How to Clean a Baby Car Seat

Babies don’t know how hard it is to clean a dirty baby car seat. No matter what you do, that rug rat will throw up all over their seat, shoot poop on it, stain it, and drool on it. They’ll spill yogurt, crunchy bits of snack, orange juice, and other kinds of liquids all over the straps and seat cover. In the end, you have a messy, grimy, smelly car seat. So, how do you deep-clean that dirty baby car seat at home?

Related: How to Carry a Car Seat Without it Killing Your Back

Hang around a bit and you’ll learn how to love your child’s safety seat and leave it looking fresh and smelling fresh. As clean as it was when you bought it.

So, where do you begin?

Do What You Can As Soon As You Can

Procrastination happens to pretty much all of us. It’s easy to ignore small baby car seat stains and fluid spills until some unspecified future time.

But when these stains and spills dry up, they become more stubborn and become a whole lot harder to scrub off. So, form a habit of taking care of small incidents as soon as they happen. Don’t let stuff dry up and become much harder to deal with a few weeks or months down the road.

While you may not tackle the problem right away, you can do something. For example, you can pull up immediately your child does it again and give their seat a quick wipedown with some rag. You can also use wipes. I always had some rag somewhere when my boys were toddlers.

Once you’re back home, be sure to soak up the seat covers if you can’t clean them at that time. That’ll prevent spills from seeping into the fabric and becoming an almost impossible problem later.

Then, Review the Manufacturer’s Car Seat Care Manual

Related: What to Do With Old and Expired Car Seats

Before you start cleaning your car’s interiors, be sure to read the specific seat’s manual. Understand what the manufacturer says you should do as far as cleaning up baby messes.

Manufacturers use similar materials when building out kid car seats. For most seats, you can use a mild detergent to spot clean the seat. But it’s important to review the car seat manual first just in case there’s a critical piece of care information you should know.

Reading the car seat manual avails to you every approved seat cleaning method for that seat. The last thing you want is to use a cleaning method that damages the fabric or other components such as the seat straps. Nor do you want to use harsh cleaning products that have you looking for a new seat after the cleaning process.

If you misplaced your car seat manual or can’t locate it for the life of you at this time, head over to the seat maker’s website armed with the seat model. You should be able to find the care instructions specific to that model quickly.

How to Deep-clean Dirty Baby Car Seat

You’ve been eating in the car during bonding time with the love of your life. And you also have been bribing your kids with snacks and yogurt so they can let you think for a minute as you drive. Then there’s all the bodily fluids, fart, and vomit that have accumulated to a whole ton of gunk. In this situation, your car definitely needs a deep clean. But how do you do a thorough baby car seat cleaning job?

Here’s a video on how to properly clean a baby safety seat

YouTube video

What Not to Do When Deep-cleaning a Messy Child Car Seat

Do Not:

1. Leave the harness or seat belt webbing untouched

Do ever toss a harness or seat belt in a washing machine. Because washing a harness or seat belt degrades it and makes it less effective in terms of protecting y0u in a crash. Washing webbing diminishes its tensile strength and overall effectiveness at crash protection. For that reason, you don’t want to soak your straps in water or subject them to mechanical thrashing in your washing machine. 

2. Hose or power-wash your baby car seat or in any way drench it

Hosing some things to remove dirt works, but it’s a bad idea to power-wash or hose your child’s safety seat. When you do that, some of the water ends up on the underside where it causes rusting. And rusting can reduce the integrity of the seat in some way which is undesirable.

Gather the Resources You Need for the Clean

1. A sponge

2. A soft cleaning towel/microfiber towel/baby wipes

3. Warm water in a container 

4. Soap: Something gentle such as Dawn Dish Soap

5. A vacuum (optional) 

You need a sponge for spot cleaning your baby car seat. Baby wipes help you to remove solid debris. If you own a vacuum, that’ll speed up things, but you don’t absolutely need to have that.

The steps below are for cleaning an infant car seat and should apply to most seat types. That said, it’s ALWAYS best to follow the manufacturer’s infant seat cleaning instructions.

Take the Seat Off the Car

This shouldn’t be hard. If it’s a rear-facing only infant seat that should be pretty easy. Simply detach it from the base. The same goes for most convertible seats. If you face problems when disassembling the seat, turn to the seat’s manual.

Step 1: Wipe Off Loose, Solid Debris

You most probably won’t like this step because it’s all elbow grease or manual labor. But it’s necessary and helps. A lot. So, grab a soft towel and get down to work. Wipe off the solid debris on the seat’s surface. You won’t be able to reach the crevices, but don’t worry.

