How to Properly Clean a Car Seat

For those of us that are parents, there is one thing that inevitably happens… typically at the worst times in the worst place…

your kid VOMITS…. not just a little. No. We’re talking PROJECTILE vomits.

One of the worst places?
Their car seat. Car seats have so many straps, creases and crevices that the vomit just seeps into. Problem is: you can’t just hose it off! There are many steps that you need to follow to make sure you don’t ruin your child’s car seat. You don’t want to compromise your child’s safety over a silly mistake… and yes. It’s that serious.

First things first. READ YOUR MANUAL. READ YOUR MANUAL. READ YOUR MANUAL!

Here are the rules to ALWAYS abide by when washing your child’s car seat:
#1. NEVER submerge the straps in water (you cannot put them in the washer or sink, tub, bowl, bucket, etc. that is full of water). This weakens the webbing in the straps and causes them to stretch far too much in an accident.
#2. Unless stated in the manual, do NOT put the cover in the washer or dryer (if your manual states that you can, use the “delicate” or “hand wash” cycle and for the dryer, use a no heat setting).
#3. Do not use any abrasive cleaners or laundry detergent. Your child’s car seat cover has flame retardant on it. Washing it in detergent or with cleaners (like oxy clean, bleach, etc.), strips away the flame retardant.

So, what do you do?
I’ve put together a step-by-step photo tutorial because I know it can be confusing.. even if you’ve read the manual (which you should ALWAYS read your manual).

For this tutorial, I am cleaning Bella’s seat: a Britax Pavilion G3. Car seats are all made differently, so chances are, you won’t be able to follow this exactly.. but these main steps will be  the same or similar for the majority of car seats. But, again, read YOUR manual.

This is what the seat looked like when I first bought it:
(Disclaimer: there is misuse in this picture. The seat was set up for Bella, but Emmy wanted to sit in it. The straps are too high and the strap is twisted.)
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so clean!
And today:
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Nasty!!!!

So, here’s what you’ll need:
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-baking soda
-vinegar
-a toothbrush (NOT yours… use your husband’s if you’re mad at him!)
– a sponge
– Q-tips
– a DAMP rag
– a vacuum

Step #1:
STRIP IT.
This car seat has two pieces to the cover (some car seats only have one piece, some have more). If you think you’ll have trouble with reassembling your seat, I’d recommend taking pictures of yours as you disassemble it!
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most covers are attached with these little elastic loops (some car seats have plastic clips.. this seat has both).
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ta-daa.. naked head rest!
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Then I took the rest off:
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Then you have a naked seat. PLEASE ignore the phallus shaped crotch pad. Seriously, Britax?!
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hahahahahahaha….. sorry, still laughing.

Step 2:
REMOVE THE HARNESS.
First, loosen the harness all the way.
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this exposes the “yolk” that holds the straps together and makes it more accessible.
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then, unthread the harness loops from the yolk
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turn the car seat back around and pull the straps through
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then, flip it upside down and find where they end
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turn them and slide them through the slot:
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once you have the straps out, find the crotch strap and do the same thing.

Once you have all the straps off, take off the chest clip (and I had to remove the HUGS; only Britax seats have these).
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** I don’t remove the crotch buckles  because they can be cleaned easily without taking them off the straps.. but if you want to, you can (with some seats, you have to).

Now that you have the seat disassembled, you can start cleaning!
So…
Step #3:
wash the chest clip, HUGS and crotch strap
The crotch strap is where the damp towel and tooth brush come in. Use the damp cloth to wash the webbing and the toothbrush for the weird crevices.
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next, simply wash the chest clip and HUGS (if you have them) with warm water
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then, you’re done with those!
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Step #4
WASH THE STRAPS
hold the strap vertically and with your opposite hand, pinch the damp towel around the strap and wipe vertically.
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look at all the brown vomit I already washed off *gag*
Once you’ve wiped it that way, turn it the opposite way (but still vertical) and repeat that same…stroking motion… oh, Lord… now who’s being phallic?….
Then after that, scrub the straps horizontally.
I’ve found that doing this, it gets into the fibers better. Also, when your rag gets dirty, rinse it out with warm water and wring it out before wiping more.
This is also when I clean the crotch buckles
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Now that those are all clean..

Step #5
Rinse the cover pieces in the sink (you don’t want puke floating in your bath tub)
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I use the hottest water possible and spray off as much stuff as I can.

Step 6:
Fill your bath tub with warm water, 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/4 cup vinegar, mix it up and throw the cover in it.
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Then I get in and stomp all over it and swish it around
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I like to pretend I’m stomping on grapes and making wine like on I Love Lucy
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Use the sponge to scrub the really dirty spots. On Bella’s seat, it’s the bottom area because she’s still rear-facing and her shoes get all over that part
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Step #7:
Rinse it out and wring it out as much as possible
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then throw it in the dryer (remember to use a NO HEAT setting). I like to put it in there with DRY towels (to help soak up the water)… this time, I just threw it in with the last load of laundry that happened to be in there.
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Quick dryer tip: every 20 minutes, take the cover out and re-dry the towels/clothes on a heat setting (they will have soaked up A LOT of the water).. and once they’re dry, put the cover back in and restart the NO HEAT cycle.
Or you can drape them over some chairs
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While it’s drying….

Step #8:
Clean the shell
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Use the q-tips to get into all the tiny crevices
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I like to put a q-tip in the damp towel to run it through the dirty areas..
Here I’m using a q-tip to get some kind of crumb out from the headrest adjuster spring (no wonder it seemed so difficult to adjust lately)!
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Some of the areas are too deep to get to, so I use a butter knife (carefully) to loosen the crumbs that got wedged in there (this is under the seat)
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Another good way to loosen these crumbs is to turn the car seat upside down and shake the bejesus out of it. Once it’s all loose, use your vacuum hose attachment to suck it all out.
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Step #9:
Work all the moving parts of the seat. Here, I moved the headrest up to the highest position which loosened up even more crumbs.
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Step #10:
Reassemble the seat!
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Make sure everything is put together correctly. Loosen and tighten the harness (and tug on it), clip and unclip the chest clip, and buckle and unbuckle the crotch buckles.

And your seat is ready to get back in the car!

This whole process is rather lengthy (this took me 4 hours total.. drying takes up the majority of that), so if you don’t have a spare seat, don’t plan on going anywhere soon ;P

A lot of people ask me what they should do if they already washed their seat incorrectly. Fortunately, you can purchase a set of new straps, buckles and covers from your car seat manufacturer. If you do purchase new covers and straps, make sure it’s from the manufacturer! DO NOT purchase covers from independent sellers (like Etsy).
Some ask, but what if the straps still stink?
Sunlight works best! Leaving them in the sun all day works best, but if you don’t have that kind of time, add baking soda and vinegar to the water that you use for the rag. The vinegar smell WILL go away once it’s dry.

If you have any other questions, please leave a comment below!