Can you steam clean leather car seats?

Image showing leather car seat.

Yes, you can steam clean leather car seats, provided you do it the right way. What’s more, steam cleaning car seats will minimize the amount of water that soaks deep into the material. Standard cleaning can lead to water damage, drying, and cracking, since a lot of moisture gets through the surface of the fabric and removes the leather’s oils.

Steam cleaning your car’s interior will also remove stains, germs, bacteria, and viruses. It does a great job of bringing out all the deeply embedded dirt with high-heat vapor. It’s not as popular as other cleaning methods, however, many experts recommend doing it once or twice a year. Additionally, it’s a chemical-free way of cleaning which is great for delicate leather.

You also need to keep in mind, that steam cleaning on its own won’t be enough, you should vacuum your leather interior first, removing all the dust and surface grime. Steam cleaning on its own is either for finishing touches or removing dangerous microorganisms.

A side note: a steam cleaner should not be mistaken for a carpet cleaner. Those are completely different cleaning tools, the first one works by hitting a dirty surface with hot vapor, while the carpet cleaner operates by utilizing the “hot water extraction” method. The carpet cleaner should not be used on your car interior, excluding carpets.

If you would like to know about steam cleaning leather in general, we highly recommend checking out our thorough article – can you steam clean leather?

Dangers of steam cleaning leather car seats

Before we give you any tips on how to actually steam clean leather car seats, you must know the possible dangers. First of all, steam cleaning shouldn’t be done more than once or twice a year, since hot temperatures and water can lead to permanent damage. Some types of leather have no problem taking vapor from steam cleaners, while others need different cleaning methods.

Overall durability will depend on the type of leather, as well as your steam cleaner. This is why we highly recommend renting out a steam cleaner from a reputable brand if you don’t own one. Before cleaning, be sure to read the user’s manual to set the right temperature.

Without further ado, let’s get into the possible risks of steam cleaning.


The Leather of your car interior can dry out super fast if you are not careful during the steam cleaning. Water that’s left on the surface can travel deep into the fabric bonding with natural oils, and bringing them out. This will lead to drying, and possibly to further damage such as cracking.


Steam cleaning can also shrink leather due to the high temperature of the vapor. This is typically caused by improper settings on your steam cleaner. Once again, we advise you to read the user’s manual before starting the cleaning process.


Cracking on car seat material is the result of already dried-out leather, that’s been left for a long time. The water left from the cleaning process or even our skin can further enhance this process. This is why we do not recommend cleaning already cracked leather upholstery.

Dry rotting

Dry rotting is a term defining the act of rotting without the assistance of any moisture. To prevent such things from happening, the proper conditioning and storage of leather are needed. Since we are talking about a car interior, you should in invest in proper leather clean products.

The act of dry rotting can be influenced by the weather conditions in the place you live. Another thing to keep in mind is to let your car seats air dry since using the sun or heater can aggravate the act of dry rotting.

Why you should steam clean leather car seats?

Steam cleaning car seats can have a major impact on the overall look of your car interior. Since this cleaning method removes stains, dirt, and germs, your leather will keep its fresh look for longer. Steam cleaning is also a good step to take when deep cleaning car interiors, combined with vacuuming or cleaning by hand. This way you can remove all the dust and lighter stains first.

Running a steam cleaner also makes it easier to clean tight spots, since high-temperature vapor kills germs almost instantly.

What’s more, this process can also be used when taking care of carpets, or car windows.

How to steam clean leather car seats?


Start off by finding the right attachment for your steam cleaner. We used a lot of options available on the market, however, a brush tool seems to win every time. Now wrap a clean microfiber cloth around the attachment once or twice, so the bristles don’t stick out. This is to make the vapor less dangerous for delicate leather. Be sure to read the user’s manual before you start, to set the right heat temperature.

Now fill the steam cleaner tank with a proper amount of water, there should be an indicator showing how much is enough. For those more stubborn stains, a soft bristle brush can be helpful.

The whole interior of your car should be cleaned by hand or with the use of a vacuum cleaner. There should be no dust, hair, or fresh stains when you start steam cleaning. For those deeply embedded stains, we recommend pretreating them with a leather cleaner or a homemade solution. However, test it first on one small area of your leather seats, just to be sure it won’t do any damage. Now simply spray the cleaning agent on the stain, and let it dry completely.

Steam clean leather car seats

Start steam cleaning by gently touching some inconspicuous places of your leather interior. This is to test, your leather doesn’t react badly with steam cleaners. If you don’t see any red flags, go ahead and steam clean car seats by running steam cleaner on the surface of the materials. Keep in mind the steam cleaner should touch the leather for a very little amount of time.

Any water that is left by the steam cleaner should be wiped immediately with a clean microfiber towel. We advise holding the steam cleaner in one hand, and the towel in the other hand. You should not steam clean any damaged spots, since moisture can get into the cracks and make them bigger.

In the end, be sure to once again wipe any excess moisture with a microfiber towel.

Moisturize and condition the leather

This can be the most important step of them all if you want to keep your leather car seats in good condition. Treated leather will last much longer, and it’s less likely to dry out and crack. Moisturize it by spraying leather conditioner on the surface, if you don’t have one, linseed oil is a good alternative. This process should be repeated once every 6 months to a year.


What is the best way to clean car leather seats?

Wipe off any dust and dirt with a dry clean cloth or vacuum the whole interior. Pretreat the most stubborn stains with leather cleaner and wait for them to dry completely. Now use a slightly damp microfiber cloth or a steam cleaner. The latter will also kill germs and bacteria due to the high temperature of the vapor. Remove any excess moisture from the surface with another cloth.

Is steam cleaning good for car interior?

Steam cleaning car interiors can help you remove stubborn stain, odor, or even mold and mildew. It’s also a chemical-free way to kill bacteria and viruses, which can be useful for car upholstery with delicate leather.

Do car detailers use steam?

Professionals often use steam to refresh the car interior and kill potential germs. Hot vapor can penetrate the fabric leaving very little moisture on its surface. It’s also the only way to truly deep-clean the interior without using chemicals.

What do professionals use to clean the inside of a car?

When cleaning a car’s interior, professionals use various cleaning tools such as carpet cleaners, vacuum cleaners, or steam cleaners. A combination of those can quickly remove any dirt, hair, stains, or bacteria and viruses. Such a large assortment can also help you clean different fabrics, often without the use of any chemicals.

How long do steam cleaned seats take to dry?

Steam cleaning leaves very little moisture on the fabric, especially when the excess is wiped straight away. Thanks to this, seats will dry in about 1 to 2 hours on a warm day and 2 to 4 hours on a colder day.