7 Easy Steps To Remove Water Stains From Fabric Car Seats

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If you are trying to figure out the best way to remove water stains from the fabric in your car seats, there are several steps you will need to take. It’s happened to all of us at some point or another. Someone has left a half-full water bottle on the seat and the lid wasn’t on tight enough. Or maybe you left a window open during an unexpected storm. Whatever the reason, you can remove the stain completely, but you’ll need to follow a series of steps to do so.

Remove Water Stains From Fabric Car Seats 2 1 7 Easy Steps To Remove Water Stains From Fabric Car Seats

Table of Contents

How do you get water stains out of fabric car seats?

Here is how you can remove water stains from your fabric car seats:

  • Pat the area with a dry cloth
  • Vacuum the seat to rid it of excess dirt 
  • Apply vinegar to the affected area
  • Choose the right shampoo
  • Gently rub in vinegar and shampoo mixture
  • Allow the area to dry
  • Repeat if necessary

It can be incredibly frustrating when water has had a chance to sit on your car seats long enough to cause a stain in the affected area. 

You start to wonder if the stain will easily come out, or has the water resulted in permanent damage to your car seats. Most often, water stains can be removed, though it may take a bit of persistence, patience, and work on your part to restore your fabric seats back to their original glory.

I am a bit of a self-professed neat freak, which carries over from my home into my car. More than once, I have found a discarded water bottle leaking on my beloved car’s seats, or have woke up in the morning to find that someone left a window cracked and it had rained the night before. I have tried and tested many ways to get a water stain out of my fabric car seats and am excited to pass the knowledge on to you.

Remove Water Stains From Fabric Car Seats 7 Easy Steps To Remove Water Stains From Fabric Car Seats

How Do I Remove Water Stains from My Fabric Car Seats?

Our cars are a big investment…not just in money, but time as well. 

Americans spend a good deal of time taking care of their cars. For many of us, we spend as much time in our cars as we do practically anywhere else! 

The average American washes their car 13 times a year, which adds up in time and money. It would make sense, then, that no one is excited about cleaning up after a water spill when they’ve already spent time taking care of their car.

But don’t worry – cleaning a water stain off your fabric seats is pretty straightforward, if you just follow these steps.

1. Pat the Area With a Dry Cloth

When you first notice a water stain on your fabric seat, your first inclination might be to start rubbing at it, hoping to limit any further damage. 

Try to avoid doing this, even though it may seem like a natural response.

Water stains are far from the worst stains to remove from your car fabric. Anything with sugar, salt, or chemicals will be much harder and do significantly more damage.

That said, if you start rubbing too aggressively at a water stain, you could set it into the fabric and make it worse. And if the water has any salt in it (ie: you live near the ocean and the stain is from rain damaging your seats) you will risk rubbing the salt residue deeper into the fabric, making it significantly hard to remove.

Instead, start with a soft cloth, such as a microfiber one or a shammy. Gently dab at the stain and don’t rub it, not yet.

This will allow any water that may still be sitting on the top of the seat fabric to be absorbed before it soaks in. All you are trying to do at this stage is salvage what is left of your intact fabric and help to make sure the stain doesn’t get worse, or permeate deeper into the seat cushion.

2. Vacuum the Seat to Rid It of Excess Dirt

After you’ve dabbed at the stain with a good cloth, the next step will be to vacuum the entire seat cushion, focusing first on the stain, then on the fabric around it that has not yet been affected.

A good shop vac is best for this procedure. 

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Shop vacs are durable and made for common messes that are usually found in automobiles, garages, and in other areas that get exposed to a lot of outdoor dirt and grime. 

If you don’t have a shop vac, you can use a regular vacuum cleaner, but take care to make sure the area is fully dry before you start vacuuming, as you don’t want to risk electrocution or shorting out the vacuum if it’s exposed to water.

Vacuuming the fabric seat cover will guarantee there is no excess dirt or other debris that could end up being ground into the stain once you start cleaning it. 

The last thing you want to do is make your water stain worse, right?

When you vacuum, focus first on the center of the stain and firmly pull the vacuum nozzle out toward you, making short but intentional motions as you go. 

Move the vacuum nozzle around the stain, pulling it in a motion away from the middle and working around the entire seat cover. 