This step may take a little time. But if you omit it, you’ll find getting that baby seat cleaner to be a much harder process.

Step 2: Take Off Any Removable Padding and Fabric Cover

In most cases, the seat cover and removable padding can be tossed in the washing machine. If the seat’s maker says you can machine-wash the fabric and padding, remove them and hand them over to your washing machine. You want to use cold water on the delicate cycle.

As for detergent, be sure to use something mild or gentle. Some companies won’t recommend any else aside from Dawn Dish Soap. Even though the soap is mild, be sure to give your cover as many rinses as needed to get rid of the detergent completely.

Don’t use any kind of bleach, stain remover, vinegar, or any other kind of laundry additive when washing the fabric cover or padding. These substances treat such materials with harshness and tend to quicken the degeneration process.

After you clean these two car seat parts, take them out of the machine and air-dry them. It’s a bad idea to dry them in the drier as that’s been known to weaken car seat materials.

Hand-wash the Fabric Cover If It Can’t be Machine-washed

You can easily hand-clean the cover. Pour a little warm water into a small bucket. Then, take a sponge or a soft cleaning towel to clean the dirty spots. I once owned a baby car seat whose maker said the only thing we could do was spot-clean it.

If there are stains or areas that seem to be pretty dirty, it’s time to use a little mild soap. Put the cover in soapy water and rub the dirty spots gently. Finally, rinse out the soap and air-dry the cover. Some brands may allow tumble-drying. In that case, y0u can tumble dry the fabric over. In every other situation, stick to air drying.

Remember: reassembling a baby car seat can be a confusing process for first-time mamas and dads. I suggest that you take a before pic of what the seat looks like before removing the covers and padding.

What If the Cover Isn’t Removable?

You’ll have to spot-clean the cover, padding, and canopy using a sponge. Use a clean toothbrush to reach the crevices. Finally, give the entire seat a nice little wipedown using a microfiber towel and leave the seat plus everything else to dry out in the sun.

Step 3: Turn to the Buckles and Harness 

No matter how dirty the harness or buckle is, stay away from harsh cleaners such as Clorox. Instead, use a mild soap such as Dawn Dish Soap and warm water.

Tempted to use vinegar because it’s a natural cleaner and you don’t think it’s too abrasive? Don’t succumb to the temptation. Instead, use a mild detergent.

Venerated heavy-duty cleaners such as Clorox may do a great job, but they’ll compromise the integrity of the harness’ webbing. And if your baby has sensitive skin, strong cleaning chemicals can cause skin irritation.

Step 4: Clean the Buckles and Straps (Avoid Wetting the Straps!)

Refer to your baby safety seat’s care manual and see what the manufacturer says about how to clean the buckles and straps. Never wet the straps as that can make your car seat unsafe for your child during a crash.

So, how do you clean baby car seat straps if you can’t wash them in water? To clean baby car seat straps, use baby wipes or a damp sponge (damp with water and mild soap such as Blue Dawn Dish Soap). Don’t saturate the straps too much, but there’s no problem if the straps get a little damp. And if the straps smell, sunning them for some time should kill the odor.

Do Not submerge the straps of your child’s car seat in water or anything else no matter what as that weakens the webbing making it unsafe. Also, don’t use vinegar or any chemical bleach or pet cleaner on them as these substances can compromise the strap’s flame returdant.

How to Clean the Buckle

Well, the buckle attaches to the strap. So, how do you clean the buckle without wetting the straps? To clean a baby car seat buckle, dunk the buckle in a small container such as a cup with warm water and swish it around. That should soften and finally dislodge any solid debris stuck in the corners and crevices of the buckle. As you soak the buckle, make sure not to wet the strap to which the buckle attaches. 

*If the manufacturer says to not soak the buckle, then don’t do it. Remember that the buckle and straps take the majority of the load in a collision. What if you can’t get the straps and buckle clean using the recommended cleaning method? It’s time to get replacement parts.

Step 5: Clean the Baby Car Seat’s Frame and Base

To clean the frame, base, and any plastic part, turn to the vacuum and suck out any dry mess. If you don’t have a vacuum cleaner around, don’t worry. Simply take a microfiber towel and use it to clean out the nooks and crannies of the carrier’s inner side. Do the same for the exterior plastic of the seat.

If the canopy of your infant car seat has dirty spots on it, use a clean toothbrush dipped in a mild detergent to scrape the dry dirt off. Then, use a clean microfiber towel to dry the canopy. Finally, use a clean dry towel and give the frame and base a thorough wipedown to remove every trace of soap.

