How to Get Rid of Mold and Mildew on Leather Car Seats

10 min read

Mold is universally regarded as unpleasant due to its musty odor, dusty appearance, and potential to spoil food, such as ruining a slice of pizza. Beyond its unappealing presence, certain mold types pose serious health risks to humans if inhaled or consumed.

Surprisingly, your vehicle can become a breeding ground for mold, offering the perfect conditions for its growth. Cars can easily become moldy due to their tendency to retain moisture and warmth, especially if not regularly cleaned.

Mold can find its way into your car through various means, including:

  • Liquid spills on the floor, such as water, juice, or coffee.
  • Leaving windows open during rainy weather.
  • High levels of humidity.
  • Storing the car in a moist garage.
  • Forgetting wet clothing on the seats.
  • Experiencing flood damage.

Mold’s airborne nature allows it to spread rapidly. Delaying action only exacerbates the problem, making it more difficult to manage.

The good news is that removing mold from your car doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. With some dedication and effort, you can tackle the problem yourself. Here’s a guide on how to do it.

Effective Mold Removal Techniques for Your Car

A person vacuuming a black leather car seat.

Before you embark on the mold removal process, it’s crucial to prioritize your safety by donning appropriate protective equipment. Ensure you’re equipped with overalls, rubber boots, gloves, a protective face mask, and safety goggles before you start.

  • Begin by preparing your car for the cleaning process. Remove any items that could harbor mold, such as damp swimwear, sports equipment, seat covers, and floor mats, setting them aside for later cleaning.
  • Next, position your vehicle in a well-ventilated, sunny spot. Lower the windows to ventilate the interior, which helps minimize the risk of breathing in mold spores.

With these preliminary steps completed, you’re set to tackle the mold. Choose from one of the following recommended methods to effectively remove it:

Using White Vinegar

Distilled white vinegar serves as an effective means to combat mold infestations in your vehicle. Its mild acidity is potent enough to kill mold spores and reduce the likelihood of their future occurrence. Vinegar’s versatility allows it to be safely applied on diverse materials such as leather and vinyl, offering a broad spectrum of use.

To employ white vinegar in tackling mold, begin by diluting it with water. For areas severely afflicted by mold, applying white vinegar in its undiluted form may be more effective. Proceed to dampen a cloth or utilize a spray bottle to apply the vinegar solution directly onto the mold patches. After lightly scrubbing the affected areas, allow the solution to sit for approximately twenty minutes to ensure effectiveness. The final step involves using a wet-and-dry vacuum cleaner to remove the remnants of dead mold.

The primary drawback associated with this method is the strong, pungent smell of vinegar. However, this inconvenience can be addressed by ventilating the vehicle, either by leaving the doors open to allow the odor to dissipate naturally or by using air fresheners to mask the smell.

Non-Iodized Salt Solution

The mechanism by which a saltwater solution operates against mold involves dehydrating the mold spores. This is achieved by drawing water out from the spores’ membranes, effectively starving and killing them. It is important to note that merely sprinkling dry salt over mold will not suffice; the salt must be dissolved in water to form an effective solution.

Initiate the process by vacuuming the mold-affected area to remove superficial mold layers. Following this, prepare a concentrated saltwater solution. It is essential to ensure the solution is sufficiently saturated for maximum effectiveness. Utilize a spray bottle or a sponge to apply the saltwater meticulously over the mold spots, taking care to also treat adjacent areas that might harbor unseen mold spores.

If circumstances allow, placing the vehicle in direct sunlight enhances the effectiveness of this method by facilitating the drying process, which results in a crusty salt residue. This residue should then be scrubbed off with water, and a vacuum cleaner can be used for a thorough clean-up.

However, there are disadvantages to consider when using salt as a mold treatment. Salt’s corrosive nature poses a risk to leather surfaces, potentially causing damage. Additionally, the residue left by salt can lead to staining. While not the optimal solution for mold removal, the non-iodized salt solution can serve as a makeshift remedy when other options are unavailable.

Using Clove Oil for Mold Control

Clove oil, commonly recognized for its pain relief in toothaches and aid in digestive issues, also possesses strong antiseptic qualities. This makes it an effective agent against mold spores, helping to prevent their proliferation. A small amount, such as a quarter teaspoon of clove oil mixed with a liter of water, is sufficient.

Start by vacuuming the area to remove any loose spores. Then, mix the clove oil with water thoroughly and apply the solution sparingly to the moldy spots. Allow it to dry completely before cleaning off the area. For particularly stubborn mold, a paste made from a few drops of clove oil and baking soda can be applied with a toothbrush for more intensive cleaning. Once dry, the area can be wiped clean.

Utilizing Baking Soda

Baking soda is not only a household staple for its cleaning capabilities but also an effective agent for addressing mold and mildew due to its moisture-absorbing properties. It doubles as a deodorizer, freshening the air.

To use, simply sprinkle baking soda directly onto the moldy areas and leave it for about twenty minutes. The baking soda absorbs excess moisture and leaves a residue that can be easily cleaned up. For enhanced effectiveness, baking soda can be used in combination with white vinegar, creating a powerful solution against mold.

Specialty Cleaning Products

For those who prefer non-organic solutions, specialty mold cleaning products are available. These products are designed to tackle mold effectively but may contain chemicals that require cautious handling. Always follow the application instructions closely and confirm that the product is suitable for use on materials like leather and vinyl. It’s essential to handle these cleaners with care to avoid potential harm from toxic substances.