Don’t forget to take the time to get into each crack and crevice, taking great care to clean out the seam lines, where crumbs, lint, and hair can hide.

Remove Water Stains From Fabric Car Seats 1 7 Easy Steps To Remove Water Stains From Fabric Car Seats

3. Apply Vinegar to the Affected Area

The next line of defense for ridding your fabric seat covers of a water stain is to pour a teaspoon or so of vinegar onto a soft cloth and then apply the cloth firmly to the entirety of the stain.

Vinegar is acidic in nature, and works great for reacting to and eliminating all kinds of stains, from automobile spills to clothing catastrophes and beyond. 

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This step may not be necessary if the water stain is not significant, or if the water was solely from a water bottle left open and not from salt water, or rainwater that may be full of pollutants.

Plain water may not need the superpowers of vinegar, but if you are unsure of the nature of the stain, or find that after all steps have been taken the stain keeps reappearing, consider using a bit of vinegar to try and alleviate the problem.

If you find the smell of vinegar to be unpleasant, be patient. You will likely find that after the next step, the vinegar smell will disappear.

4. Choose the Right Shampoo

There are many different kinds of car shampoos on the market. 

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Whether you decide to buy one online, from an auto supply store, or even a big box store, you should be able to find one that fits your budget and needs.

The main thing you should look for in a good upholstery shampoo is one that has the ingredients that are specifically designed for your car seat type. 

Though some shampoos will claim they can be used on any car fabric, most car detailers or auto shop experts will suggest you find one that is made for your specific seat materials, such as fabric, leather, or vinyl.

Once you find the correct shampoo, you may want to test a bit of it on the underlying part of your seat to make sure it will not cause further damage when applied.

5. Gently Rub in Vinegar and Shampoo Mixture

Since you already applied the vinegar onto the water stain, the next step is to apply the shampoo on top of it.

Assuming you have tested the shampoo and it is a good fit for your seat cover, you can go ahead and generously spray or rub it across the entire water stain. 

Having a good shampoo brush will work wonders here, especially if the water stain is large or has been sitting for a while and is more stubborn than perhaps you first thought.

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Rub the brush through the shampoo in circular motions, starting from the center of the stain and working outwards. You can do this in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion, whichever is more comfortable for you and seems the most effective.

As you rub the vinegar and shampoo into the fabric, have a cloth handy to wipe away excess suds that get in your way. A good microfiber cloth will work well for this, as will anything that is ultra absorbent. 

This is not the towel you will use to dry the area, so make sure you have more than one available to use.

6. Allow Area to Dry

This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised at how many people skip this step.

Make sure the area you have treated is allowed to fully dry before you take any additional action. A typical fabric car seat will need anywhere from 3 to 6 hours to dry, depending on the conditions.

It is normal to want to look at the stain after treatment and be disappointed. A recently shampooed seat may look worse before it looks better.

Be patient and wait for at least three hours before you revisit the stain, more if you can.

As the seat dries, its appearance will change. Re-treating it too soon will only result in wasted time and product in many instances. Re-treating could also end up oversaturating the seat and causing permanent discoloration that will be much harder to remove than the original water stain.

Another important part of this step is to try and expose the treated fabric to fresh air and indirect sunlight, if possible. Keeping the car open will guarantee a faster drying period and will ward off any chances of mold or mildew setting into the damp fabric.

It is also best if you can avoid driving the vehicle while it dries, or at least not using the seat that was just treated. Again, you want to give it time and air to dry out before you use it or think about treating it again.

7. Repeat if Necessary

Finally, if after three or more hours, the stain has not gone away, you may want to consider re-treating the area. 

Waiting for 24 to 48 hours is ideal, to give the fabric time to fully dry out and see if there is any significant change to the stain.  

If you decide to repeat the above steps and are still not having luck with removing the water stain, it may be time to take the car to a professional for assistance.

Professional car detailers are incredibly adept at removing even the most stubborn of stains. Oftentimes their products are not available for retail sale, and they have equipment that the average car owner doesn’t usually own. 

A good car detailer will not only be able to detract your stain, but they will be able to tell you what caused it and how you can better treat it yourself, if this happens again.