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How to Clean a Baby Car Seat: 7 Simple Steps

Medically Reviewed by Kristen Gardiner, CPST
The easiest way to tackle the mess that is your baby’s car seat.

Aren’t kids messy? I think that’s something we can all agree on. Between food stains, markers, crumbs, and spills, among other things, baby car seats can get pretty dirty.

They can have epic accidents before you have a chance to pull over. It’s super gross, and you can’t help but cringe and wonder, “How do I even clean this up?”

Well, with kids, that’s possibly a question you ask yourself constantly. If the latest crime scene is the car seat, worry not because we’re here to help. There are several ways you can get it to look brand new again, so read on to find out how.

Key Takeaways

  • Act quickly to clean spills and stains from baby car seats, using baby wipes or a rag to remove messes before they dry and set in.
  • Always consult the baby car seat manual for specific cleaning instructions and recommended products to avoid damaging the seat.
  • Remove the cover and padding for easier cleaning, and clean the harness, buckles, and frame using warm water and gentle soap.
  • Air dry the car seat components in the sun before reassembling, ensuring everything is completely dry to prevent mold and mildew growth.

Where Do You Begin?

In an ideal and convenient world, some of these messes would just happen at home, where it’s easier to deal with the situation. But it’s generally when you’re well on your way that you hear the ominous retching sound.

To make you feel better, regardless of how messy things get, you’ll laugh about it one day. Maybe not yet because it’s bound to happen again, but your time will come. Until then, here are the first two things you need to do to clean your baby’s car seat:

1. Move Fast

If you let stains and spills sit for a long time, removing them successfully will be next to impossible. Dry messes can sometimes wait, but wet messes cannot. However, you will want to take care of the baby first and ensure they are alright.

Your second priority should be to wipe off anything you can with a rag or wipes as soon as possible. If you don’t have time, at least presoak the seat cover. This will prevent the spill from drying up and setting.

2. Check the Baby Car Seat Manual

If this is your first time cleaning your baby’s car seat, you’ll want to become familiar with the manual. While most car seats come with similar materials, you don’t want to miss any specific cleaning instructions from the manufacturer.

The car seat manual should have some helpful leads for cleaning methods you can use. Can’t find your car seat manual? Most manufacturers have them available online.

Go to their website and search for your car seat’s model (you can find your model number on a sticker on your car seat if you aren’t sure). The manual should be available on the website.

This is the most crucial step because you can mess things up if you miss anything. Using the wrong cleaning products or methods might render your car seat unusable. For example, it’s tempting to get the pressure washer out and blast away all that gunk, but this can weaken the car seat’s plastic. With correct instructions, it will be easier to do the job safely.

Each time my husband and I have to clean a car seat, we determine that our child will never eat in the car ever again. But that determination never seems to last. Snacks can be a lifesaver on long (or short) trips!

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Gather Your Cleaning Supplies

For most baby car seats, you’ll need these supplies to get started:

1. Wipe Off What You Can

Before you get down to cleaning out the nooks and crannies, pick up as much solid debris as you can. While it may seem you’re picking away for hours, it will be much easier to clean the seat when you do this.

You can use baby wipes or a simple cleaning towel for this step. It’s even better if you have a handheld vacuum.

2. Remove the Cover and Padding

Take off the cover and any removable padding from the seat for easier cleaning. Most car seats come with covers you can remove easily. Start from the top and remove any clips or buttons used to fasten it in place.

Many fabric covers can be washed on the delicate cycle of the washer with cold water. Double-check your manual to be sure this is permitted. Use a mild detergent and ensure it is thoroughly rinsed. If you use the washing machine, avoid using the dryer. Putting any car seat parts in the dryer can compromise their integrity.

If the cover can’t go in the machine, soak it for a while, then use warm water to clean it by hand. Use the sponge to clean the spots and stains until they fade. Use mild soap on visible stains, then rub gently using a circular motion.

3. Clean the Harness and Buckles

With warm water and gentle soap, wipe down the harness as much as you can. You might be tempted to try a more heavy-duty cleaner like Clorox, but that is not recommended.

