Top 11 Best Upholstery Cleaners in 2018

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What are the top 11 best upholstery cleaners for cloth car interiors and seats for the money?We live in a world of choices today. It doesn’t matter if you are buying clothes or paint. You have a plethora of options and need to pick a product that works for you.

This also true of picking a cleaner for your car’s fabric upholstery. You know, for those times when a simple vacuuming is not going to remove that those mud stains left by the kids or dog. And lets not just blame the young ones and pets, what about that coffee you spilled.

You love your car, and want something that will clean it thoroughly, but not hurt the fabric. But you don’t run to Wally World and buy the first thing you see.

Not you, you ask the smart question:

What are some of the best automotive upholstery cleaners?

Well this guide was prepared to help you with that question, and below I present a summary of the best cleaning products for most car fabrics.

Top Automotive Upholstery Cleaners

Before Using an Upholstery Cleaner

The one thing that is often overlooked is the routine cleaning. Cloth is the perfect material to collect and trap grains of dirt and small debris. So, a regular vacuuming session is a must. Recommendations range, but in general:

Do a thorough vacuum cleaning of your car’s upholstery once a month.

Now I can sense that some of you are saying, that sounds like a lot. But it isn’t. Most of us use our cars daily, and the constant treading in and out brings large amounts of dirt and debris into our automobiles.

And when you vacuum, do the seats and door panels first then the carpet last. Many vacuum the carpet first, then as they clean the doors and panels, they drag more dirt in onto the carpet.

With the routine cleaning out of the way, let’s move on to the more difficult, and dreaded, deep cleaning and stain removal.

Deep Cleaning and Stain Removal

The first step in this process is, well we just talked about it, a good vacuuming. That’s right, you need to vacuum the fabric and carpets before you deep clean. If you don’t, you will just grind those grains of sand and debris into your precious fabric.

Now you are ready to get rid of those nasty stains and do a deep cleaning. You will need a cleaning product, some sort or foam or shampoo, or maybe a spot remover. Which one do I choose?

Upholstery Cleaner pH and Different Types of Stains

Few people know this, but not all stains are created equal. The things that stain upholstery like coffee, soda, oil, sweat, lipstick and sunscreen all have different chemistries. Some of these stains are best cleaned with an alkaline cleaner (high pH), others are removed with an acidic solution (low pH), while some will never dissolve in water (hence organic solvents being used at times).

The significance of these differences is important because various stains will need different cleaners to fully remove them. So chances are, you will fail to completely banish all stains using a jack-of-all-trades upholstery cleaner.

The reason I’m bringing this up is because most upholstery cleaners on the market are a jack-off-all-trades. They do a fine job with general cleaning of your upholstery and brightening the material, but may be lacking for that real caked on soil or tough stain.

For those tough stains and heavily soiled areas, you need specially formulated cleaners for complete stain removal, and this is no slight to the general-purpose upholstery cleaners. There is simply no chemistry (a.k.a. formulation) currently available for an upholstery cleaner that can remove everything that might stain a car’s upholstered surfaces, while not harming the fabric.

It’s all about managing expectations when buying auto detailing chemicals. I don’t want you to be unhappy with a purchase because it didn’t do something it simply wasn’t meant for.

You can learn more about the different types of stains, and the types of cleaners best suited for them, in my article Ultimate Guide to Upholstery Cleaning and Care. I’ll also mention some special cleaners for those special stains at the end of this list.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some the best examples of upholstery cleaners available today.

NOTE: It is understood by most, but to be safe let’s state up front that when we say, “car upholstery” or “automotive upholstery,” we are talking about cloth and fabric upholstery. Suede, Alcantara, and leather are not included in this category, and in fact we have separate guides for those materials.

Related Articles: Cleaning & Maintaining Alcantara & Suede & Guide to Leather Cleaning and Care

Chemical Guys Fabric Clean Carpet and Upholstery Shampoo and Odor Eliminator

Chemical Guys CWS_103_16 Fabric Clean...
472 Reviews
Chemical Guys CWS_103_16 Fabric Clean...
  • Breaks down and removes stubborn stains
  • Works on indoor and outdoor fabric, upholstery and carpet
  • Deep cleaning benefits of biotechnology
  • No toxic chemicals, ammonia, bleach, color damaging...
  • No hard rubbing or scrubbing necessary

Pros

  • Pleasant odor.
  • Free of ammonia, bleach, and solvents.
  • Great reviews by users (many with before and after pictures).
  • Some have used with success in a steam extractor.
  • Used by professional detailers.
  • No toxic chemicals.
  • Contains degreaser and enzyme odor eliminator.
  • Concentrate, diluted 20:1 before use.

