Children spend a lot of time in car seats. Though regulations vary slightly from state to state, most children are in some form of car seat or booster from the moment they leave the hospital until they are around 4′ 9″.
This is an extraordinary amount of time and while several different types of car seats will be used over this period, it is inevitable that all of them, including the many seat belts and straps, will undergo significant wear and tear.
While we hope there are fewer spills and messes as our children mature, having to deal with messy car seats and sticky car seat straps is a fact of life. Snacks will get spilled, sippy cups will leak, muddy shoes will step on them, and sometimes bodily functions will wreak havoc on the straps of the car seat.
So, we need a method to clean these straps without compromising the safety features of the car seat.
After researching almost all of the top car seat brands on the 2021 market including Britax, Chicco (Graco), Maxi Cosi, Clek, and EvenFlo, I compiled their recommended cleaning procedures into one list. I also compared notes with other moms of experience.
So, after extensive research, here is the best way to clean your car seat straps.
How to Clean Car Seat Straps
- Remove the seat: Begin by removing the car seat from your vehicle and taking it to a location that you don’t mind getting wet. If you are unable to be outdoors, placing 1-2 towels under the car seat frame should keep water from running off and damaging anything around you.
- Record the seat: Before taking anything off of the car seat, take a moment to record how the seat is put together. Many moms have skipped this step and had a very difficult time remembering how to properly reassemble the many buckles, buttons, and elastic straps. Most of these features do not affect the safety features of the car seat. However, if they are not re-assembled in the right way, pads may shift and become uncomfortable for your little one. It is worth your time to take pictures as you disassemble the car seat covers and pads. Some moms also had success taking a video on their smartphones as they pulled off pieces for quick reference later. You can also refer to the users manual if you find yourself lost in a myriad of small elastic straps and snaps.
- Remove seat covers and pads: Once you feel comfortable that you will know how to reassemble the car seat puzzle, you can remove the foam and fabric pieces that pad the car seat frame. Removing these extra pieces will allow you to expose more of the car seat straps and thereby get a more complete clean. If you are only wanting to spot clean a specific, exposed area, however, you can skip this step.
- Vacuum: Before putting any cleaner on the straps, many moms and manufacturers suggested using a vacuum to remove extra crumbs and debris. This simply makes it easier to clean the straps. This step is simply to avoid inadvertently picking up crumbs with your rag and accidentally rubbing said crumbs into the straps you are trying to clean. It might sound silly but it has happened before.
- Wash: After researching all of the manufacturer instructions for car seat washing, the only cleaner that every manufacturer agreed upon was warm water. Every seat belt and car seat strap are made up of unique fibers tightly bound together. Most are designed with a slight amount of elasticity. This is a necessary safety measure designed to minimize the amount of impact in the event of a collision. Some manufacturers also put a flame retardant coating (safe for your baby) on the car seat straps as well. These features are paramount to the safety of your child while in the vehicle. That said, warm water is the only substance universally agreed upon as safe to use on car seat straps. However, most car seat manufacturers also agree that a mild detergent (most recommend dish soap) can be mixed into the warm water to assist in removing soils and stains. Simply dip a soft cloth into the warm water solution and gently rub the straps clean. After washing them, leave them to air dry for several hours.
- Clean the Buckle: In some cases, you may also want to wash the car seat buckle (also referred to as the “crotch strap”). Crumbs or gooey substances may have crept between the cracks of the buckle and made it sticky or more difficult to buckle. In this case, it is advised to rinse out the buckle. Tilt the car seat frame sideways until you can see the metal anchor (usually a silver rectangle) at the base of the crotch strap. Pull this rectangle back slightly and turn the metal piece sideways so that it can fit through the slot in the frame. Push the entire piece up and out of the slot so that the entire crotch buckle is detached from the seat. To avoid damaging the locking mechanisms in the lock, manufacturers say to fill a bowl or cup with warm water and gently agitate the buckle in the water until debris or sticky substances have been removed. Manufacturers do not recommend using any soaps or chemicals to assist in cleaning the buckle. Many moms with experience said they have also had success cleaning buckles with an old toothbrush. The only caveat is that the toothbrush should not be used on the internal mechanisms of the buckle (i.e. trying to shove it into the opening). The risk of damaging the lock and its malfunctioning during an accident is too great.
- Dry: As mentioned before, it is best to place the car seat frame and straps in a well-ventilated area to allow them to air dry. The crotch buckle should be shaken upside down to remove excess water and then placed to the side to air dry as well. It’s important to let them dry completely before reassembling the car seat and you should avoid trying to rush the process with things like hair dryers or clothes dryers. The heat from these sources can compromise the strength of the straps.
- Replace pieces: When they are completely dried, you can insert the crotch strap back into its slot. From the top of the seat, slide the metallic piece back down through the slit in the frame. Once through, allow the metallic anchor to rotate so that it sits flat against the base of the seating frame. Tug on the buckle from the top to ensure that it has been anchored properly. Now you can replace the rest of the car seat covers and pads. If you get lost along the way, just refer back to your pictures or video to help you remember what to do.
Once all these steps are completed, your car seat should be clean and ready to go!
FAQs about Cleaning Car Seat Straps
When should I clean my car seat straps?
This is partially up to the preference of the parent. However, to uphold the integrity of the car seat straps, it is recommended to clean the straps whenever you notice a build-up of material or find that they are becoming sticky.
In the unfortunate event that your child gets sick (throwing up) in the car or leaks out of his/her diaper, you will definitely want to clean up the straps to avoid bacteria and unwanted smells. You can follow the entire process listed above or you can also simply spot check the straps for easier maintenance.
All manufacturers agree that the sooner you are able to get to the mess, the better.
What if I can’t get my car seat straps clean?
Sometimes, car sickness or leaky diapers leave stains and/or smells that cannot be removed by the recommended cleaning process.
In this case, or if you have washed the straps and there is still heavy soiling and buildup on the straps, it is recommended that the straps be replaced. On most car seats, the crotch strap can be ordered online from the manufacturer’s website.
Unfortunately, the shoulder straps are attached directly to the frame of the car seat and cannot be replaced. So, if you have had a spill that cannot be cleaned from these straps, you will have to find another car seat. This is also the case if you notice tears or fraying of the straps after cleaning them.
In the long run, it is worth the peace of mind that you have done everything possible to keep your child safe in the event of an accident.
What cleaners are safe to use on car seat straps?
Car seat manufacturers do not recommend using any specific cleaners on the car seat straps.
Some brands do not recommend using anything other than warm water on the straps (check your car seat manual for their recommendation). Most manufacturers agree however that a mild dish detergent is safe to use on the straps when diluted in warm water.
All other household and fabric cleaners such as Lysol, bleach, laundry detergent, and vinegar are not recommended as safe cleaners for car seat straps.
Here are two dish detergents with good cleaning reviews:
Dawn Dish Soap: This brand is great on cutting out grease residue from snacks and is widely accepted as a safe and strong cleaner.
Seventh Generation: Available in a variety of scents or scent free, this is a more naturally sourced detergent option.