With increased vigilance to prevent infections, parents and caregivers may be considering cleaning their child’s car seat. 

To do this safely, the first step is to read the manual for disassembly, cleaning and reassembly of your child’s specific seat. Following these directions is critical to ensuring the continued safe performance of the car seat. 

Here are some general points about cleaning a car seat:

Remove anything solid, like dried-on food, first. 

A toothpick helps to get into crevices. Don’t use sharp objects which might damage the seat or cause injury.

Use mild soap. 

Do not use bleach, disinfecting sprays, solvents, abrasive cleaners or even “natural” cleaning agents, like lemon juice or vinegar. Because they are acidic, they can affect the safety of the harness webbing, or LATCH straps, weaken plastic or cause other deterioration.

Washing by hand and air or towel drying is usually okay. 

Although many car seat fabrics (not the harnesses) are now machine washable and dryer safe, only use a washing machine or a dryer if the instructions allow it. Do not iron. 

The harness straps and buckle strap should be surface cleaned only (not immersed in water). 

If the manufacturer allows, you can rinse the buckle itself with warm running water or swish it in a cup of water, but do not soak it. Some harness straps can be removed for “spot cleaning,” but others should not be. Do not iron.

Removable cup holders might be able to go in the dishwasher on the top shelf. 

Check the manual to make sure. 

Clean up underneath the car seat. 

Since you are probably going to take the seat out of the car, now is a good time to vacuum up what has accumulated underneath, such as cereal or goldfish crackers. Bonus: You might find a lost toy or other treasure! 

With an actual mess in the car seat, act fast. 

The quicker you can begin to clean the seat, the better the outcome is likely to be. After washing everything according to the manufacturer’s instructions, a brief time in fresh air can help eliminate any lingering odors. 

If you have any questions about how to take care of your child’s car seat, contact the manufacturer of the seat for guidance. In the case of heavy soiling or improper cleaning, manufacturers also sell replacement parts.

Maureen Johnson is a child passenger safety specialist at the UVM Medical Center.

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