The best way to clean your baby or child’s car seat

Published on Wednesday, 07 October 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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October is the perfect month for a spring clean, and there’s one place that seems to catch more food, drink and bodily spillages than any other area – your little ones’ car seat.

Spilt milk, exploding biscuits, leaking nappies and car sick can all take their toll on the fabric and plastic that keeps your pint-sized passenger safe in transit, but the good news is that help is at hand.

The experts at CHOICE have come up with a seven-step process to clean your baby or child’s car seat and restore it to its former freshness. Here’s what you need to do:

    1.  Use a vacuum

Before you get stuck into the nitty gritty of cleaning the car seat, start by giving it a vacuum. This will pick up all the loose, dry bits and stop them from spreading through the car when you move on to Step 2.

     2. Take off the fabric covers 

CHOICE and the NZ Transport Agency both recommend that you take a photo of your car seat before removing any covers to remind you how to put it back together easily and properly.

You should also read the manufacturer’s manual for your specific car seat to see if there are any specific instructions for removing or cleaning parts.

When you are ready to remove the fabric covers, try to do this without taking out the actual car seat.

It’s vital that your baby or child’s car seat has been installed properly, and whether you did this yourself or enlisted the services of a child restraint technician, you want to avoid moving the car seat after it’s been safely installed.

  1. Clean the fabric covers

Although some covers can be thrown in the washing machine, others will need a delicate hand wash, so refer to your car seat manual to see which cleaning products can and can’t be used on it, which parts can and can’t be submerged in water, and if there are any inserts that need to be taken out before washing.

Generally speaking, mild detergents are good to use, while bleach and other harsh chemicals are not advised because they can weaken or damage some surfaces or affect things like flame retardant in the material.

The manual will explain what temperature the washing water should be at or below, and it will also tell you whether it’s ok to tumble dry the clean covers or whether they need to be hung on the line in the sun and breeze.

  1. Clean the straps and harnesses

While the covers are washing and drying, you can get to work on the straps and harnesses. These play a key role in keeping your little one secure in transit, and they also see a lot of action as babies and young children dribble, spill and wipe sticky fingers!

It’s recommended that you spot clean the dirty bits of the straps and harnesses using a non-abrasive cloth, mild detergent and warm water (following any instructions your manual gives).

The straps and harnesses should be cleaned by hand, not in a washing machine, because a vigorous washing cycle can damage the fabric and reduce its capacity to keep your child safe if a collision happens. 

  1. Clean the buckles

The buckles are another part of the car seat that are crucial for safety and are in the firing line of spillages.

Although some manufacturers allow the use of soap on buckles, CHOICE says it’s usually best to spot clean them with plain, warm water.

  1. Clean the plastic frame

To remove any last grime from the frame of the car seat, wipe it down with a damp cloth, mild soap and some water. After this, wipe off any soap residue with a clean, damp cloth.

     7. Put the car seat back together

Once all the bits are clean and fully dry, it’s time to reassemble your baby or child’s car seat. You need to make sure this is done correctly, so refer to the pics you took in Step 2 and to the manufacturer’s manual.

If you had to remove the actual car seat to get the covers off, or to clean some deep-seated grot, then be careful that the seat is safely installed again. NZTA provides tips here, Plunket can help with car seat installation, and there are trained and certificated restraint technicians all over the country. 

How can you keep the car seat clean and fresh going forward?

Babies aren’t toilet-trained and young children don’t have perfect eating habits, but there are ways to keep your little one’s car seat cleaner for longer:

  • Some parents recommend using cloth nappies for general purpose in-car clean-ups. You can lay one on your child’s lap while they eat and drink or use a cloth nappy to soak up unexpected explosions of vomit and other bodily fluids.
  • You might also want to think about the kinds of snack your child has in the car. Some families stick to dry, non-crumbly food that’s easy to vacuum up, and if your child is prone to car sickness or general sloppiness, then yoghurt may be best served outside the vehicle!
  • Vomit bags are also a handy thing to pull out at the first sign of car sickness, and if the worst has already happened, then one squirt of a deodoriser, like Nilodor can freshen up your car.

At the end of the day, your baby or child’s safety is the most important thing when they’re in transit, so make sure their car seat is safely installed, and good luck with any drink splashes, food spillages or bodily explosions that happen en route!


NZ Transport Agency

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