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How To Clean Child Car Seats

The only thing dirtier than your child’s high chair is probably their car seat.

Whether it is a blowout, throwing cheerios around, or the occasional spit-up scenario, there will come a time where you will have to clean their car seat.

We highlight how to conduct a quick cleanse as well as a deep clean-up in order to ensure that your sweet little one is NOT riding dirty!

close up of gloved hands cleaning a car seat with sponge and spray

Car Seat Cleaning Do’s and Don’ts

When determining your plan of action, it is important to determine what the cause of the mess was and where the location of the disaster occurred. This can help you decide if it is a quick fix or if you will require a more detailed disinfecting session.

The next step is to reference the user manual. Every single brand of car seat will come with a pamphlet that contains specific cleaning instructions. It is important to follow these guidelines in order to maintain the integrity of the car seat. By doing this, you ensure the safety of your child. 

No matter if you are conducting a spot clean or deep cleanse of your child car seats, there are a few steps that are essential to follow in order to guarantee that the pieces do not deteriorate.

The Do’s

  1. ALWAYS allow every piece to FULLY dry before using the car seat again.
  2. ALWAYS inspect the buckle for debris to ensure that it latches properly.
  3. REMEMBER to firmly tug on the safety straps when reassembling the car seat after each cleaning. This will ensure that they are secure.
  4. ALWAYS contact the company to obtain replacement straps or other parts if you notice that they are frayed or heavily soiled during your cleaning. Moreover, until the new parts arrive, do not use this item. 

The Dont’s

  1. NEVER use bleach or disinfecting products on any part of the car seat. This INCLUDES vinegar.
  2. NEVER immerse the buckles or straps for the harness or latch in any type of liquid. 
  3. DO NOT put any car seat piece in the clothes dryer; ALWAYS let parts air dry.
  4. DO NOT iron any part of a car seat.

What You’ll Need to Clean a Car Seat

When cleaning your infant car seat, you will conduct most of the work by hand. Make sure that you have:

  • some clean, absorbent cloths
  • a new toothbrush
  • dish soap (without any harsh chemicals) or baby shampoo
  • a bucket or spray bottle for water
  • baby laundry detergent (for the items that are approved for your washing machine)

Spot Cleaning Your Child Car Seat

It is extremely important to remember that time is of the essence. Therefore, when your child has a spill or accident, treat the area as soon as possible.

Before you actually scrub, remove any caked-on matter from the car seat. If this is dry debris, then vacuum up the items. However, for stains that involve wet foods, spit up or other bodily fluids, the removal should be done with a butter knife or dull, flat tool. This will prevent the unwanted material from further working its way into the fabric.

Now it’s time to spot clean with a toothbrush, damp rag, or sponge as well as soap and water.

  1. Take the cleaning tool of your choice and dip it into a mixture of cool water and dish or baby soap.
  2. Gently scrub the affected region. It is important to note that vigorous scrubbing will not only work stains further into the fabric, but this action could also cause the material to deteriorate over time.
  3. Next, use a damp sponge or rag and dab the region to remove any excess soap.
  4. Finally, allow it to air dry.

If you are in a pinch and do not have the ability to do this type of cleaning, consider using baby wipes to pick up as much of the mess as possible. We recommend Water Wipes, as they have simple ingredients with no chemicals in their formula! Keep in mind, if it is not safe to use on your baby’s face and hands, it is not considered safe for when you need to clean child car seats either.

Deep Cleaning Your Child Car Seat

For more intricate spills or the dreaded blowout, it is time to deconstruct the car seat.

First and foremost, remove all distractions. This is imperative because studies show that throughout your child’s first year of life and beyond, you will lose sleep every single night

With this type of sleep deficit, it doesn’t take much for mommy and daddy brain to kick in. When you consider the fact that this device is the difference between the life and death of your child if you were to get into an accident, focus is crucial. 

#1 – Note The Car Seat Structure

The next step is to document the status of the car seat. Take multiple pictures and videos to showcase where each part goes and the directions that buckles and straps were facing. Do not forget to photograph the back and undercarriage of the safety device! This will make the reconstruction phase a much easier process. 

Remember that this is very different from when you had to assemble the car seat. Most of these pieces were already in place and with the ample amount of dry time required before you can reassemble the seat, it can be easy to forget the placement of parts. 

#2 – Wash The Padding

Once any excess debris is removed as instructed in the “Spot Treating Your Infant Car Seat” section, rinse the padding in cool water. The best practice is to run the water from the back of the item to the front. This ensures that any leftover material that can not be removed manually will be pushed out of the padding and not further into the fabric. 

Then put the items into a cold and gentle cycle, if your brand of car seat allows this action (otherwise spot clean only). Once this is complete, allow the items to air dry. Always double check your user’s manual to confirm washing and drying instructions. 

