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How to Clean a Carseat

It’s happened to you before. Your child gets carsick, has a blowout, or simply enjoys his ice cream cone a little too much. One of the casualties is the carseat. Nowhere in the parenting manual are there directions for how to clean puke out of the crevices or chocolate ice cream from the straps.

Never fear. FishMama’s on the job! And I’ve had plenty of experience. Trust me. This is what works for me.

(Disclaimer: I am not a car seat expert. Please consult your owner’s manual and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning the seat, clips, and straps.)

This is what I do:

1. Remove the cover and straps. Have the carseat manual handy or take a picture of how the straps are configured so that you can reattach them properly.

2. Wash the cover according to the manufacturer’s directions. Usually, this requires line drying. (Make arrangements not to transport your child anywhere or borrow a carseat in the interim, about 1/2 a day, less if it’s warm outside.)

3. Soak the plastic clips and snaps in hot, soapy water. Scrub well, rinse, and air dry. Sponge clean or wash the straps. (PLEASE NOTE: Read your manufacturer’s manual first. Some manufacturers advise against soaking the straps. If this is the case, sponge clean your straps. Thanks to the readers who pointed this out to me. I apologize for the confusion.)

4. Hose or wipe down the plastic form of the carseat, if necessary. Spray with disinfectant spray if cooties were involved. Air dry.

5. Reattach cover and straps properly. Law enforcement agencies report that an overwhelming number of carseats are misused. Please make sure yours is not one of them. Consult the carseat manual if you are unsure of the proper orientation of the straps.

6. Pray that vomit, blow-outs, and messy ice cream feasts happen only occasionally.

Do you clean your carseats regularly or do you wait for a mishap?

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Comments

  1. I put the cover, straps, and clips in the washing machine. Then, air dry. Hand scrubbing car seat straps isn’t something I really ever thought of doing. I assume that if the straps and carseat cover are tough enough for a wreck, they’ll be fine in the washing machine. It’s never been a problem, so it might be a labor saver for you and your readers? I spray the straps with stain remover and let them set (still in the carseat) for a bit, which can mean anywhere from ten minutes to whenever I remember them. Then, I take straps and cover off, and wash.

    And let’s be honest, here. By “I” I mean “Hubs” – carseats are his domain.

    Isn’t it amazing how gross their car seats can get?!

  2. I usually clean it when I can’t stand the look of it anymore :)

  3. We regularly have mishaps! :) I clean them every 6 months or when I deep clean the high chair straps. It’s definatley something that needs to be done a least that often. Kids are gross! Haha

    Allie

  4. I do this fairly regularly, too. I’ve found that after I wash the straps, spraying them with starch and ironing them helps them keep their form. One of my biggest pet peeves is twisted car seat straps. This method seems to keep the crinkles at bay for a while.

  5. We definitely are crisis cleaners when it comes to the carseat…..blowouts, vomit, etc. Or when it’s time to move the straps when the kiddos have grown….if it’s taken apart, might as well clean it.

  6. Great post! I don’t miss those days one bit! I only need to do it on a small scale now rather infrequently..my youngest is finally in the no-back booster! :D

    (LOVE that print on the carseat!)

  7. THANKS for the reminder – I so need to clean mine! Unfortunately I usually wait for a mishap. MY KEY TIP, may sound silly, but pay attention as you take it apart – I cannot tell you how many times I did not, and had to dig out the manual with straps hanging everywhere – LOL!

  8. Valerie says:

    Hey all. While I would think these are all great methods of cleaning the carseat, I have heard from an “expert” that once the straps get wet thouroughly, they no longer do their job in the event of a crash. This is from the Britax website:
    Cleaning the Harness
    • SPONGE CLEAN using warm water and mild soap.
    • TOWEL DRY
    • DO NOT bleach, machine wash, machine dry or disassemble the harness.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I have never heard that. I wonder if that is for Britax straps and not others. Thanks for letting us know.

      • @Jessica Fisher, Actually you are not suppose to ever ever EVER submerge car seat straps in water, and thats for all car seats. It weakens the straps.

        Everything else is fine though thanks for the post. If your owners manual says not to put the cover in the wash then you can wash it with dawn soap in a bathtub. Also when you let it dry you should let the cover dry in the position its suppose to be in…if that makes any sense lol.

        I have just learned all this because I’m a little bit of a carseat safety weirdo.

        • Jessica Fisher says:

          Thanks for letting us know, Lauren!