Cons

  • Leaked in shipping for some customers.
  • Did not remove every stain, and may need to use specialized spot remover on tough stains

Of all the cleaning products researched, Chemical Guys Fabric Clean one had the most glowing reviews. Yes, reading reviews is tricky business; there are paid for comments, competitors snipping, trolls, etc. But in this case, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and many had before/after pictures from people who used the product. And why did they post photos? Because the cleaner did a good job.

One of the interesting attributes of this product is the enzyme odor eliminator. This is always a plus if it works (not all odor eliminators are created equal), and with this product it did remove a number of odors.

This product is supplied as a concentrate and you dilute the shampoo before use. So, yes you need to mix it, but it also means that bottle you bought will last a long time. And you don’t pay to ship any extra, heavy water! Also, you could mix a more concentrated solution for cleaning those really tough stains, and there are users who have done this with success. So, you have some control of over the strength, depending on your needs.

Last, it is always worth considering the odor of a cleaning product, especially one designed to clean a cabin you will be trapped in for, well insert the time of your commute. Suffice it to say, you don’t want to be stuck inside your car with an odor that makes your stomach turn.

With the Chemical Guys Fabric Clean there is a mild citrus odor after cleaning, but it is pleasant and dissipates within a few days, if not sooner. I could find no complaints about an unacceptable odor.

 

3D Upholstery and Carpet Shampoo

3D Upholstery & Carpet Shampoo - 16 oz |...
26 Reviews
3D Upholstery & Carpet Shampoo - 16 oz |...
  • Cleans & Deodorizes in one step.
  • Low foam with odor eliminator.
  • Designed to work with carpet extractors.
  • Contains optical brightener to bring out the origional...
  • Concentrated, dilute 4 to 8 onces for every 5 gallons of...

Pros

  • Concentrate, diluted (1 to 2 oz per gallon of water) before use
  • Bottle of concentrate last a long time
  • Can vary strength depending on your cleaning needs
  • Lemon Scented
  • Brightens the look of your fabrics
  • VOC compliant
  • Odor eliminator and optical brightener

Cons

  • Not for use in steam extractors (is a “high foam” formula)
  • Complaints of container damaged in shipping
  • Did not remove every stain, and may need to use special spot remover on tough stains.
  • Degreaser may be needed in conjunction with this product

3D Upholstery and Carpet Shampoo is a high foaming shampoo and comes as a concentrate. You must dilute the shampoo before use. And that means you can vary the strength depending on your needs. Plus, your bottle lasts a long time and you didn’t pay to ship water.

But unlike some of the other shampoos on this list, it is a high foaming product, designed to be used manually with a scrub brush. Unlike some of the other shampoos on this list, it cannot be used in steam cleaners/extractors.

3D Products notes this product contains an optical brightener, which helps to make your fabric pop.

And it also contains an odor eliminator, which I like in an upholstery cleaner. Fabrics can grab onto odors and a product like this is a great way to resolve that problem.

I found it interesting that the instructions call for treating tough stains before cleaning with this product. That is honest and makes sense, as the general cleaning done with 3D Upholstery and Carpet Shampoo after treating the stains will help “rinse” out the spot remover, which is likely to be a stronger/harsher chemical. Also, with this technique you minimize the chance of a faint halo around the area where you did a spot treatment that sometimes appears.

The odor you can expect ranges from mild to almost none, and it is a clean, citrus smell users find pleasant.

 

Sonax Upholstery and Carpet Cleaner

Sonax (321200-755) Upholstery and Carpet...
32 Reviews
Sonax (321200-755) Upholstery and Carpet...
  • Effectively cleans & removes stubborn dirt from fabrics,...
  • Foaming-action formula is rich in cleaning agents...
  • Traps & eliminates odors with a clean, fresh scent

Pros

  • No complaints about odor
  • Easy to use, no diluting or buckets, just spray on
  • Good for mild to moderated cleaning jobs
  • Part of a popular product line
  • Scented (if you like that)

Cons

  • Not aggressive on stains and heavily soiled areas
  • Will need to be used with a spot remover or degreaser
  • Scented (if you don’t like that)

Sonax Upholstery and Carpet Cleaner is the first product on our list that comes premixed in a trigger spray bottle. So, it is easy to use. Just spray, lightly scrub if needed, and wipe with a damp cloth. This is handy for routine cleaning of ordinary dirt and soil.

But you cannot vary the strength for areas that may need some extra cleaning power, and users did indeed find that their tougher stains did not come out.

