DIY: Detail Your Cars Upholstery!!

diy car detail

Clean the seats in your car YOURSELF!

Do you have kids in car seats? In my experience I have found this equation to be very, very true: Kids + Car Seats = Stains for days. The other day, I was cleaning my car out and removed the booster seats. What I saw mortified me. Stains, melted chocolate, spilled red juice, and the smell, we are not even going there.

I called around to some local car detailers and I WAS NOT going to pay almost $200 for someone to clean my seats. I have tried using my steam cleaner on them before and it only took about 3% of the stains away AND left me with water spots everywhere. 🙁 Not exactly what I was going for.

So I did some research and I found the perfect solution! This really worked well for me. You may have to tweak the amounts a little bit (but equal parts of each should get you really close!).

What You Need:

I grabbed a heavy duty spray bottle and added in equal parts of club soda, Dawn, and vinegar. My spray bottle was pretty big so I used 1 cup of each of the ingredients. Some of you are worried that this was too much Dawn, but it the amount that I use. You can try less if you’d like, and if you do, let us know in the comments below how it worked! Make sure to shake it pretty good to get it all mixed up.

Spray the stains and let the mixture sit for a few minutes. I let it sit about 3 because I am impatient as heck.

Take your scrub brush and brush in circles on the stains.  This is where you are going to be wondering if it’s worth the $200 to have your car detailed.  But I’m not afraid of a little hard work, and I did it on an “arms” day, so I got to skip part of my workout!

Now use your shop vac or steam cleaner with ONLY water in it to “rinse” out the seats. If you have the shop vac, I would spray water on the seats and then suck up the mixture.

Let the seats dry and get ready to be amazed.

My car did smell like vinegar for about 2 days. It was totally worth it though. You could use an essential oil to help the smell!  The purification blend or wild orange would be great choices!  Be wise with your choices of oils though.  Some aren’t pure and will stain your hard work! I personally only use and trust doTERRA Essential Oils.

DIY: Detail Your Cars Upholstery!!


DIY: Detail Your Cars Upholstery!!


  • Club Soda
  • Blue Dawn Dish Soap
  • Vinegar
  • Scrub Brush
  • Spray Bottle
  • Shop Vac/Steam Cleaner


  1. Combine equal parts of club soda, Dawn, and vinegar in a heavy duty spray bottle
  2. Shake well to incorporate all the ingredients.
  3. Spray the stains and let the mixture sit for a few minutes.
  4. Using a scrub brush, brush in circles on the stains.  
  5. Use your shop vac or steam cleaner with ONLY water in it to "rinse" out the seats. If you have the shop vac, I would spray water on the seats and then suck up the mixture.
  6. Let the seats dry out with windows down
Types: Cleaning, Adult
Categories: Auto, Frugal, Home, #StayHome


  • I wonder if you could get the same result using rubbing alcohol instead of vinegar? The smell will evaporate much quicker.

  • Can you use this to clean your headliner? Thanks.

  • What kind of club soda did u use?

  • what is club soda? I am from south Africa…

  • Thanks alot I don’t have a car but this will be very useful when I do get one.

    • In having done a lot of repair work, this detail is awesome for many household items, too. The point is just perhaps not to be more afraid of getting results than making a mess. We are women! (Seemingly, from the posters, that is.) We represent quite the best part of our countries’ soft powers!

      The question of alcohol in place of vinegar is good, as I use alcohol for everything possible. The only thing I would suggest is to be careful, as some old fabrics are more fragile and “sponge” material, etc, will disintegrate or flake away. Some backing, or underside of heavy materials, are why it is flagged as “fragile”.

      Best wishes!

  • Thanks worked great………….I used the leftover mixture to spring clean my patio chairs.
    Smell didn’t last that long…………………………………………………………….


  • you said 1 cup of equal part do I use 1 cup of Dawn as well ??

  • 1 cup of dawn ? Seems a little excessive.

  • Do you add water to the dawn , club soda and vinegar ? 1cup Dawn soap?

  • 1 cup of dawn? Seems like a lot.

  • I live in Italy and want to know how can I do this mix…
    can I use a normal powder dish soap? Is club soda a water with bubbles or the water for ironing?

  • As a professional auto detailer, if you use equal parts of liquid dish soap, you will have a nightmare on your hands and the soap residue, of which there will be MUCH, will attract dirt quickly. I don’t know which ratio you will need, but this will be a very soapy mess. I have read that it was updated, but I don’t see how this can work. It would take a LOT of passes with a steam cleaner to rinse this out.

    • Hi Randy! It did take a few passes with the steam cleaner but set on the rinse feature it sprays water in and soak it + the suds back up.

    • Also – why bother with all this wetness when you can use a natural, residue-free window cleaning solution? Don’t spray it onto the upholstery; spray it onto a clean cloth and wipe the upholstery down. You’d be amazed.

    • Hi Randy, The vinegar kills the foaming action of the soap as well as killing any yucky smells in your upholstery. It may take a couple of days for the vinegar smell to dissipate. I would rather smell vinegar for 2 days instead of spilled soured milk for a couple of hours.

