How To Clean Seat Belts

Stained and sweaty-smelling seat belts give off a horrible impression. Are you cleaning yours correctly?

When it comes to car cleaning, seat belts are an often overlooked part of the car. When cleaning up a car, most people focus on the carpets, seats, and dashboard, but a lot of car owners don’t know how easily seat belts get dirty. 

Every time you grab them with your hands, oil, sweat, and dirt from your hands stain them. Over time, this could lead to accumulated dirt and the growth of molds. 

Dirty seat belts can emit a bad odor. They can also give off a very poor impression for any passengers. As such, cleaning them as part of your regular car maintenance process is important.

For someone with no experience, cleaning your belts might be tricky, so here is a guide to walk you through the process. 

How Often Should You Clean Seat Belts

Seat belts are designed to be curled up and hidden away, so they’re pretty easy to ignore during car cleanups. In truth, however, they’re very often the source of bad car smells, so how frequently should you wash them to prevent this?

Most compact cars have 5 seat belts; the driver’s seat belt, the passenger’s belt, and three in the back. How regularly you clean each one should depend on how much traffic it sees. The driver’s seat is often the most used one in the car and should be lightly cleaned at least once a week if you drive daily. It should also be deep washed at least once a month. 

For the passenger’s seat belt, you could clean it whenever you clean the driver’s if you have people in your car often. However, if you’re a solo driver most of the time, one deep wash per month is enough to get rid of dust and accumulated dirt. 

The same should apply to the back seat belts. If you have kids or pets in the back often, you should clean the seatbelts as frequently as you clean the ones in the driver’s seat. 

fastened seat belts at back seats

How To Light Clean a Seat Belt 

Seat belts may feel light when held, but they’re made from tightly woven, sturdy polyester. Because of its weave, when a seatbelt is soaked in water, it may take up to half of a day to dry properly. Hence, just like your car carpets, you can’t deep wash your belts every other day as it may damage the material, and you can’t drive around with a wet seat belt. 

Instead, a light cleaning can substitute washing it down. 

What you’ll need: 

  • Clip 
  • Spray can
  • Cleaning agent (degreaser, baking soda, dish soap, rubbing alcohol)
  • A damp and a dry microfiber cloth 

1. Pull out the belt 

First, you need to gently pull the belt forward until it’s entirely out of the retractor. This allows you to see the whole belt and easily spot mold and dirt to clean. Once it’s fully out, lock it with a clip to stop it from retracting back. If you don’t have a clip, you might need another pair of hands or some other way to hold the belt in place while you clean it.

2. Spray the belt 

Once the belt is in place, you need to spray it with a cleaning agent. Preferably, you should use a degreaser or dish soap. Remember to spray the belt in small amounts as it’s a light cleaning job, do not over-saturate the belt as too much soap or degreaser will take hours to dry and will leave a bad odor if not dried properly before retracting. Retracting a wet seatbelt may also cause mildew to grow on it. 

Also, note that too much degreaser can damage the fabric of the belt.

Alternatively, some rubbing alcohol can also help remove stains that would’ve only otherwise gone away with soap and water. Rubbing alcohol is an excellent option because it evaporates almost instantly instead of drying, meaning you won’t have to air it for long after cleaning. 

3. Wipe the belt 

After applying your cleaning solution, leave it to settle for about a minute. Next, wipe down the belt with baby wipes or a damp microfiber cloth. Make sure the cloth isn’t too wet to soak the belt. 

For stained areas, apply a bit more force on the area with the damp cloth or use a toothbrush to scrub off the stain. 

If you’re using rubbing alcohol, wipe the belts immediately after spraying the alcohol solution on the belt so that the alcohol doesn’t evaporate before you wipe. After wiping it, use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe down the belt again to remove any moisture. 

Make sure you repeat the process for both sides of the belt, as mildew and dirt gather on the bottom side as well.

4. Air and retract 

When you’re done wiping the belt dry, you’re ready to go. If you don’t require an immediate drive, you can air the belt for half an hour to dry any moisture that may have slipped through the surface and also to remove the smell of soap or alcohol. Once you feel the belt has gotten enough air, retract it. 

an unfastened black seat belt at the back seat

How To Deep Clean a Seat Belt

Deep cleaning removes dirt accumulated below the surface, such as sweat and dust. Ideally, giving your seat belt a thorough wash should be done once a month.