One positive aspect of cleaning your upholstery with Sonax Upholstery and Carpet Cleaner  is that you do not over wet your seats and other upholstery. That means less waiting for everything to dry (compared to steam cleaning).

This product does leave a lemon scent, and most found it to be acceptable.

As a last thought, I noticed many of the trigger spray bottle products, in general, did not ship as well as the other bottles. There were a few complaints of cracked and leaking spray nozzles/caps during shipping. So, if you order online, use a good retailer who packages well.

 

Car Guys Super Cleaner

Sale
CarGuys Super Cleaner - The Most...
1,132 Reviews
CarGuys Super Cleaner - The Most...
  • - THE HYPE IS REAL! - Are you tired of using cleaners that...
  • - REPLACE YOUR CABINET OF CHEMICALS! - Do you get confused...
  • - SUPER CLEAN ANY SURFACE! - This multi surface product...
  • - CLEAN FINISH, NO GLOSS! - Stop purchasing inferior...
  • - WHAT IF I'M NOT HAPPY? - There is nothing on the market...

Pros

  • Low odor
  • Free of ammonia
  • Popular product with tons of reviews, mostly good and many with pictures
  • Can be used on other surfaces (except glass, and many did not like results on the cars painted parts)
  • Used by professional detailers
  • No toxic chemicals

Cons

  • Manufacturer does not reveal ingredients
  • Not formulated specifically for cloth
  • Did not clean dye transfer from clothes
  • Leaked in shipping for some customers
  • Did not remove every stain, and may need to use spot remover on tough stains

Car Guys Super Cleaner is the first all-purpose cleaner (APC) on our list. And it is a good one with many positive reviews.

This is a premixed product, so you spray it on your cloth and wipe down your surface. For tougher spots, you can spray the surface lightly and wipe.

But like most spray on, general purpose cleaners there are times when you will need to pretreat tougher stains. Some “spot” treatments are included further down on this list.

And as stated on the Car Guys website, the product is intended to clean “Seats, Dashboard, Steering Wheel, Door Panels, Floor Mats, Trim, Awning Cover, Wheel, Tire and Engine Bay Degreaser.” So, you can use it for more than just upholstery cleaning.

One caution. Be careful around glass and instrument panels, the manufacturer cautions against getting over spray on those areas.

They do sell one-gallon refills, so you don’t have to buy the smaller spray bottle every time. And as mentioned earlier, trigger spray bottles seem prone to damage in shipping. Use a good retailer who packages well if you order the spray bottle online.

 

Blue Magic Heavy Foam Upholstery Cleaner

Blue Magic 914 Heavy Foam Upholstery...
107 Reviews
Blue Magic 914 Heavy Foam Upholstery...
  • Removes stubborn stains
  • Cleans and brightens upholstery
  • Prevents spills from penetrating
  • Cap is also an applicator brush for concentrated stains
  • This item is not for sale in Catalina Island

Pros

  • No mixing or diluting, just spray from can
  • Comes with scrub brush on cap
  • For general cleaning, does the job
  • Foam does not over wet or soak you seats and upholstery
  • Contains a stain guard

Cons

  • Odor was strong when applied. Dissipated quickly, but when applying should have good ventilation
  • Foam spay is messy and may have some overspray
  • Damage to cap in shipping
  • Did not work on all stains. May need to use with spot remover or degreaser
  • May irritate eyes

Blue Magic Heavy Foam Upholstery Cleaner is an aerosol foam product, which allows for easy application on large sections of upholstery, say an entire seat in just a few seconds. You just point and shoot the foam. But like the other general upholstery cleaners on our list, heavy soiled areas and tough stains may need to be “spot” treated.

And it may be hard to keep over spray off adjacent surfaces. It is always a good idea to keep the foam off glass and electronics, like instrument panels. A couple of users did report over spray on vinyl and plastic, but they removed it immediately and noticed no damage.

This product does contain a stain guard, so once everything is clean it will be harder for stains to soak into your fabric and “set.” A nice plus to keep your upholstery looking good.

Foam products in general do not over wet the upholstery, so the interior will dry faster (compared to steam cleaning for example).

The cap is designed with a built-in brush. While a nice, convenient accessory, the cap’s brush may be too stiff for some fabrics, and one user did report damage to her fabric when scrubbing with the cap’s integral brush.

The odor was reported to acceptable by most after the cleaning was done. But a few found it strong when applying the product, and you may want to spray the foam in a well ventilated area (roll those windows down!).