When Is it Time to Consult an Expert for Car Mold Issues?

There are circumstances where, despite your best efforts to clean and maintain your vehicle, mold issues can persist or even worsen. It’s crucial in these situations to consider enlisting the services of a professional auto detailing service or a specialist in mold remediation.

Determining the appropriate moment to seek professional assistance involves being vigilant for specific indicators that suggest a more severe problem than can be handled with DIY methods. These signs include:

  • Presence of black, green, or white stains that appear in splash-like patterns across various surfaces of your car.
  • Mold growth that reappears regularly, indicating an underlying issue that hasn’t been resolved.
  • Persistent musty odors that remain despite thorough cleaning and vacuuming efforts.
  • Experiencing symptoms such as lightheadedness, nausea, or difficulty breathing either while spending time in the car or after leaving it, which can indicate a significant health risk from mold exposure.
  • Noticeable deterioration of the car’s interior, such as weather-stripping becoming brittle or flaking away, which can allow moisture to infiltrate and exacerbate mold problems.

In cases where these issues are present, it’s advisable to seek the expertise of professionals who have the tools, knowledge, and experience to effectively address and eliminate mold problems, ensuring the health and safety of the vehicle’s occupants and the longevity of the vehicle itself.

Removing Mold from Leather Surfaces in 4 Simple Steps

Create Rubbing Alcohol SolutionFormulate a mixture of rubbing alcohol and water to create a powerful cleaning agent that effectively eliminates mold, mildew, and bacteria from leather surfaces.
Thorough Cleaning and ScrubbingFor areas with stubborn mold, perform a diligent scrubbing process to completely remove the mold from the leather. Persistent mold spots may require extended cleaning sessions.
Proper Drying Techniques for LeatherAvoid using heat to dry leather, as it can lead to premature aging and weakening. Opt for air drying, but if a hand dryer is necessary, use a cool setting to protect the leather’s integrity.
Neutralizing Odors with Baking SodaAfter cleaning, use baking soda to absorb and neutralize any residual odors. This helps leave the leather fresh and free from any unpleasant smells that mold may have left behind.

Effective Strategies for Mold Prevention in Your Vehicle

Luxurious brown leather car seats with intricate stitching.

Nobody welcomes the presence of mold, whether it’s in your home or your car. Dealing with a mold outbreak can be an intimidating and challenging process, as anyone who has experienced it can attest.

If you’ve ever had to combat mold inside your vehicle, you know it’s no easy task. A single misstep can lead to your car becoming infested with mold spores, rendering it unusable.

Once you’ve successfully tackled a mold problem, the last thing you want is for it to return. Fortunately, there are several proactive measures you can take to discourage mold growth inside your vehicle. These strategies include:

  • Control Moisture Levels: Excessive moisture is a primary culprit in most mold growth cases. To protect your car from damp conditions, consider parking it in a garage and using a waterproof cover when necessary, rather than leaving it exposed to the elements.
  • Ensure Sealed Windows: Leaving your car windows partially open can create small entry points for dust, debris, and mold spores. Make sure your windows are fully closed to keep these unwelcome intruders out.
  • Avoid Eating in Your Car: While it may be a bit challenging, refraining from eating inside your car is strongly recommended. Food crumbs and spills can provide an ideal environment for mold to thrive. If you do indulge in a snack or meal in your vehicle, promptly clean up any spills to prevent mold-friendly conditions.
  • Thoroughly Clean and Disinfect Your Car’s Interior: Many car owners overlook the importance of maintaining the interior of their vehicles. Start by disinfecting your car with a high-quality antimicrobial product to eliminate any remaining mold spores. Additionally, regularly clean and sanitize frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, lock buttons, steering wheel, and HVAC systems for comprehensive protection.


Addressing mold and mildew on leather car seats requires a careful and gentle approach. Prompt action, proper cleaning techniques, and regular maintenance can help you preserve the beauty and longevity of your leather seats while keeping mold and mildew at bay. With the right care, your car’s interior can remain mold-free and comfortable for the long haul.


What Leads to Mold Growth in Cars?

Mold and mildew can flourish inside your vehicle when surfaces become moist. This moisture can result from spills, car leaks, or even environmental humidity trapped within your car. If the dampness lingers without proper drying, mold can quickly take hold. In humid climates, this process occurs even more rapidly.

Where Can Mold Develop in Cars?

Mold and mildew are more likely to thrive on porous and absorbent surfaces. For instance, hard plastic surfaces like your dashboard are less susceptible to mold growth. However, areas such as leather seats, fabric, upholstery, and flooring provide favorable conditions for mold. If you suspect mold in your car, be sure to inspect these areas:

How Does Bleach Affect Leather Seats?

Never use bleach on leather seats under any circumstances. Bleach and ammonia-based cleaners can harm leather, causing discoloration and excessive drying that ruins the material. If you’ve mistakenly used bleach on your leather seats, promptly rinse the seats with water and absorb the excess moisture with a cloth. You may need to re-stain the leather and apply a conditioning treatment to restore it.

Can Lysol Spray Cause Damage to Leather?

While Lysol may not immediately harm your leather seats, it can lead to long-term issues such as drying, cracking, and discoloration. Avoid using Lysol spray or Lysol wipes for cleaning your leather car seats. Instead, opt for a gentle soap diluted in warm water applied with a microfiber cloth. Finish the cleaning process by using a leather conditioner to prevent excessive drying and maintain the leather’s integrity.

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