A Guide to All Types of Car Upholstery and How to Clean Them

August 20, 2020

Has COVID-19 made you think about the cleanliness of your car upholstery? To clean and maintain your car upholstery, you have to know what type of upholstery it is. Each upholstery material requires different cleaning methods, materials, and upkeep to maintain. 

Learn everything you need to know about car upholstery and how to clean it. Find out the benefits and drawbacks of each different type of upholstery material. And, discover how you can ensure that the interior of your car is sanitary and disinfected. 

A Guide to Different Types of Car Upholstery and How to Clean Them

Whether you are getting new interior car upholstery or performing maintenance on your existing upholstery, each type has unique characteristics. They span a wide range of prices, from cheap and abundant, like nylon, to rare and expensive, like fine leather. But, no matter how cheap or expensive your car's upholstery is, you can keep it looking like new with the right attention. 

The global virus pandemic is causing everyone to adopt heightened cleaning habits to stop the spread of COVID-19. You can disinfect the interior of your car easily, with bleach, but it ruins all of your car's upholstery material. So, it helps to know a little bit about how to properly clean the upholstery in your car, so as not to ruin it in the process. 

Nylon: Strong and Cheap, but Hard to Clean

Made of synthetic thermoplastic polymer fibers – Nylon fabric is one of the most common materials used in car upholstery. The reason that it is so popular in cars is that it is very durable and cheap to manufacture. But, it can also be difficult to clean. 

The surface of Nylon is porous enough to collect dirt and dust that builds-up in the crevices of your car seats over time. Vacuuming gets out the loose, dry build-up, but anything wet will dry into the fabric, like a carpet. 

To clean Nylon car upholstery, start by vacuuming to remove dirt and build-up within the fabric. Since nylon is porous, it is absorbent like a sponge and soaks up anything that gets spilled. The easiest way to get nylon clean by hand is to use a mild detergent with warm water and a clean rag. 

Cleaning nylon upholstery by hand is time-consuming and physically taxing. The best way to clean nylon upholstery is to consult a mobile auto detailing service. Professional cleaning and upholstery repair services use shampooing equipment and industrial sanitizing solutions to clean nylon thoroughly. 

Vinyl: Strong, Cheap, and Easy to Clean, but Less Comfortable

Unlike nylon, vinyl upholstery is very easy to clean. Around 40 million tons of Vinyl or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is produced annually, making it the third most common synthetic plastic on the planet. Like nylon, vinyl is a thermoplastic polymer, but – unlike nylon – it features a molecular structure of close-knit bonds.

For car upholstery, this makes vinyl fabric moisture and stain-resistant. Cleaning and maintenance are easy to perform regularly, using almost any household disinfectant. That which gives vinyl its benefits, however, also is responsible for its drawbacks. 

The close-bond of vinyl upholstery causes it to retain heat, much more than porous nylon. On humid days, vinyl has the propensity to adhere to bare skin like a suction cup. But, vinyl is a good option for family cars and delivery vehicles because it makes disinfecting your car's interior an easy habit to maintain. 

Polyester and Microsuede: Attractive and Soft, but Hard to Clean

Polyester is common in upholstery that features microsuede fabric. Microsuede is a weave of synthetic fibers that are used in a wide range of commercial and industrial applications. It is a very useful material for cleaning, because of the ‘loop’ shaped fibers. 

The shape of the fibers is good for scooping dirt out of hard-to-reach crevices. For car upholstery, however, it is the reason why polyester can be tough to keep clean. It is designed to be absorbent – yet water repellant. 

So, polyester, like nylon, presents a disinfecting challenge, unless you have professional equipment. Microsuede upholstery collects mud, liquid, and dust that is difficult to clean by hand. That being said, the microsuede is very comfortable, soft, and does not get hot in the sun. 

Leather: Attractive and Comfortable, but Requires Special Cleaning

The most comfortable, attractive, and easy to maintain is, arguably, leather. Blended leather fabric is a common material for car upholstery, and comes in a variety of colors and textures. The only drawback of leather upholstery is that it comes at a higher price point. 

Cleaning leather upholstery is not as simple as cleaning vinyl. Blended leather is cheaper than natural leather, but they both require the same special cleaning techniques. Even still, it is much easier to clean than nylon or polyester. 

Using common household cleaners, soap, or water on leather will cause the material to crack, fade, and stain. The trick to cleaning leather upholstery is to use a leather cleaning product, to ensure it won’t get damaged. Using a standard leather conditioner once a month helps to keep the material from warping in ways that are conducive to housing dirt and grime. 

The type of car upholstery dictates how you have to clean it. If you’re not sure what material your car's upholstery is, consult your car user manual. And, for cleaning and disinfecting delicate leather, call a mobile leather repair service to make sure the job is well-done.