If you wash it more often, you risk wearing down the fabric, which could lead to torn and loose seat belts. If you wash it less often, the dirt below the surface accumulates, leaving a bad smell in your car. 

What you’ll need: 

  • Clip 
  • Spray can
  • Cleaning agent (dish soap, all-purpose cleaner, baking soda, degreaser)
  • Bucket of soapy water (optional) 
  • Stiff bristle brush 
  • Dry microfiber towel 

 1. Pull out the belt 

Similar to the light cleaning process, the first step to deep cleaning a seat belt is drawing it out and clipping it. This puts it in place to be cleaned. 

2. Spray the belt 

The next step is applying a cleaning agent to the belt. There are a few ways to carry out this step. You could use dish soap and water or an all-purpose cleaner. 

It’s advisable to apply baking soda or a degreaser to specific stains first and leave it to settle for a few minutes before using a cleaner to the whole belt. This makes tough stains come out easier while scrubbing. However, remember that applying too much stain remover like degreasers may damage the fabric of the seatbelt or change the color. Do not saturate it. Spray just enough to cover the stain. Also, avoid any solution with ammonia or bleach.

Once the stain remover sinks in, spray soapy water on the belt to prepare it for scrubbing. This is a deep-cleaning process, so you can be more generous with the soap than a light cleaning. You can turn some soapy water into a spray can or purchase an all-purpose cleaner that comes in spray containers. 

Alternatively, you can fill a bucket with soapy water and dunk the belt in it for half an hour. This makes it easier to clean the belt as the dirt softens and comes off much easier.

3. Scrub The Seat Belt

After applying the cleaning agent to the belt, it’s time to scrub it clean using a stiff bristle brush. Stiff bristle brushes are sturdy enough to wash off stains, but they won’t damage the fabric of your belts as long as you don’t scrub too hard.

Scrub from top to bottom in up and down strokes. Then, repeat the process for the other side of the belt. 

4. Wipe With a Microfiber Towel

Use a dry microfiber towel to wipe off the moisture from the belt. Wrap the towel around the belt and squeeze tightly, then move the towel up and down to remove soap residue. If you don’t have a microfiber towel, a terry’s cloth, or any other soft fiber that can absorb water will suffice. Wiping the belt thoroughly will help it dry faster. The more moisture you leave on the belt, the longer it will take to dry off. 

5. Air Dry The Belt

After deep cleaning your belt, do not remove the clip to retract it. Retracting a wet belt will lead to molds and mildew growing on it, which can cause stains on your cloth and a bad car smell.

It might take as long as 12-18 hours to dry completely, so you should leave your car in a safe space where you can leave it open for the natural breeze to dry it out. 

Once the belts are dry, remove the clip and retract it.

There you have it, your belts are looking good as new 

A fastened seat belt against an off white leather seat

Can You Use Steamer to Deep Clean?

Steaming is a popular cleaning method. It involves using water and heat to deep clean and is often used for car carpets and seats. Can it be used on your belts as well?

Yes, they can be cleaned with a steamer, but there are a few rules you need to follow strictly to prevent damage to your belt. 

Firstly, you should steam on low heat. Seat belts are made of strong material, but they aren’t as strong as carpets or chairs. Steaming at the machine’s highest temperature could burn the fabric and loosen its webbings.

Also, you can only steam clean your belt sporadically, two or three times a year at a maximum. This is because regular steaming exposes the fabric of the belt to direct heat – even if done at a low temperature – which isn’t good for the material and will reduce its flexibility and firmness. 

Steam cleaning the back seats of a car

Can You Use a Pressure Washer to Deep Clean?

Yes you can!

If you are using a pressure washer, what I would suggest is for you to trap the seat belt through the door and then close the door. Obviously, you do not want to be spraying water into your car.

With a sweeping motion, move from the top of the seat belt to the bottom of the seat belt. 

Make sure to return to step 4 of deep cleaning it. Drying it off as much as possible with a microfiber cloth will shorten the dry time. 


Seatbelts are one of the most important parts of car safety for drivers and passengers. Cleaning them not only increases their durability but helps keep them free of germs, molds, and odor.

Derrick Porter
Derrick Porter is a stay-at-home father of two that enjoys fixing things around the house and doing DIY projects. He has a degree in engineering, and is always looking for the most efficient way to complete different tasks such as cleaning and organizing. He also enjoys reading, writing and spending time with his family.
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