    • My recipe calls for 1/2 c white vinegar, 1 c club soda, 1/4 c lemon juice and 1/2 c non toxic dish soap. Haven’t tried it yet but plan to this week.

    • Randy,
      What would you recommend we use to detail clean the interior of our vehicles? I know that sounds kind of sassy, but I’m not trying to be. I seriously want to know what a professional would use at home. Thanks!

    • That is correct, Randy, not just for upholstery, but for carpeting, as well. Our facilities management company once had a carpet cleaning seminar from a Waxie Company representative, who said that soap based cleaners, even their own, should only be used as a spot cleaner, and as a last resort, then the entire area should be cleaned with an extractor of some kind using plain water, to pull out dirt and any soap residue. Soap residue acts like a magnet and draws dirt faster, and traps it at the base of the fibers.

  • Could we use this to clean home carpets. I have burber carpet and it was suppose to have stain guard and if it did it didn’t help at all. Dog and dirt stains are bad. Will this treatment help it?

  • Down use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar?

  • In sorry that was suppose to say do we use?

  • Hi, thanks for this and I’m going to try it. I’d recommend that you update your post AGAIN and be VERY specific on the measurements. You say “equal parts” in your post but in this Q&A you say no more than a couple of table spoons of soap in a spray bottle. So that’s two table spoons of soap, two table spoons of soda water and two table spoons of vinegar? Still seems wrong and now the portions seem WAY too small for a spray bottle. It’s important that you get all this right as people are counting on your measurements. Most people don’t have time to experiment so please take a few minutes and REALLY nail these numbers down. Thanks.

  • reading this really pushes all of my buttons! im not sure how much more you want these people to do? get better measurements? do this and that, well what about this or that? the article CLEARLY says use EQUAL parts!!! lets go over what this mean…. if you choose to use a whole cup of vinegar then you also use a whole cup of dawn and club soda. if you choose to use a half a cup of vinegar then you also use a half a cup of dawn and club soda, if you choose to use a tablespoon of vinegar then you also use a tablespoon of dawn and club soda, so on and so on! USE what you think works best for you and your situation! I personally used a half a cup of everything because my spray bottle was small and I didn’t have very many stains, this mixture worked wonders! I will say if I was doing a bigger project like the whole car you would deff want to use a whole cup of everything, remember do not add soap to your steam cleaner this will make things a soapy mess!! add water ONLY!! I LOVE THIS AND THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING

  • I seen this post and decided to use this recipe to get my car seats clean I have two little boys so you can imagine the mess they make and it worked wonderfully. The only thing I changed was I used peroxide in stead of club soda my local store was all out of club soda but it still worked great thank you for saving my car and money ?

  • Okay so I used a cup of each, I had a pretty big spray bottle,am and quite a lot of stains. When I shook the bottle though, it actually expanded and began to ooze out of the spray tip. I had to turn the tip to closed so it wouldn’t leak until I was ready to use it. By then it had settled down. The ratio was a bit soapy when I was trying to remove it from my seats, I used my Bissel pet stain remover to spray just clean water and then suck it all out, but it was still soapy. I figured it would be fine though. I didn’t really have much of a vinegar smell at all, but I did not use blue Dawn because I didn’t have it, I just used the dish soap I had which was pink and pomegranate smelling so maybe that was why. I will say it worked fabulously. I have at 5 year old and had a ton of stains. This worked on my seats and even my floor mats. Thank you!

  • Would this work on leather or fake leather seats????

  • These comments are funny. All you wanted to do was post a hack and then idiots come out the woodwork…wait, can i use it on my woodwork?…lol

  • I’m going to try this on my couch.

  • Had two kids who are grown now. Get on the spills right at away with baby wipes….I always kept them in my car. They clean up absolutely everything!! Never had a stain. I am a working mom so I cleaned as I went along.

  • My mom tried this mix in her van. The back seats were dirty from her grandkids. The experience was awful. The seats looked great at first once she was done cleaning thembut like others stated… The dirt was attracted to the soap film like a magnet!! Within 6 weeks the seats looked terrible, but instead of the back seats looking bad it was all of the seats. She ended up having it professionally detailed anyway which worked… Will never make this again.

  • Thanks for handling the troll Celeste.

  • Wondering why three equal parts is so hard to understand. Water is not mentioned in the formula. Good not to try making things more complicated than they are.

