive library of car detailing information. Chemical Guys redefines the car detailing industry by producing small-batch waxes, nano-polishes, and hybrid coatings. The Chemical Guys Upholstery Stain Extractor is an exceptional product for your car.
A new entrant into the car detailing market, Car Guys was established to produce affordable, high-quality car 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. The CarGuys All-Purpose Cleaner is a good cleaner for upholstery.
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, Ill., and is a popular manufacturer of automotive products. You can’t go wrong with the Turtle Wax Power Out! Carpet and Mats Cleaner.
Car Upholstery Cleaner Pricing
- Under $10: These car upholstery cleaners are of lower quality and only clean one or two types of surfaces. Leather waxes can be found here.
- $10 to $20: The majority of car cleaners are in this range. They can be multipurpose and all-surface cleaners. They include sprays, gels, and foam cleaners. They may be smaller in size but are better quality. Armor All, Blue Coral, and Clorox have products in this price range.
- $20 and up: Larger cleaning containers and car detailing kits with more than one item often sell for more than $20. If you frequently clean your car, they may be a good option.
The best car upholstery cleaner should be non-toxic and safe to use. Toxicity is an important concern because harsh chemicals are normally used to eliminate grime, grease, and stains. Since you’ll still use your car after cleaning it, avoid cleaners with toxic chemicals as they are a danger to your health and the environment. A water-based cleaner is best because it's not sticky. It's also easy to wipe off in case it accidentally spills.
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. Vinyl is easy to clean as it can be wiped down with a microfiber towel. Leather upholstery needs a dedicated cleaner, wax, and a conditioner. Fabric upholstery is the easiest to clean, there are many fabric car upholstery cleaners on the market.
When buying a car upholstery cleaner, do not pinch pennies. Selecting a cheap cleaner for your precious car is something you may regret later on. Also, refrain from using harsh alcohol-based solvents, or use them cautiously. They may damage your car’s upholstery material. The best car upholstery cleaner is a bio-based product that contains vegetable glycerin or other plant-based compounds. Get an upholstery cleaner that doesn't leave patches.
- 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 give it a long lifespan. Since you aren't likely to use the entire cleaner at once, you can store it once you’re done for future use.
Best Car Upholstery Cleaners Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Pay attention to the ingredients list for the cleaner you choose. Some cleaners contain ammonia, which can be harmful and drying to your car’s interior materials. Harmful chemicals are also unsafe for your health in the confined space of your vehicle.
- Think about how much time you want to spend detailing your car. The best method is to use a separate cleaner and conditioner, but it’s more time-consuming. If you don’t have the time for a two-step process, then find a cleaner that has both.
- Before you use your cleaner, vacuum your car. This will remove the loose dirt and debris from your seats and carpets. You can then see the condition of your vehicle upholstery and focus on the stubborn dirt.
Q: How do I use an upholstery cleaner?
Upholstery cleaners vary depending on what formula they’re made of. Your best bet is to fully vacuum your car prior to using an upholstery cleaner. Simply follow the manufacturer’s directions on the bottle for the best technique. Some require scrubbing, while others may only require blotting. Always be sure to do a patch test to check for color fastness on an inconspicuous area before fully committing to cleaning your entire car.
Q: Can I clean both new and old stains?
It’s always easier to clean newer stains, especially if they haven’t fully set into the fabric yet. However, there are many powerful cleaners on our list of recommendations that will effectively remove some of your oldest and most stubborn stains. Although, it may take a few applications, so don’t give up hope if the stain doesn’t fully come out on the first try.
Q: Do you scrub or blot a stain?
This depends on the cleaner that you use. If the cleaner comes with a plastic brush, chances are pretty good that you’re supposed to scrub. However, if you have a more delicate fabric that you don’t want risk damaging, blotting is always your safest bet. If the stain is fresh, you should be able to get it almost completely out with blotting. Older, tougher stains may require some serious scrubbing to loosen them from fabrics.
Our top pick when it comes to a great overall cleaner that delivers superior results on multiple types of fabrics and can do the job of several different cleaners at once is the CarGuys Super Cleaner.
For a more budget-conscious, but still highly effective upholstery cleaner that won’t let you down, consider the Spot Shot Professional Instant Carpet Stain Remover. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how tough it is on older stains.