Step 6: Completely Air Dry the Baby Car Seat

Now that your kiddo’s seat is sparkling clean, it’s time to dry it up. If you have favorable weather, leave the clean frame and base and canopy to dry in the sun. The sun likes annihilating micro-organisms such as bacteria. What’s more, air-drying the baby car seat in the sun kills smells better than anything else.

Step 7: Reassemble Your Child’s Safety Seat

Reassembling the seat the first time can be a challenging process and can take you forever to figure out. Again, refer to the seat manual. Or, look at the before photo you took earlier and then try to figure out how to do it correctly.

Be careful when reinstalling the seat. You can have the best infant car seat in the world but if it’s not installed correctly, safety suffers.

What if you’ve followed the car seat’s installation instructions but still aren’t sure you’ve done it properly? In that case, arrange to have a checkup by a certified CPST. And if there’s a car seat inspection event near you, take advantage of that and learn. When it comes to your child’s safety, take no chances.

How to Prep for a Car Seat Puke

Well, kids puke on their car seat straps and other places creating a hard-to-look-at mess. And you never know when that little tike will throw up yogurt or juice or milk or whatever all over the seat. So, how do you prep for this likely nasty little event?

Always have a puke session-ready bag in your car’s trunk. And here’s what to put in that puke response bag:

  • A change of clothes for your baby
  • An extra shirt for mom
  • A few extra butt wipes
  • Microfiber towels
  • Disposable gloves
  • Disposable vomit bags (for long road rides)
  • Travel size baby wash and bottled water so you can clean your baby on the go

You absolutely need a couple of disposable vomit bags in that puke response bag. When you’re on the road for hours or days on a family trip, be sure to bring a few of these bags.

The good thing is that they’re easy to use and are not expensive, and they work really well. At least the good ones. The best ones are thick enough and don’t leak. Nor do the contents smell. Well, the contents do smell; you just won’t notice it because the vomit bag keeps things nice and sealed.

I can’t count the number of times these have made my life easier. They’re definitely a lifesaver!

Cleaning a Child Car Seat FAQs

1. How Do You Safely Clean a baby Safety Car Seat?

In most cases, you can simply spot clean the seat. But if the seat is pretty dirty, remove the cover and padding from the vehicle and machine wash them with mild soap and cold water on the gentle cycle. Finally, wipe down the exterior. Air-dry the seat and removable parts before the re-assembly.

2. What is the Best Detergent for Cleaning a Baby Safety Seat?

Use a mild soap such as Dawn Dish Soap and stay away from all kinds of bleaches, stain removers, and laundry additives.

3. Can I Machine-wash or Tumble-dry My baby’s Car Seat?

Some seats can be machine-washed, but where the manufacturer directs otherwise, it’s best to follow their advice. As for tumble-drying, it’s almost always best to air-dry. In some cases, you can tumble-dry. So, be sure to review the care instructions.

4. Should I Wash the Straps of My Baby’s Car Seats?

No, you should not wash the straps with water because that weakens the strap material making the seat less safe for crash protection. Instead, spot-clean the straps with a damp sponge or use a soft brush then wipe off any remaining moisture. Do not soak car seat straps. Buckles can be soaked and swished around warm water to loosen up gunk. But you must be careful so as not to saturate the straps.

Cleaning a Baby Car Seat: Wrapping Up

Cleaning up a dirty child safety car seat can be a daunting task. But if you follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions, you should be good.

If permitted, you need to wash any removable parts such as the cover on the gentle cycle using cold water and air dry in the sun completely to kill odors. Then, use a sponge or towel to clean the straps and the inside of the frame. As for the frame, base, vacuum them then wipe them down with a clean towel.

Unless so advised by the seat’s maker, don’t tumble-dry the cover and any other part. Instead, air-dry the seat and everything else in the sun. Finally, reassemble the cleaned seat and make sure everything especially is back right where it was. A certified car seat technician can check your seat to see if you reinstall it properly.

Author: Esther Moni

I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being Ricky's wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I juggle writing a post on parenting or baby gear performance for this blog and running my little counselling office based out in Nairobi. <a href="">Visit my Facebook profile here</a>, and this is my <a href="">LinkedIn profile</a>, and here's my <a href="">nascent youtube channel.

Esther Moni

I'm Esther Moni, a proud stay-at-home mom and a psychology graduate of the United States International University (USIU) . I hate it when anyone calls me a housewife, because what does housewife even mean? Being a mother of two babies and a pup, Bailey, as well as being a wife tires me to no end, but I still manage a smile at the end of it all. And when my boys aren't done doing mischief, I juggle writing a post on parenting or baby gear performance for this blog and running my little counselling office based out in Nairobi. Visit my Facebook profile here, and this is my LinkedIn profile, and here's my nascent youtube channel.