Let’s be honest. No parent enjoys cleaning a car seat. It is something I dread and try to limit to 3-4 times per year, unless there’s a body fluid malfunction in-between. It involves uninstalling all 3 of my car seats, and it usually ends in me crying in the driveway as I struggle to get the covers back on and all 3 to install perfectly across the backseat.
Car seats abound with germs, which seep into the nooks and crannies. Keeping the car seat clean not only prevents your child from getting sick, but it also helps keep your baby safe. Dirt in the car seat, especially on the buckle or harness, can build up and prevent the car seat from working optimally.
It is tempting to send your seat for a professional clean, but there are many dos and don’ts that may not be adhered to. As time consuming and effortful as it is, it is best to do it yourself.
Here are some general guidelines on how to clean a car seat. As always, refer to your manual and follow the instructions on how to clean your particular car seat. If any advice in this article contradicts your manual, defer to your manual.
1. Wipe up spills and messes as soon as possible
As soon as it happens, try to mop up as much of the mess as you can. Do not rub, scrub or use a cleaning solution.
2. Don’t delay
When you get home, try to clean it before the mess dries and ruins the car seat. This reduces the time and effort needed for cleaning and avoids damage to the car seat. Set some time aside as it is not a quick process.
3. Read the manual!
Left: An example of cleaning instructions from a car seat manual.
It is important to read through your car seats manual, as each model has different instructions. Your manual will advise exactly how you should clean your car seat and will stipulate what is and is not allowed.
4. Removing the cover
Place the car seat on a towel so as not to scratch the bottom of the car seat. Follow the manual on how to remove the cover and parts. It is useful to take photos of each step, so that you can reverse the order when putting the car seat back together. If you put the car seat back together incorrectly, it could affect how well the car seat performs in a crash.
5. Removing the cover
Shake out the covers and vacuum up any debris on the seat.
6. Only use GENTLE products
Water, baby wipes and gentle detergent are all that is permitted when washing a car seat. Not all natural products are gentle, so be careful of using any products with essential oils, bicarb or vinegar.
A cleaning solution with a pH not near neutral is bad for a car seat as acids are corrosive and bases are caustic. Corrosives and caustics break down the integrity of the harness.
Any soap with a pH near neutral is probably gentle enough to use safely. Some examples are Sunlight Baby Powder or soap bar, Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Wash and Dove bar soap. Check with your manufacturer if you are not sure.
DO NOT use any acidic or basic detergents
7. Washing the cover
Remove any harness pads, or removable inserts, then remove the covers as per the manual. Some car seats must not be machine-washed and most must not be tumble-dried or ironed.
If machine-washing of the cover is allowed, be sure to select the delicates /handwash program at 30 degrees. Cover any Velcro straps so that it doesn’t damage the cover.
DO NOT use bleach or fabric softener
Above: An example of washing instructions
8. Wipe down the harness
Use a soft cloth with cool water, wring it out and then wipe down the harness. If water does not clean it sufficiently, use gentle soap IF it is permitted. Most car seat manufacturers specifically say that you should NOT wash your car seat straps with soap or anti-bacterial detergents.
DO NOT: put the harness straps into the washing machine. Submerging the straps in water weakens the fibers/webbing of the car seat straps. In an accident, weakened straps can break. It can also remove the fire retardant.DO NOT: use abrasives to clean your harness.
Do not scrub the harness with steel wool. It will break/weaken the delicate fibers, which will eventually weaken the restraining capacity of the harness.
9. Cleaning the buckle
Check your buckle regularly to ensure it clicks and releases properly, as debris can prevent the mechanism from working in a crash. Many buckles may not be removed from the car seat, in which case, vacuuming the dirt out regularly is a good idea. IF your manual permits it, invert the buckle in a cup of water, keeping the webbing out of the water. Swish it around or leave it to soak to dislodge anything trapped in the mechanism. Engage and disengage the car seat buckle until you hear a click. If you do not, rinse the buckle again to make sure that nothing is making the buckle stick. Make sure you reinstall the buckle correctly by referring to your manual.
Use ONLY water to clean the buckle. DO NOT use any solvents, soap, abrasive cleaners or detergents. DO NOT lubricate or oil the buckle.
10. Cleaning the plastic shell
Car seats should not be hosed down. This can cause the plastic and EPS foam to become weak and/or the metal parts to rust, and may not keep your baby safe in an accident. To clean the shell, vacuum out as much dirt as you can. Then, use a flathead screwdriver to dislodge any dried debis. A wet toothbrush and toothpick can help to remove dirt from crevices. Next, use a damp cloth to wipe down the shell. No chemicals or detergents should be used on the shell; only water. Dry off the shell with a towel or paper towels, especially any metal parts to ensure that nothing can rust.
11. Sun and air
If the harness is permitted to be removed, you can place it in the sun for a few hours. Most covers are required to be placed flat and air dried in the shade to prevent shrinking. Any remaining odor is likely to dissipate.
If the above steps do not sufficiently remove stains and odours, try repeating the process again. If all else fails, contact the distributor to see if it is possible to order a new harness and/or cover.