Time Needed: About an hour, Difficulty: Beginner, Cost: $0-200
Seat belts are woven for strength and durability, but that same weave is also extremely good at harboring dirt. Seat belts are one of the most-touched areas inside a car, yet maintaining them is often completely neglected. These touchpoints collect dirt and grime, and eventually, you might notice a difference in color, or it might even develop a stench. You can also develop functional issues with an extremely dirty belt — filth could slow the retraction speed of a belt as it slides through its mechanisms. Avoid all this by keeping those belts clean.
As with any maintenance, it’s best to remove dirt before it does any damage. You don’t need to clean seat belts every week, or every month, but it’s a good idea to clean them every once in a while to keep them fresh, especially if you get beverages, food, or oil directly on the belt.
Because of the way they’re attached, seat belts are a bit awkward to deal with, but we’ve gathered three different methods for cleaning your seat belts. Your options range between using home remedies to bringing out the expensive steamer to get the job done. Have a look.
The Safety Brief
There’s very low risk involved with cleaning seat belts, but if you are using chemicals and/or hot steam, it’s a good idea to protect your eyes and skin. Grab these items for safety.
The Tools & Parts You Need
Prepare your tools ahead of time to make your job simpler and quicker.
- Vacuum cleaner or shop vac and extension cord (optional)
- Heavy duty clamp, weight, magnet, or something else to hold the belt out
- Microfiber towels
- Spot scrub brush (or toothbrush)
- Fabric/upholstery brush
- Steam cleaner (not necessary, but recommended)
- Spray bottle for homemade cleaning mixture
How To Mix a Homemade Cleaning Solution
Depending on how dirty your belts are, you might be able to clean them off without spending a dime on extra chemicals. In an empty spray bottle, pour in the following:
- 1 cup of water (preferably distilled or filtered)
- 1/4 cup of distilled white vinegar (add more to increase strength)
- 1 teaspoon of dish soap
Vinegar solutions are great for cleaning, disinfecting, and removing smells.
The Task: How To Clean Seat Belts
Below, we detail three different ways to clean your seat belts. One method can be done using only household items, the second requires specific chemical cleaners, and the third method requires a steamer. A steamer is not necessary, but we do believe it accomplishes the best clean.
METHOD 1 (Household Items)
For this method, you’ll want to premix your vinegar solution and have it ready to go.
1. Pull the seat belt out and keep it there.
Once you completely pull the belt out, you’ll want to prevent it from rolling back up for easy cleaning. Many people recommend using a strong clamp at the top of the belt to keep it out, but use whatever tool you have.
2. Suck up loose dirt and dust.
If you notice any loose particles or crusty stuff on the belt, give it a once over with the vacuum to remove any dirt.
3. Identify and treat stains.
Find any harsh stains on the belts, saturate those spots with your homemade vinegar solution, and use a toothbrush or small stiff brush to lightly scrub it out from the front and back. With all scrubbing, be sure to go in the direction of the fabric grain, as circles or back and forth could fray or damage the material. After scrubbing, wipe the belt down with a dry microfiber towel.
4. Start cleaning the belt section by section.
Once the stains are handled, you can start cleaning the belt from the top down. Spray the belt with your vinegar solution, scrub the front and back of the belt with your fabric brush, and wipe away the dirt and excess solution with a towel. Repeat and continue these steps, working your way down the belt.
5. Keep the belt out to air dry.
Absolutely do not allow the seat belt to roll back up after you’re done cleaning. With moisture trapped in the belt, mold might start to grow. Keep it stretched out and allow it to air dry completely.
METHOD 2 (Chemical Cleaners)
This process is almost identical to using the vinegar solution, but it uses store-bought cleaners.
1. Pull the belt out and clamp it in place.
This is the same across all three methods.
2. Vacuum loose dirt.
Use a shop vac to suck up any dusties or crusties off the belt. Again, this often won’t be necessary.
3. Hit stains with a stain remover.
Find the stains and treat them with your stain remover. After allowing it to soak for a bit, use a small brush like a toothbrush to lightly scrub in the direction of the belt fabric, then wipe clean with a towel.
4. Clean the belt one section at a time.
Use your degreaser or all-purpose fabric cleaner to spray a section of the belt. Scrub it with a fabric brush on both sides in the direction of the belt. Once scrubbed and cleaned, wipe off excess dirt and product with a towel, then move onto the next section of the belt until complete. Once the entire belt is clean, take a new microfiber towel and soak up all the dirt and wetness you can.
5. Allow the belt to air dry.
Leave it out, and it’ll dry on its own. Due to the risk of mold, you do not want to roll the belt back up while wet.
METHOD 3 (Chemical Cleaners and Steamer) (Recommended)
It’s possible to clean the belt only with a steamer, but double duty with the cleaners could help with stubborn stains. We believe steam cleaning is the most effective and complete method of the three, so this is our recommendation.
1. Extend the seat belt to its max and hold it in place.
A large sturdy clamp is extremely helpful here.
2. Vacuum the belt.
Loose dirt and dust can easily be removed with a shop vac.
3. Address the stains.
For heavily trashed areas of your belt, spray it down with fabric stain remover or degreaser and give it a little scrub with a small brush. Remove the dirt and liquid with a towel.
4. Spray, steam, wipe.
Time for the steamer! This part can be done in sessions or across the entire belt, whichever is easier for you. Spray the belt down with fabric cleaner or degreaser, give problem areas a quick brushing, and then steam it. As you see dirt coming out of the belt, wipe it off with a towel. You’ll see the belt is clean when the water coming out of the belt is no longer dirty. When clean, wipe it down with a towel.
5. Air dry the belt.
Always air dry the belt. Rolling it back up could result in mold.
All three methods should give you a complete cleaning, but there are quicker and easier ways to do this, as well. You could simply steam the belt without any chemicals or use dish soap and a microfiber towel, but that might not result in the ultimate clean you’re hoping for.
FAQs About Cleaning Seat Belts
We want to try to answer any questions you have before you start the job. We’ve selected common points of confusion from our experience, as well as commonly asked questions from popular search results. We answered those questions below.
Q: Is it safe to clean seat belts?
A. If you use the methods described above, you should be fine. Just make sure your brushes or cleaning methods are not physically damaging the webbing of the seat belt.
Q: How do you eliminate smells from seat belts?
A. Both the vinegar solution and steam clean methods should help remove stinky smells from seat belts. If it doesn’t work the first time, complete the process again for a deeper clean.
Q: Is it better to remove seat belts to clean them?
A. Some people choose to completely remove their seat belts so they can soak them in a bucket of cleaner. This would also allow for using a power washer, which would make the cleaning extremely easy. However, in our personal experience and opinion, that’s just a waste of time and more of a hassle than it’s worth.
Q. Can I use bleach on seat belts?
A. We do not recommend using bleach to clean your seat belts, as it could potentially damage the belt or interior of your car.
Watch This Helpful Video Tutorial To Learn More About Cleaning Seat Belts
If you don’t feel like reading, check out this video from Dallas Paint Correction and Auto Detailing that will tell you how to clean your belts.
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