Do not forget that you want to avoid any harsh cleaners when you wash the car seat pieces. Therefore, use a baby detergent that is made for sensitive skin. This is important for not only guaranteeing the stability of the parts but also for your child. A baby’s skin is quite sensitive and the car seat straps sit snuggly against their body when in use. By using a gentle cleanser, you will not have to worry about irritating their skin!

#3 – Clean The Base

This will be the easiest part of the process. You likely will not have to remove it from the vehicle. Spot treatments need to be done with cool water and mild dish soap. Use a damp rag, not one that is dripping wet, and wipe down the framework. Then allow it to air dry.

#4 – Address The Straps & Harness

This is the worst part of the cleaning process. The textured straps are the perfect traps for food, spit-up, and other debris. Thus, you will likely have to remove them from the car seat (if this action is allowed by the company). First, follow the instructions in Part 2 of the “Deep Cleaning” section to rinse the straps. 

The goal here is to remove the caked-on material without vigorous scrubbing. Therefore, a toothbrush is the best tool in your arsenal. The tiny bristles can help to gently dislodge debris in a quick and easy fashion. Once it is removed, wash the straps by hand using the same mild soap and cool water mixture that you have used on the other parts of the car seat.

IMPORTANT NOTE — Depending on the brand of car seat you own, many companies recommend never disassembling the harnesses. Thus, if you own one of these models, spot clean only. 

#5 – Drying The Parts

As detailed above, you want to air dry all the parts of the child car seat to avoid shrinkage. However, in order to expedite the process, take a large, fluffy, and dry towel and pat all the fabric items. 

Then place these parts on a clean and dry surface outside in the sun. In case you didn’t know — UV radiation is a natural disinfectant. While it is not capable of killing all bacteria, if you place objects in the sun for at least six hours, research has shown that it can cut the number of certain types of bacteria in half!

#6 – Reconstruct Your Child Car Seat

Once everything is back to status quo, take the time to assemble any pieces that you removed. Make sure to reference the photos that you took to ensure that every part is returned to its rightful place.

Lastly, confirm that the harness is not twisted, all of the buckles are functioning properly, and double-check that it attaches to the base as noted in the manual. 

FAQs on Cleaning Child Car Seats

How often should I clean a child car seat?

The amount of cleaning required is solely dependent on if your child soils it often or keeps it clean. Spot cleaning is always your best option to ensure that the integrity of the materials stays intact. Thus, clean when necessary, but otherwise leave this item alone if it is clean.

How can I avoid the need to clean my child’s car seat?

Prevention is your best defense! Therefore, avoid letting your child eat or drink while in the seat. However, there will be times that this is not plausible. In these scenarios, use containers that limit the chance of spilling. Also, keep baby wipes in the car just in case. 

A good offense is also important. Keep disposable pukes bags available in the car in case your little one experiences car sickness. 

Additionally, pay attention to diaper sizes. As they begin to become snug, they will create red marks on your child’s abdomen. Moreover, if the diaper tabs don’t line up in the right spot, it is likely that you need to go up a size. Paying attention to these little details can help to prevent blowouts from occurring. 

How can I get tough stains out of my car seat?

While you want to use as few chemicals as possible when cleaning your child car seats, there are some blemishes that will require a little more TLC. Therefore, your safest bet is to create a paste using three parts baking soda to two parts water. Apply the mixture directly to the tough stain and allow it to sit for fifteen to thirty minutes. 

Once this time has passed, scrape or vacuum the paste away. Then spot treat the area using soap and cool water as mentioned above. This should help to address the spot without the worry of harming the fabric.

Final Thoughts

If you have intentions to clean your child car seat, it is imperative that you have ample time for this project. Therefore, plan this cleaning session on a day where you know that you will not need to rush out the door with your little one. Having 24 hours available is a good rule of thumb.

However, if you are in a pinch, you can always clean the parts right after you get home from work so that they can dry overnight. 

While somewhat of a tedious process, if you deal with spills as they happen and take the time every two weeks to address small spots, you can avoid having to conduct a big, deep clean. Remember as tempting as it may be, you always want to avoid harsh chemicals, including disinfectants.

Finally, it is crucial that to never stray away from the care instructions noted in the user manual for the car seat. Each brand has a specific set of instructions that must be followed to guarantee that your child continues to stay safe!


  1. New Parents Can Expect to Lose Sleep for 6 Years, www.webmd.com
  2. Predicted Inactivation of Viruses of Relevance to Biodefense by Solar Radiation, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Heidi Butler    

Heidi is a wife, mother, Newfie owner, writer and Meteorologist. She was born and raised in Texas and has worked in the broadcast industry for going on a decade.

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