 

Wolfgang Carpet and Upholstery Restorer

Wolfgang Carpet & Upholstery Restorer 16...
5 Reviews
Wolfgang Carpet & Upholstery Restorer 16...
  • Safe and effective on any surface
  • Water-based, concentrated formula
  • Aromatic scent
  • Lifts dirt out of fibers, while protecting the fabric, thus...
  • 16oz. Trigger spray

Pros

  • Pleasant odor
  • No diluting or buckets to mix in
  • Used by professional detailers
  • Scented (if you like that)
  • Water based product
  • Contains a stain guard

Cons

  • Required multiple applications in some instances
  • Did not remove every stain, and may need to use spot remover on tough stains
  • Scented (if you don’t like that)

Wolfgang Carpet and Upholstery Restorer is part of the Wolfgang product line, a name known in the professional detailer world. It is simple to use and convenient and will not harm most fabrics.

For some areas, you may need multiple treatments. And for tough stains, a “spot” remover will be needed before conducting your general upholstery cleaning.

The manufacture doesn’t state explicitly that this product contains stain guard, but they do state on their website that they “utilized the latest technology in fiber protection to resist and repel future stains.” Users did report that repeated use of this product made cleaning new stains easier.

The product is scented and most find the odor pleasant.

The product is typically sold in 16 oz trigger spray bottles and larger refill bottles are also available.

 

303 Spot Cleaner

Sale
303 (30206) Spot Cleaner Trigger...
69 Reviews
303 (30206) Spot Cleaner Trigger...
  • Advanced action to remove the toughest stains
  • Safe for all water-safe materials
  • Effortless results every time

Pros

  • Works on grease, wine, food, and oily stains
  • Safe for skin contact
  • Leaves no residue
  • Not a single one star review
  • Used by professional detailers
  • Contains stain repellents
  • Water based

Cons

  • Nozzle tended to drip on hand
  • Did not work well in a marine environment
  • Some felt was expensive compared to other options
  • Notes it is an eye irritant on label

So, it was previously stated one or two times that a “spot” remover may be needed. And we come to 303 Spot Cleaner designed to remove “wine, food, and oil stains.” And it was worth the wait, or more accurately reading to get to this point. 303 Spot Remover works and is well reviewed (out of 70 Amazon reviews, there were 0 one star, and 1 two stars reviews).

It is easy to use. Spray on the spot and blot up the area. Multiple applications may be needed on very tough stains.

The product is water based and safe for use on all “water-safe” fabrics (so silk is out!).

The manufacturer (Gold Eagle) does warn against possible skin and eye irritation, so read the label and take appropriate precautions.

As for the odor, it is mild and I found no negative comments (I searched Amazon, Walmart, and number of auto supply websites). That is quite unusual for cleaning product with a large number of reviews.

It should be noted that with all stain removers, a test in an inconspicuous area is a good idea if you are using the product for the first time. You want to make sure your fabric is not affected ahead of time.

The product typically comes in trigger spray bottles and I am not aware of refills. (I did search the internet and found none, so it appears if refills exist, they are hard to find!)

 

Meguiar’s Super Degreaser

Meguiar's D10801 Super Degreaser - 1...
274 Reviews
Meguiar's D10801 Super Degreaser - 1...
  • Strong and fast acting for the toughest jobs
  • Residue-free performance prevents unsightly white residue...
  • Pleasant herbal fragrance
  • Quickly breaks down even the toughest grease
  • Easy to use, spray on and wipe off

Pros

  • Users like the versatility, can use on other surfaces beside fabric
  • Works well on routine dirt and mild stains
  • Removes most oil based and greasy stains
  • Gallon bottle last a long time
  • Herbal scented
  • Concentrate must be diluted 10:1 before use on upholstery

Cons

  • Mixing required
  • If mix too strong, can remove dye
  • Some found the odor too strong
  • Leaked in shipping for some customers
  • Diluted solution did not remove every stain, and may need to use different spot remover on tough stains

Meguiar’s Super Degreaser is a great cleaner for oil stains in upholstery. This is because it’s very alkaline, which works well to clean oily and greasy stains. The downside with high alkalinity is that it can discolor fabric. You’ll have to dilute it quite a bit (10:1) for it to be reasonably safe on upholstery. And as usual, do a spot test first.

Another upside to this cleaner is that it’s great on multiple surfaces. You can use on your upholstery as well as your carpets, dash, door panels, and engine bay. Just mind the strength you mix it at.

A big downside to this product is that at full strength it can irritate skin. When using chemicals like this I recommend using gloves anyway. Always use it in a well-ventilated area as well.

