BUYER’S GUIDE: Car Seat Upholstery from Leather to Nylon and Everything in Between

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Holland and Holland Range Rover Seats

There are a variety of materials used to cover car seats, and each has its pros and cons. The more expensive the car, the more expensive your choices, but even some affordable cars can come with luxurious leather seats, if you’re willing to pay for them as an option.

Before you decide what kind of seating material to get in your new car, take a look at our guide to the different types of upholstery available. Even some expensive materials aren’t all they’re cracked up to be when it comes time for cleaning and care, so make sure you’re picking the right material for your lifestyle.


The fabric seats in your car are generally nylon or polyester. Nylon looks like fabric and is common because it’s durable and inexpensive. That’s great news if you’ve got kids or pets who are rough on car interiors.

The bad news is that it’s porous so dirt tends to get good and stuck, especially if it’s some sticky goo you can’t even identify. You can clean dirt with a vacuum, but that might not be enough.

Afterwards, some mild detergent mixed with a little hot water and a little elbow grease can clear up most stains. Be sure you rinse it with a sponge dipped in cold water when you’re through to avoid having a ring left from the residual detergent.


You’ll find polyester seats in something called microsuede, which looks and feels like suede to give a car a more luxurious interior. It might look nice, but it can be tough to clean.

Its texture makes it prone to collecting dirt and stains, so be cautious with this stuff if you’ve got kids. Muddy boots and sticky fingers are no friends to microsuede.

Cleaning requires a soap designed for microsuede, so inquire about what is safe to use on your specific car. You don’t want to guess and turn a small dirt stain into something even worse. Also be cautious of getting the fabric too wet when cleaning because even water can stain these seats.

Think about your lifestyle before you opt for this attractive but high maintenance option.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide’s listing search here.

edge seats


This is essentially a fabric just like microsuede, sometimes called ultrasuede. The difference is that this product is paricularly flame-retardant and is found in very upscale cars, particularly cars that are performance oriented.

Alcantara is made by a single company, Alcantara SpA, out of Italy, and has become popular through some brilliant marketing. Yes, it’s soft, supple, and beautiful, but you’re basically getting pretty darn close to the same thing as microsuede for a lot more money.


Vinyl is ridiculously easy to clean, which makes it a fantastic choice if you’re rough on your car’s interior. Just about anything you spill will simply wipe clean with a damp towel. Loose dirt is easy to vacuum and even mud isn’t an issue.

It’s not porous, so it won’t suck up dirt or stain as easily as fabric surfaces and it’s basically waterproof so that sippy cup of milk your kid just spilled won’t soak in and make your car smell like rancid milk the next day.

One of the big drawbacks to vinyl is comfort. Particularly if you have a dark vinyl interior. On hot days, vinyl seats can reach temperatures somewhere in the range of molten lava, so be cautious when you take a seat wearing those cute little shorts.

Faux Leather

If you can’t afford the real deal, then faux leather upholstery is there to fit your budget. It’s a lot like vinyl in that it’s pretty much waterproof and doesn’t take much effort to keep clean.

The difference here has a lot to do with appearances. Where vinyl has a look that’s more fake and doesn’t try to be a natural material, faux leathers try to mimic the look of the real thing. They have the benefit of being cheaper and easier to clean than leather, but with the same visual appeal.

Mercedes-Benz S550 Front Seats


Leather is the most luxurious of upholstery choices and it adds a lot of style to any car, even one that’s not that expensive to start. It’s often available only as part of a package on lower trims or sometimes not at all.

There’s a threshold for many models before they’ll start offering leather seats. They may come standard, but they may be available only as part of a package making them a pricey add-on you might not be able to easily afford.

Cleaning and caring for leather is tricky. If you use the wrong products to clean it or ignore caring for leather, then it’s going to show. The surface will crease, fade, and stain over time if not cared for properly. Since those seats cost you extra, it makes sense to spend the time to care for them the right way.

Check to see what the manufacturer of the car recommends for cleaning agents. Use the wrong product and you may make a worse stain or even strip the leather’s natural oils and cause it to crack and age prematurely.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide’s listing search here.

Although leather needs the right kind of care, it is easier to keep clean than fabric surfaces. You might think it’s a terrible choice if you have kids or a dog, but wiping up spills and wiping off whatever your kids had stuck to their hands when they climbed inside is quick and easy.

The caution with cleaning is perforated leather. This looks nice with little perforations to the leather that give it character, but it’s truly miserable to clean. Everything that falls on the seats tends to get stuck in the holes, and it can be impossible to get that stuff back ou.

There are different types of leather too, like Nappa or Oxford which don’t so much change how you care for them as improve their look and feel. You’re paying for better quality with a richer material.

Keep leather seats clean and condition them regularly, checking with the manufacturer about what kinds of products are recommended for your specific seats, and they’ll look new for years.

Looking for a new or used car? Check out BestRide’s listing search here.