How to Steam Clean Car Upholstery Yourself – A Step-by-Step Guide

Every next car owner will give you a different way of cleaning a dirty car upholstery, but for me one of the best ways to clean your car seats is to steam it. If you can learn how to steam clean car upholstery yourself, you can save a lot of money on professional services.

Why Steam Cleaning?

Steaming deeply cleans and sanitizes your car upholstery. No matter how dirty your car seats are from food debris, oil, sweat, and other stuff, steam cleaning does the trick.

It also penetrates deeply beyond the surface, so you can clean your seats from the inside out.

Steaming also works for both leather and fabric seats, and it involves zero toxic chemicals.

How to Steam Clean Car Upholstery Yourself

 Things You’ll Need: 

  • Heat resistant safety gloves
  • Car vacuum cleaner
  • An upholstery cleaner/shampoo (optional for super dirty seats)
  • A steam cleaner
  • A fan / blow dryer (optional)

9 Easy Steps to Steam Clean Your Car: 

These steps will make it easier to steam clean car upholstery yourself.

Step 1: Prepare yourself and the car.

wear heat resistant gloves

The first thing you wanna do is to wear heat-resistant gloves to protect your hands from scalding. Then you want to open all the car doors to allow the dust and steam to freely flow out of the car.

Step 2: Vacuum loose dust and debris.

car vacuum cleaner

 A vacuum car cleaner is a useful tool for removing leftover food or whatever debris you have lying around. Make sure to sweep the sides, bottoms, and backs of the seats and every crevice of your upholstery.

Step 3: Pre-condition and shampoo the car seats.

preconsition car seat

 This one you only gotta do if your car seats are extra filthy, like if there are stubborn stains that you want to be removed. There are pre-conditioners and shampoos made for the specific material of your car seats. Of course, apply the pre-conditioner first then the shampoo. Make sure to follow the instructions on the label.

Step 4: Add water to the steam cleaner water reservoir.

add water to steam cleaner

Now it’s time to prep the steam cleaner. You have to first put water into its water reservoir. This step is pretty simple, but make sure to read the specific operating instructions (and how much water should be added) on the operation manual since this will differ in each model of steam cleaners.

Step 5: Wait for the steam cleaner to heat up.

waiting steam clean until heat

Wait for around 10 to 20 minutes or so depending on the model of your steam cleaner. Again, this should be indicated in the operation manual.

Step 6: Start steam cleaning.


 Once the steam cleaner is hot enough, start cleaning the car seats one section at a time. Go slow and be thorough, and let your strokes overlap to make sure that no area is missed.

Step 7: Pay extra attention to stains.

 If there are still stains on your seats, hold the steam cleaner onto the stained area for about 15 seconds. Do this ONLY with fabric seats! Avoid doing it on leather car seats as too much moisture damages leather.

 Step 8: Add more water to the water reservoir as needed.

 Some steam cleaners will simply stop producing water when empty while others will have a light to indicate when it’s empty. Make sure to know how your steam cleaner works in this aspect.

Step 9: Let it dry.

Once you’re sure you’ve covered every area of your car seats, let them air dry completely. Don’t close the windows and car doors to speed up the drying process. If you’re running out of time, you can use a fan or even a blow dryer to dry the car seats up.


Pro Tips: 

  • If your car upholstery has any metal parts like zippers, avoid getting these wet as it may cause them to rust.
  • Regularly vacuum your car to avoid buildup of tough dirt. At least once a month is a good start.
  • When you spill liquid on your upholstery and leave it on for too long, it can deeply embed into the fabric, making it tough to remove. Clean up your mess right away to save you the hassle of permanent staining.


And that’s how to steam clean car upholstery yourself. It’s a straightforward process that you can safely do yourself. Just make sure to study the instruction manual of your tools. Before you go, be sure to check out my other tips on how to keep your car clean!

Author: Colin

Colin Marcelino is a Mechanical Engineer turned online entrepreneur. He sells car washers and any other stuff he finds useful. He also loves music. He is a guitarist on his own rock and roll world.

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