How Do I Clean My Baby’s Car Seat?
Babies are messy. This is a fact of life—an especially constant fact in the life of a parent. If you’re a parent, then there is no doubt that you’ve experienced the almost impossible amounts of bodily fluids that your tiny child seems to excrete on a daily basis. Or perhaps you’ve realized your child has yet to master the art of holding onto things, and one too many times you’ve handed your little one a bowl of food only to have it clatter to the floor or sofa and make a mess.
If you’re a parent fond of taking your child out for trips in the car, then you’ll also know that these scenarios are far from limited to the comforts of your family home. By now, your child’s car seat should have witnessed vomit, drool, and a variety of other liquids that may have been spilled on it and absorbed by the fabric.
This poses a problem then, as your baby’s immune system is still weak, and an unclean car seat can harbor all sorts of nasty things: from bacteria to mold to allergens and the like. Especially as it sits in your car—and thus likely in the broiling heat— all day, car seats are an item that is essential to keep clean.
If you find yourself lost on how to clean car seats, then worry not! Here’s a handy list we’ve compiled for you:
How to Clean Car Seats for Your Child
- Remove Car Seat
The first thing you’ll want to do is take the entire car seat out of the car and place it down on a cover—maybe an old blanket or a tablecloth if you have one. Make sure to detach any toys or accessories attached to the seat as well. Great tip: take a picture of the car seat fully assembled before disassembling it to clean (and then take a photo of each step of the disassembly). This will help you later when you need to reassemble the seat again.
- Clean Up Loose Dirt and Debris
Use a vacuum to clean up all the dust, dirt, food, and other debris, especially those lodged into the cracks of the seat. Get to the under part of the material by lifting it off the seat. You might want to ask a family member to help you hold up certain parts of the fabric so you can get to the hard-to-reach places.
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- Clean the Harness Straps and Fabric Cover
If they can be removed, remove the car seat cover and harness. Refer to your car seat manual to check if the harness straps and fabric cover can be removed and if the fabric cover can be machine-washed or hand-washed, otherwise, leave it alone and spot clean instead.
If the fabric cover can be removed but is hand-wash only, rinse it off first to get rid of any loose mess on the cloth. Then wash it with a gentle soap and cold water. Depending on what your manual says, hang the cover out to dry in the sun, or machine dry it.
For the harness straps, never put them in the washing machine, nor submerge them in water. This might stretch out the fabric webbing and render the harness unsafe in a crash. Instead, wipe it down using a soft cloth and warm water. Use soap only if it’s needed, but never harsh chemicals or cleaning sprays. Lightly rinse and air-dry.
- Clean and Sanitize the Plastic Base
For the plastic base of the seat, you’ll want to turn it upside down first and gently bang on the bottom to remove any leftover debris.
Then, you can clean it using mild soap and warm water. Apply a small amount on a damp cloth, clean the entire car seat, and then rinse off the soap with a wet cloth. You’ll want to pay special attention to the arms of the seat, as these tend to get the grimiest. Do not douse the base of the seat in water as this might ruin the base.
If the car seat has toys attached (which we don’t recommend, as they can become dangerous projectiles in an accident), you’ll want to clean these too by wiping it down with a bit of soap and water before re-attaching it to the seat (or pop them in the washing machine/dishwasher if the care instructions allow it).
- Reassemble the Car Seat
Reassemble the seat (using the manual and your previous photos as a guide), then reinstall the car seat back into the car as per the car seat manual. Always make sure that the seat is correctly re-installed—if it moves an inch sideways or forward or backward at the seat belt path, then it’s very likely installed incorrectly. If you’re having trouble with the re-installation, take it to a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST) - us!
Important Cleaning Tips
First things first—don’t wait until your car seat is gross and grimy to clean it! This is how to clean car seats in the most efficient way possible. Once you see a spill, try to clean it out. This is essential for the health of your baby, and It also prevents stains and other dirt from accumulating and ruining your seat permanently.
Remember: the longer the mess sits, the more difficult it will be to clean, so get on it ASAP.
It’s also best to set aside some time every couple of months to wipe down the seat and make sure everything is clean. You’ll want to do this when you aren’t in a rush, as you’ll want to make sure it’s a thorough clean.
Also, if your seat is starting to stink, air and sunshine are your friend. If your child spit up or had a diaper spill in the car seat, roll down the windows to let the fresh air circulate and carry the odour out before it settles on the car seat cover. After washing your seat thoroughly, leaving it out in the sun to dry should eliminate any remaining odours.
It’s also important to note that you should pay attention to the soap and detergents you use when cleaning the car seats. Some babies have very sensitive skin and will react to harsh chemicals or strong fragrances, this is not actually the problem with using these cleaners - the bigger issue is that car seats have been treated with fire retardant chemicals and harsh cleaners can remove this safety feature which can be tragically catastrophic in the event of a car accident (have a look here at what happens when the seat’s fire retardant qualities are reduced). Just use simple mild soap and warm water.
Lastly: pay attention to the car seat manual! The manual should have instructions on how to clean car seats. This should prevent you from unintentionally ruining your seat by tearing the cover or removing a built-in harness. Paying attention to the car seat manual will make sure your car seat stays safe and keep you from beating yourself up over an easily preventable mistake.
Planning a one-on-one vacation with your child? Read Alex and Pete's adventure in Japan for inspiration.