Yesterday I happened to come across what appears to be a new fad in older cars – sweatshirt seat covers. Upon further examination and creeping on this dude’s car, I noticed his seats were simply filthy. Rather than getting them cleaned or taking care of them, he must’ve figured throwing some XXXL Old Navy hoodies over the front seats would take care of the problem. If that truly is his thought process, he’s got another thing coming. After all, sweatshirts get dirty, too. And when you don’t properly care for something like your car seats, you end up having to take a machine to the mess – in this case a high-powered hot water extractor to remove embedded junk from upholstered cloth. If only he knew how easy it was to keep his cloth seats clean (and protected) in the first place…
Step 1: Clean | Because cloth seats certainly show more messes than leather does, I absolutely mean it… clean regularly. Just because you spilled a soda doesn’t mean dab paper towels on the seat until it’s dry enough to sit on. Trust me, you won’t want to deal with the aftermath, the stink, or the irreversible staining certain spills can cause (read more about spills and smells). All you’ve got to do is clean thoroughly with a carpet/upholstery cleaner, an upholstery-safe cleaning brush, and microfiber towels. If you don’t clean, it’s no better than inviting bugs, bacteria and odors to gradually take over your car. And if you think we’re kidding, our sister shop in Chicago has found everything from dead mice to fungus hanging out (of sight and mind) in customer cars. It’s not pretty.
Step 2: Prep | The idea behind step number two is preparing the surface (in the case upholstery or cloth) for protection. After us just about any car cleaning product, the surface that you’ve cleaned will retain residual chemical and even sway in the direction of the cleaning product’s pH level. For soft surfaces, and even hard for that matter, this can be potentially caustic. While cleaning and leaving the surface bare won’t completely tarnish it, if you go to protect an un balanced (pH) surface, the sealant will be fought while bonding. You’ll still get protection, however it won’t last as long and its durability will suffer immensely. Protection products are formulated to adhere to a pH balanced, or neutral, surface. Since the pH scale works with opposing properties (basic and acidic) that interact so differently, it becomes problematic to develop a wax (for example) to be applied after a car wash soap with a basic pH of 11. Along those same lines, there is no standard amongst product manufacturers. In order for a cleaning product to do its job, chances are it’s either acidic or basic. Rarely will you find a quality cleaner with a pH of 7 that’s actually going to get the job done. The only logical answer to this swirling problem? Neutralize. In this case, use a neutralizer to prepare the upholstered cloth surface for protection.
Step 3: Protect | I might’ve given this step away a bit in step two, but it’s not meant to be a secret. After cleaning, you should always prepare for protection. After that, you should always, obviously, protect that surface. Protecting upholstery does exactly what you think it’d do – make cleaning easier next time you spill coffee on the passenger’s seat. All you’ve got to do is lightly mist the surface, allow it some time to bond, and dab dry with a microfiber towel. The thin coating applied by an upholstery protection product shields individual fibers against staining and absorption in avoidance of odors, bacteria buildup, and other nasty problems that can arise from a simple spill. Less headache, less worries, and less problems… that’s what protection is all about.
Now that you know the standard process in properly cleaning your cloth upholstered seats, apply the same formula to every aspect of your vehicle. Inside, outside – paint, leather – wheels, glass. It’s all the same. Some vehicular surfaces won’t need as much attention as a softer more supple surface like leather might, but in all cases, prepping the surface for protection after every time you do some cleaning leads to increased longevity of your clean, better appearances, and one less thing to worry about in our crazy lives. Now who wouldn’t want that?