Spilled sippy cups, ground-in Cheerios and even the occasional diaper leak. When it comes to messy car seats, we’ve seen it all, and if you’re here reading this, chances are, you’ve seen (and smelled) too much now too. So how do you clean up the mess without damaging the most important piece of kiddo safety equipment your own? Here are some guidelines for cleaning your child’s car seat or booster seat without ruining it in the process.
The A, B, C, Dos and Don’ts of Clean Your Child’s Car Seat
So, how can you be sure the car seat you’re purchasing will protect your little one when it counts? Here’s how to spot a counterfeit car seat online so you can steer clear.
Before getting out the bleach or tossing your child’s car seat cover in the washing machine: STOP. Get out your car seat manual and find the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning. Every manufacturer will have its own specific recommendations for properly cleaning their own make and models of car seats, including any special considerations for your specific car seat that you should keep in mind.
But to get you started, these general guidelines that apply to most car seats and booster seats on the market will help you know what to do, and just as importantly, what not to do.
Straps, Buckles and Car Seat Shell
Plastic parts, straps and buckles should only be spot-cleaned with a soft cloth, water and, if necessary, a gentle soap. Go icky spot by icky spot, and gently spot clean any dried-on gunk. Stubborn crusty patch? Get it a little extra wet and let it soak for a few minutes before trying again.
Watch out! Bleach, chemical solvents, acidic substances like vinegar and abrasive cleaners should never be used on any part of your car seat, especially the harness straps and buckles. Harsh cleaners and solvents can damage and weaken the car seat’s components.
After spot cleaning with mild soap and water, lay the straps out to dry in the sun for several hours. Sunshine can really help eliminate those nasty smells naturally.
Watch out! The thick, woven material of harness straps can be particularly hard to get clean. You may be tempted, but never submerge or machine wash the seat’s harness straps. The delicate fibers of a car seat’s straps can be easily damaged by abrasive cleaners and the harsh spinning of a washing machine, preventing them from properly restraining your child when it counts.
Car Seat Cover & Padding
To clean the car seat cover and padding, either hand wash or machine wash on a gentle cycle, and then hang or lay flat to air dry to prevent shrinking or damage to the cover and safety labels.
Watch out! Many manufacturers say it’s ok for you to machine wash a car seat’s padding and cover on a delicate cycle with a mild detergent. but it’s usually not okay to tumble dry in the dryer. Cleaning or drying too harshly can affect important life-saving properties of these pieces, including flame retardants added to the fabric.
Buckles & Clips
Got something sticky in the buckle or LATCH clips? Gently swish the buckle or LATCH clip in a cup of warm water, taking care not to submerge the strap. Agitate the red button to dislodge any gunk trapped in the mechanism.
Watch out! Do not reach for the WD-40. You never want to use lubricants on any part of the car seat’s components.
Really Tough Messes
Unfortunately, some messes simply can’t be cleaned, and you may need to contact the car seat’s manufacturer for replacement parts. If you can’t safely spot clean the car seat’s harness straps or buckles, or if you’re dealing with mold, bugs or an odor you can’t kick, it may be time to get a new car seat altogether.
Thankfully, car seat manufacturers understand the nature of children, and the normal, everyday messes that accompany them are usually cleanable with a little soap, water and elbow grease.
Once again, always consult your manual before cleaning any part of your child’s car seat. Many of the major car seat manufacturers have general, manufacturer-specific cleaning instructions on their websites, and more specific cleaning instructions can be found in the manual that came with your child’s car seat. If you have any questions about the instructions listed in your car seat’s manual or online, it’s best to contact the manufacturer for more direction to avoid damaging the seat.