        • @Lauren, What are you supposed to do if the straps are covered in throw up? My daughter frequently gets car sick and the entire seat gets blasted. I can’t get the barf or the smell off any other way than washing it.

          • John Hoefer says:

            As far as throwup is concerned, I pull the straps out and scrub them down with a paste made with Rockin’ Green. It
            s a very mild soap (we use it for cloth diapers) and rinses clean.

            It cleans them well and removes the smell without the machine agitation or allowing them to soak up water.

        • Jessica Fisher says:

          @Lauren and others, I contacted a carseat tech who said water is fine, just not the washing machine because of the wear and tear on the straps. That said, this is not “official” advice. I still recommend doing what your owner’s manual recommends.

        • @Lauren, I read that too! Glad you clarified!

  9. We clean them every few months. My kids are messy and seem to get stuff all over the seats so it is a must.

  10. Great post! I’m just about to graduate my baby into the next sized car seat (the one where he can now face forward!) so I’ll be getting a car seat out of our attic where I’m sure it’s gotten icky. With five kiddos, we’ve fortunately only had a few mishaps with car seat yuck. :)

  11. The number of times I have had to clean carseats over the years is ridiculous! Thankfully we are at the booster stage for the last of four kids.

  12. When my son was still in his infant seat, we needed to clen it about once every other week due to mishaps. Since he has moved to a convertable carset (about 2 months ago) we haven’t cleaned it yet, but thanks for the reminder. I will clean it this weekend.

  13. Sherry Morgan says:

    After having a highly rated by safety standards car seat for my youngest daughter and realizing it was a NIGHTMARE to clean, I specifically shopped around for a new car seat that was easy to wash AND safe when it was time to move her on up to the next size. Due to her off the charts height, at age 3 I had to sacrifice my preferred 5 point harness feature to find one that wouldn’t give her whiplash because it didn’t come up high enough. Tricky stuff this parenting.

  14. LOL! I saw your question on twitter and thought, “I only clean my car seat when someone gets sick or has a blow out”. ;-)

    I think this post should be printed and given to new mom’s in a mommy binder, because the first time you clean a carseat, you have no idea what you are doing and you’re operating under emergency conditions. so the endorphins take over (and fry your brain in the process) and then you can’t remember what you did to take the seat a part, so that you can rewind and put it back together.

    • @Alea,

      Agreed! I definitely remember that first time – after a terrible blowout (as if that wasn’t stressful enough!) – finally getting it clean, and then trying so desperately to reassemble the stinking thing from memory (because my *wonderful* husband had thrown out the manual). Oh, the joys of mommyhood.

  15. This is one of those things that I know I should do, and yet it never really gets done….

  16. Nothing like getting your little guy all dressed for Easter and them pushing aside cheerios and gunk to strap him in his carseat. YUCK!! Im looking inot some WAHM carseat covers for easier cleanup:)

  17. Hoot! “Spray with disinfectant if cooties were involved.” That is hilarious!

  18. On average, I wash them a couple times a year by throwing all pieces in our front loader except the plastic buckle bits which I just wash in the sink (if at all). I hang everything to dry. I really try to clean them in the spring and fall, so I can make the most of the warm air and sunshine… unless we’ve had an incident that

    As for the water on the straps? I’d have to believe that a bit of water is way less corrosive to the material than whatever acidic belly substance may have spewed out from my child’s mouth. (Sorry, that’s gross. I know. Sometimes I just can’t help it. Ha ha.) But really. It’s just water.

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      I contacted a car seat tech who said that water is fine, just not putting it in the washing machine. However, this is not “official” advice. Please do what your manufacturer advises.

  19. My father in law had a fabulous idea.

    While at his house, one of my little ones mashed 3 crackers into 5 million little pieces. It was unbelievable how well she did at crushing those crackers.

    We were leaving and didn’t have time to take her car seat apart. We took the carseat out, and he used his air compressor to spray away all of the crumbs. It was really ingenious. The crumbs were blown away with 3 squirts of air.

    As long as it’s not gross, sticky, vomitus-like stuff, this worked pretty well for us!

    -Lauren

  20. Washing the car seat is my absolute least favorite thing to do. Madeline has gotten carsick at least 5 times in the last year and puked it up all over the seat. I do love my Britax seats though because the covers wash up so well and I can do it in the washing machine. I run it on hot wash/cold rinse and with 1 cup of baking soda to remove any lurking odors. Then I just let it air dry…one thing great about new washers is that they spin so much water out of the clothes and stuff. It doesn’t take much time for it to air dry. And then you get to put it all back together….JOY!!