 

Meguiar’s D11601 Pro Protein Stain Remover

Meguiar's D11601 Pro Protein Stain...
3 Reviews
Meguiar's D11601 Pro Protein Stain...
  • Fast protein based stain Remover (milk, food, and organic...
  • Effective on microfiber interiors
  • Concentrated formula
  • Contains no added fragrance

Pros

  • Fast protein based stain remover (milk, food, and organic matter)
  • Effective on microfiber interiors
  • Concentrated formula
  • Contains no added fragrance

Cons

  • Not a green cleaner (if that’s important to you)
  • Will irritate skin and eyes if contact is made

Remember earlier when I mentioned different stains needing different cleaners?

Good.

Meguiar’s Pro Protein Stain Remover is one such special cleaner made specifically to remove protein-based stains; things like egg, vomit, blood, and feces.

These types of stains won’t likely come out using a general upholstery cleaner. Neither will the smells. Meguiar’s D11601 Protein Stain Remover, on the other hand, does great job at both cleaning and neutralizing the smell.

Though the container is quite large, and a little goes a long way, it can be used on both cloth upholstery and carpet. The amount may be a bit overkill for the enthusiast detailer but it’s still miles cheaper than replacing the upholstery.

You definitely need this or a spotting kit if you’re professional detailer that runs into protein-based stains regularly.

As always, spot test this cleaner in an inconspicuous area first.

 

Meguiar’s D10601 Pro Fiber Rinse and Tannin Stain Remover

Meguiar's D10601 Pro Fiber Rinse and...
  • Fast tannin stain Remover (coffee, tea, wine.)
  • Carpet and cloth seats pH neutralizer
  • Minimizes re-soiling
  • Contains no added fragrance

Pros

  • Fast tanning stain remover (coffee, tea, wine…)
  • Carpet and cloth seats pH neutralizer
  • Minimizes re-soiling
  • Contains no added fragrance

Cons

  • Not a green cleaner (if that’s important to you)
  • Will irritate skin and eyes if contact is made

Just like the Pro Protein Stain Remover, Meguiar’s Pro Fiber Rinse is designed to remove specific types of stains. It’s specially formulated to remove tannin-based stains which are things like liquors, alcoholic beverages, wine, beer, coke, tea, and so on.

Meguiar’s Pro Fiber Rinse is only slightly acidic so it is fairly safe on most materials. I still advise a spot test before going in guns a blazin’.

Just about everything else that was said about the Meguiar’s Pro Protein Stain Remover can be said about the Pro Fiber Rinse.

 

Alba Spotting Kit

Alba Spotting Kit
1 Reviews
Alba Spotting Kit
  • Alba Spotting Kit

Pros

  • Contains various cleaners for every type of stain
  • Great value for the money
  • Amounts are easily portable and easy to store
  • Contains no fragrances

Cons

  • Not green cleaners (if that’s important to you)
  • Will irritate skin and eyes if contact is made

The best way to ensure you always have the right chemical for a particular stain job is to purchase a spotting kit. A spotting kit is designed with professionals in mind and includes many different cleaners to tackle just about any stain.

The Alba Spotting Kit is a great example of this. You’d be hard pressed to find a stain you couldn’t get out with one of the cleaners in this kit. (The kit contains spot removers for rust, tannin, protein, ink, paint/oil/grease. Plus, it also contains a dry volatile spotter for removing oil and grease from delicate fabrics.)

Plus, you get just enough of each product to ensure you’re ready to battle any stain for a long time and it remains affordable. These spotting kits are a steal compared to buying gallons of concentrate.

And if you’re a mobile detailer, you don’t have to tote around several gallons of cleaner. You just grab your kit and go.

For the enthusiast you don’t have to worry about storing gallons of cleaner around the shop, garage, or house.

If you take cleaning seriously I highly recommend considering a spotting kit like the Alba Spotting Kit.

 

To Summarize

There you have it, out list of the eleven best car upholstery cleaners. Some of the important things to remember:

You can’t really go wrong with any of these products but remember to match the cleaner and spot remover to your needs. That includes the type of stains and dirt you are cleaning, your equipment (high foam shampoos will not work in extractors), and if you need integral ingredients like deodorizers or fabric brighteners.

For me, I like to keep the Chemical Guys Fabric Clean as my general upholstery cleaner. And I augment that with the Alba Spotting Kit to remove the tough stuff. Combined with a good APC like Car Guys Super Cleaner, you can clean your upholstery (plus a number of other surfaces) and get great results.

So now that you are armed with the knowledge to pick the right product, what are you waiting for? Get out there and make that car sparkle. Happy detailing!

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