Abrasive cleaners could damage the webbing of the harness and compromise the seat. They may also irritate your baby’s skin. Even natural cleaners like vinegar should not be used with car seats, so stick with mild soap.

The buckles are pretty straightforward to clean. You should be able to swish them around in water to dislodge any debris that may be stuck in the grooves and little corners. Be sure to check your manual for more specific instructions, as each manufacturer has different rules for cleaning the buckles.

4. Clean the Frame

The base and frame are the easiest parts of the car seat to clean. If you are dealing with a dry mess, a vacuum cleaner is your best bet. Then use soap and warm water to clean the entire frame, wiping it down with a clean cloth afterward to remove any soap residue. If there is gunk in the cracks and crevices of the seat, use an old toothbrush to get it out.

5. Air Dry the Seat Before Assembly

Once the seat is clean, place it where it can air dry completely. Air drying in the sun will help eliminate any odor left behind and leave it smelling fresh. If you have a removable cover, hang it to dry.

If the cover does not come off, leave the entire car seat in the sun to dry. It’ll probably take more time than it would if it was disassembled, but it’s better than leaving it to collect mold or mildew. It’s advisable to leave the car seat for a few hours or up to a whole day to allow it to dry fully.

[ethoroughlys-note name=”kristen”]If you still have odor issues, try going through the washing process again and drying everything in the sun. If the smell still persists, contact the car seat manufacturer for guidance or information about replacement parts.[/editors-note]

6. Reassemble the Seat

Once everything is completely dry, reassemble the car seat and put it back where it belongs. If you took note of everything while disassembling, reassembly should be a breeze.

You can easily refer to your manual if you are unsure how to assemble the parts. You must ensure the cover fits correctly. The straps especially need to go back in the correct order so that you don’t compromise your child’s safety or comfort.

Preventative Cleaning Tips

It’s almost impossible to keep your baby’s car seat clean at all times. However, there are several things you can do to protect it and avoid catastrophes. These points have come in handy for us over the years:

  • Keep baby wipes within reach in the car: This may seem obvious, but instead of fumbling through your bag, keep a pack in a specific location. You can also let your kids know where they are and encourage them to use them when necessary.
  • Get a pack of disposable vomit bags: These help a lot as they are odorless and leakproof. They are inexpensive and have been a lifesaver for me, especially on long summer vacation road trips.
  • Use snack containers to prevent spills: You can get travel-friendly containers for your kids. Ensure they’re easy for your child to open and close.
  • Bring a cleaning kit for road trips: I like to bring a bag with a towel or paper towels, bottled water, and a travel-sized baby soap so you can spot clean on the go until you reach your destination.


Do I Need to Wash an Infant’s Car Seat?

Yes, washing an infant’s car seat is essential to remove dirt, germs, and potential allergens, ensuring a clean, safe, and worry-free environment for your baby.

How Often Should You Wash a Baby Car Seat?

Wash the car seat cover and padding regularly, especially after spills or sickness. A good rule is to clean it thoroughly every few months or as needed.

Can You Wash a Car Seat In the Bathtub?

Yes, you can wash a car seat in the bathtub using mild soap and warm water. Ensure all parts are well-rinsed and completely dry before reassembling.

Can You Use Clorox Wipes On Baby Car Seats?

Avoid using Clorox wipes on baby car seats as they contain chemicals that might be too harsh for the fabric and unsafe for your baby. Stick to mild soap or baby-friendly cleaners.

Can You Power Wash Baby Car Seats?

It’s not recommended to power wash baby car seats as the high pressure can damage the seat’s material and integrity. Use gentle hand washing instead.

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Medically Reviewed by

Kristen Gardiner, CPST

Kristen Gardiner, CPST is a writer, wife, and mother to three boys. Kristen became certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician by Safe Kids Worldwide in 2015 and loves to volunteer and help educate parents about car seat safety. She has a passion for all things related to child safety.