Follow Car Seat Manufacturers' Instructions to Clean Car Seat Straps Without Compromising Their Safety
Wherever small children spend any significant amount of time—and for most kids, that includes their car seat—messes are inevitable. Even if you're fortunate enough to avoid the worst mess-making events, such as your kid spilling food or throwing up while strapped into the car seat, the harness (straps and buckles) is bound to become grimy over time. When you want to wash any part of a car seat, it's best to refer to the manufacturer's instructions, whether in the original manual or online. Recommended washing instructions vary depending on the model and brand of car seat, but every major manufacturer agrees: Car seat straps should never be put into a washing machine. Fortunately, the hand-washing methods that are advised are both straightforward and effective.
Tackle Spills and Stains ASAP
When you're dealing with spilled food or drinks, vomit or, in a worst-case scenario, a particularly large diaper blowout that left your child's car seat straps messy or stained, it's best to deal with the situation as soon as possible. If you're on the road, this will probably mean wiping off the mess as thoroughly as you can with baby wipes or napkins, or, if necessary, a machine-washable blanket or item of clothing. Try not to get the straps too wet until your child has finished using the car seat for the day.
Disassemble the Car Seat
First, take the car seat out of your car. If you need to wash your car seat straps, chances are the cover needs a wash as well, so remove the cover and wash it per the manufacturer's instructions. If the straps are removable, take them out of the seat; otherwise, move the seat to the area where you are going to do the cleaning.
Snap photos of the front and back of the car seat before you take off the cover and straps. The photos will help confirm that you have put the straps and cover back in place properly after washing.
Assemble the Right Supplies
Most car seat manufacturers recommend that you wash car seat harnesses using a soft cloth or sponge, warm water and mild soap only. Appropriate types of soap include dish soap (for hand-washing, not dishwashers), and baby shampoo or body wash. To scrub the nooks and crannies of the buckle, you might want to use an old toothbrush and perhaps a wooden toothpick to scrape out debris.
Clean the Straps and Buckles
Recommended cleaning methods vary. Some manufacturers instruct you to soak a sponge or cloth in soapy water, wring out the excess liquid, then spot-clean the straps and buckles by wiping them. Others say it's OK to soak the straps and/or buckles in the soapy water and swish them around. Tackle the crevices of the buckles with an old toothbrush dipped in soapy water, if necessary. When the harness parts appear satisfactorily clean, leave them to air-dry, preferably in the sun.
What Not to Do
Following car seat manufacturers' instructions for washing (along with other handling recommendations) isn't just a matter of getting the cleanest results; it's about safety. It's vital that the webbing, seams and buckles that make up a car seat harness retain their precisely engineered standards of strength and elasticity. If you wash car seat parts using non-recommended methods, such as putting them in the washing machine or dryer, using harsh detergents or abrasive cleaning tools, you might compromise the safety of the car seat.
Frayed or otherwise worn car seat harnesses should be replaced. Also consider replacing harnesses that you can't get as clean as you'd like using the recommended tools and techniques. Some car seats have non-removable straps, which cannot be replaced. For these models, the whole seat has to be replaced.