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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.

Why Trust Us


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.

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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

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

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

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.

Top Brands

Meguiar's

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.

Tuff Stuff 

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 

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. 

Car Guys

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.

Turtle Wax

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. 

Key Features

Safety

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.

Quality

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.

Other Considerations

  • 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

Best Overall
CarGuys Super Cleaner

If you’re looking for a cleaner that gets the job done, it’s this all-purpose, multi-surface cleaner. Developed using nanotechnology, it can safely remove grime and dirt at the molecular level. It is perfect for deep-cleaning your car’s upholstery. The super cleaner is versatile and can clean different surfaces such as fabric, vinyl, canvas, rubber, and plastic. 


This upholstery cleaner doesn’t just clean interior surfaces, it also does a great job on exterior surfaces. It can easily remove tough grease, bird droppings, and tree sap stains. It provides a non-greasy, odorless, no-gloss finish and ensures your car looks clean and appealing. There’s more good news—if you’re not happy with it, contact CarGuys and you will get a full refund. 


However, the upholstery cleaner doesn’t offer any UV protection or repel dust. It is also not effective on glass surfaces, so avoid using it on screen panels or sensitive electronic screens.

Best Value
Spot Shot Professional Instant Carpet Stain Remover

Minimize scrubbing, rubbing, and vacuuming with this powerful stain remover. Simply spray the area to be cleaned and wait a little while. You’ll see the stains come off. This car upholstery cleaner is effective on new and old oil-based and water-based stains. It thoroughly removes a variety of stains, including food grease, pet stains, motor oil, and makeup stains. The powerful degreaser has a subtle fragrance and an odor neutralizer and freshens fabric, rugs, floor mats, and carpets, leaving your car smelling fresh. It safely cleans your car’s upholstery and ensures stains don’t reappear in the future. The stain remover can be used in different applications, from homes to shops.


But the product is not perfect. Some of the components used to make it are toxic and dangerous for your health. Despite what the manufacturer says, you may find its scent unpleasant.

Best Dual Purpose
Meguiar’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner

Meguiar’s is well-known for delivering excellent quality automotive detailing products, and the Meguiar’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner is one of the company’s top offerings. This product delivers a professional strength formula that provides a thorough and deep cleaning power. It will remove a surprising array of stubborn and old stains that you thought were a permanent part of your car’s decor.


It features an activating fast-acting foam that breaks down tough stain components and frees them from your vehicle’s fabrics. The dual-purpose sprayer lets you either target stains with a precise, narrow stream, or get a general, wide mist spray for larger areas. It dries clean, without leaving behind a dark border or sticky residue.


Users have reported being able to effectively remove stubborn salt stains, caked-on mud, and even marker, sticky foods, and play-dough. You may need to let the formula sit on the stain for up to 30 minutes to do its job, and you may need to repeat the process more than once. With some patience and elbow grease, though, you’ll get great results.

Best Foaming Action
Chemical Guys Foaming Citrus Fabric Clean Carpet & Upholstery Shampoo

The Chemical Guys Foaming Citrus Fabric Clean Carpet & Upholstery Shampoo is specifically designed to tackle the dirtiest auto interiors with the heaviest stains. With a formula that can clean cloth, carpeting, and upholstery—as well as other aspects of your car’s interior—this cleaning product has foaming action that can lift away dirt and stains in no time at all. It’s part cleaner and part stain remover as it can remove set-in stains, deep clean with biotechnology, and eliminate foul odors. There are no toxic chemicals, ammonia, or bleach that might damage your car’s upholstery, and you don’t even have to scrub hard to get your seats or carpet clean.


Whether you’re worried about stubborn dirt, food stains, or filth that’s gotten embedded over the years, this cleaner can remove it and refresh your car’s interior. From the seats to the floor, you can clean it all in no time.

Best Multi-Purpose
Tuff Stuff Multi Purpose Foam Cleaner

The Tuff Stuff Multi Purpose Foam Cleaner is a powerful deep-cleaning foam that dissolves stains and lifts them out of your car’s vinyl and fabric upholstery and carpets. It actually works to restore your fabric’s true color and appearance, leaving behind a like-new look. As an added bonus, this foaming cleaner is also suitable for use on home and boat interiors, as well as floor mats, chrome, and any painted or washable surface. 


Use it to clean appliances, asphalt, ceramic tile, formica, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, screens, porcelain, wall coverings, painted walls, and so much more. Just about the only thing you can’t use it on is mirrors or glass. 


Be sure to let this foam sit on the stain for a minimum of 30 to 40 seconds before scrubbing with a wet cloth or sponge. This product takes some effort, depending on the age and depth of the stain, so don’t get discouraged if you have to reapply.

Best Environmentally Friendly
Mothers Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner

The Shine Armor Car Interior Cleaner uses the latest nanotechnology to create a formula that effectively removes stains from a number of car interior surfaces. It will clean your carpet, vinyl, canvas, rug, headliner, pleather, trim, rubber, and plastic surfaces. It also includes an advanced UV protectant to further guard against permanent damage and discoloration. 


This product comes in a customizable spray bottle that allows you to deliver a narrow, precise stream or a wide mist to target small or large stains. It requires the use of a microfiber cloth to scrub the area, then you need to follow-up by wiping all the residue away with another fresh microfiber cloth. 


Unfortunately, the product doesn’t come with the microfiber cloths included. You can also use this formula on your dashboard and navigation screen as well. It comes backed by a satisfaction guarantee, so it’s definitely worth a try.

Best for Large Stains
Carbona Oxy-Powered Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner

If you have some larger areas of car upholstery that need attention, the Carbona Oxy-Powered Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner is a great solution. This two-in-one oxy-powered solution comes equipped with a sizable and tough applicator brush that’s perfect for scrubbing stains out of larger areas. It not only penetrates deeply to remove stains, but also gets rid of odors, no matter how old or foul they are. It will even get rid of offensive pet urine stains and smells. 


You also get a lot of product for a surprisingly low price. This formula is really only meant to be used on fabric and carpet upholstery, so it’s not as multifunctional as some of our other recommendations. It has a lighter, more pleasant odor than some other options, though.


This formula may take awhile to work, so don’t be afraid to let it sit for 20 minutes before scrubbing. You may also need to go over the area a few times if the stain is really old and set-in.

Tips

  • 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. 

FAQs

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. 

Final Thoughts

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.