  • Never, ever use soap of any kind on textiles! If you want a cheap easy stain/odor remover spray a heavy coat of white vinegar on textile. Then pour a coating of baking soda over that. If time is not of the essence, pour the vinegar on and cover the wet area with baking soda. The worst part is you HAVE to allow this to dry!!! No scrubbing is necessary! Just let the chemicals do their job! The baking soda gets horrible, yucky, nasty looking but again, do not disturb it! Just let it dry completely. When it is dry, vacuum all of the baking soda up. It takes a lot of vacuuming if the baking soda us thick. If it is thick use a shop vac first and follow up with your home vac. Going to a car wash and using a heavy duty vac is ideal! This works on ANY textile that can tolerate vinegar! Make sure to use white vinegar! As with everything, test a small hidden piece of the textile first in the event it is not color-fast! Most auto textiles are as well as most carpeting. Furniture upholstery is not always color fast nor is many clothing fabrics. The beauty of this is that your car, carpet, etc. will not have ANY smell! No vinegar smell lingers! I have used this on my carpets for years with kids, pets, hubby…you name it! I have used it in a “used” car for my son’s friend and it looked like new upholstery and had no stinky, cigarette smell lingering. White vinegar and baking soda are both child and pet friendly and are natural deodorizers. Good luck! Btw…soap will attract dirt of ALL kinds! Do NOT USE SOAP ON TEXTILES EVER UNLESS IT CAN BE COMPLETELY RINSED OUT!

  • I appreciate this, I’m from NZ and Club soda isn’t a common term, Soda water is 🙂

  • We just call it soda where I’m from. In NYC it’s called seltzer.

  • This even works fairly well on stubborn grease stains (I’m a mechanic, so my upholstery takes a bit of a beating)… I used a nail brush to work the solution in, pretty impressed with the results!

  • I used this but I did it with Gain dish soap line and it made my car smell like clean laundry and vinegar but the vinegar smell went away after a day with the windows rolled down. I also took a twin water proof bed liner and neatly tucked it onto the seats after the seats were dry and replaced my kids car seats. I got a little handy one day and did 2 velcro covers so I can peel them off when they get a little gross and replace it with a clean one and wash the dirty one. And once a month I wash the bed liner. U may have to get a little crafty and cut here and sew there but in the end so worth it!!

  • do you have any suggestions for cleaning leather seats in your car?

  • Can you use this for the roof of your car?

  • If you have strong patience, you could just undo the seat covers slowly and place them in the wash like I did. They come out like brand new. Just hang them dry to make for an easier reattachment ( dryer tends to shrink things). If your not patient enough, then I would suggest you just scrub away instead. 🙂

  • I should have read all the comments before doing this (my mistake), as I now have a soapy mess in my car that will NOT come out. Looks like I’ll have to get it detailed after all.

  • You have a ton of typo’s in this. Get a new editor.

  • I used this recipe “equal parts” …and it worked great! My car looks just like your pictures and it cleaned the hard surfaces as well! My husband and I were both very excited! It was worth the smell of vinegar and elbow grease. Thanks for this tip! It will be a regular😊

  • What steam cleaner did you use or recommend using?

  • I tried this out yesterday and heres how it worked for me: First, I followed your mixture of equal parts of each, and at first used a spray bottle that didn’t spray very well. It sprayed in a stream rather than more of a spray and it came out very soapy and didn’t saturate the carpet(seats) like I wanted it too. So i tried another spray bottle that sprayed better and it did a little better spray wise, but I still found the mixture too soapy for my liking. I think equal part of dish soap was a little too much soap because I used a steam cleaner with water to suck all of that solution out after scrubbing and it took me FOREVER to get the soapy-ness out. Also, the vinegar smell is lingering (not too bad) but I would have used a little less vinegar in the solution to avoid such a strong smell. My seats were pretty dirty, and on some spots I had to use a generic upholstery cleaner to get some stains out as I found the solution maybe was more for generic cleaning rather than spot cleaning. But it left my seats smelling better than they were before. Also, I recommend using a steam cleaner with the hand attachment to suck out all the products from the seats, or else if you think about it, those products will just linger in your seats doing who knows what. That took a lot of time but for me it was worth it as I can’t afford to pay someone to clean my car. If I were to do this again, I would probably alter the solution slightly (less soap and vinegar) and use my steam cleaner again.

    • Bri! You’re so awesome! Thanks for taking the time to shaer what worked for you and your personal recommendation! I agree that a handheld steam cleaner would be an added plus. And I use vinegar so much around my house, I’m used to the smell I guess! 😀 I think it’s great for neutralizing odors! Thanks again for the feedback!

  • We have placed a towel (usually a pale coloured one) over the back seat where the kids sit, tucked it in and put their child safety seats on top. Because the towel is pale, it’s easy to see when it needs a wash, so it doesn’t get too grimy – and end up transferring grot to other parts of the car.
    … Might be useful after you have gone to all effort of getting your upholstery clean. 😉

  • Will this solution work on blood stains in car upholstery? My son had a bad nose bleed in my car and left a huge blood stain on the back seat…

  • This only worked marginally well, but left a significant vinegar smell for days. Not worth the time or smell!

  • Will it work on leather seats? Y’all

  • When I was done I put water plus essential oil in a spry bottle to help get rid of the bad smell.

  • I e done this by just mixing water and vinegar and using tide spray for stains. I sprayed the tide stain cleaner on the seat let set a few seconds. And just wiped with cloth wet with the vinegar & water mixture. Seats came clean. Didn’t measure any certain amount. I just winged it lol

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