    • @Katie @ goodLife {eats}, I will try to find you a better answer about what to do about the pukey straps but the best I can say right now is to spot clean them with the baking soda mix you are already using and try to dry them out in the sun and let them air out. If they are really really bad you can order new straps from the manufactur. I realize you couldnt do that every single time your daughter gets sick though since she does a lot.

      I saw where Jessica said she contacted a car seat tech and they told her it was ok to soak them so if you are comfortable with that you could try it. My car seat tech and everything I read plus my manufacture said not to submerge it but everything is always up to you end the end and if you are worried about the safety or voiding your warranty just give your manufacture a call.

      I hope no one thinks I’m trying to dish out unsolicited car seat advice, I just want to help because I didn’t realize before I researched it how much car seat information that people just simply have never even heard before.

      • Jessica Fisher says:

        @Lauren, I am really thankful for your input. We can follow a path thinking it’s the most logical way, without knowing all the information. I think yours is great input so that we can make the best choices. And like I’ve said, mine is not “official” advice. Just what has worked for me in the past.

        Your point about buying new straps is a good one, too. Thanks!

  21. Just an added note on carseat safety from the cop in me. In most cities your local fire or police agencies will have a trained expert available to properly install your carseat – for free, all you have to do is ask.

    Brandi Carballo
    Deputy Sheriff

  22. I do child care and sometimes need to clean 5 car seats at a time! I have found the toughest part of cleaning the seat is the base. You know the part the seat attaches too? I think with using your guide and regular cleaning I would have an easier time getting those seats cleaned faster! Thanx for the tips!

  23. I still use my washing machine for all the pieces but on the “hand wash” setting. :)

  24. This was a very timely post. Two days after I read it my daughter threw up all over her carseat. Ew. Just finished cleaning it and now it’s outside drying. I never realized i could take all the straps out to make them easier to wash. This was great! Thanks

  25. I actually have cleaned our car seat many times. We take many road trips and our little one has gotten car sick on many of those rides. I think you definetely need to consult the owners manual for cleanings, they are all different and with some it’s not very easy to remove the straps. I have two seats and one is very easy to clean the other not so much. I normaly throw the cover in the washer, with color safe bleach on the gentle cycle. The clips and strap just get wiped down with soapy cloths. Yes I know when you clean up vomit a wet cloth might not cut it, I have used Febreeze multi purpose on the frame, clips and straps and usually takes more than one wipe to get some of the odor to somewhat fade.

  26. I take my daughter’s car seat to the manual car wash and power spray with the soap and then the water then wipe it down with Clorox wipes and let it hair dry! I’ve had to do it 3 times now and it makes it look brand new each time! For weekly/monthly cleaning I vacuum it out and wipe fabric and plastic down with whatever wipes I have on hand (baby wipes or clorox wipes.)

  27. I left my Britax carseat in the garage because it is for my grandchildren. Little did I know it would mildew! The straps have mildew on them. I have cleaned the carseat many times, but I’m not sure if i will be able to get the mildew off. Any suggestions?

    • This may be a bit late but get a spray bottle and fill it with white vinegar- spray it on straps to completely saturate & let dry in the sun. The vinegar smell will go away & so will the mildew! (vinegar is actually a natural deodorizing agent!) it works wonders on mildew as well!!
      :)

  28. Honestly, I only clean our carseats when we have mishaps. And instead of hosing it off in the backyard, I’ve found that running the car seat under the shower and giving it a good scrub down works really well, and the bathtub serves as a great place for it to dry off. I scrub the belts down in the tub as well.

  29. HELP!!
    I have been storing my carseat in the basement for about a year and found mold on it. (the straps and inside area) Is there any way that I can clean it and still be able to use it? We are expecting in November. We love this car seat and would hate to have to get rid.
    Any suggestions…..
    Thanks

    • Jessica Fisher says:

      Well, I would wash the cover according to the manufacturer’s directions. As there was some disagreement amongst the commentors about whether or not you can wash the straps, I would call the maker. You can easily buy new straps. Much cheaper than a new carseat, I’m sure.

  30. I just cleaned my daughter’s seat today and it really is amazing how gross the seats can get. What would you be willing to pay to have someone clean and disinfect your carseat for you?

  31. When my son (5yo) was a baby I cleaned the car seat everytime my car was cleaned. (apout once every month or two.) I have every intention of cleaning my daughter’s car seat when I clean my car, too. Wel…she is 16mo. Maybe I should do that…. :)

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