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How To Clean Car Seats

Hello, I’ve left tons of hair and drool over your upholstery. What you gonna do about it, boss?

In my post last week, I discussed the advantages and the disadvantages of the different seat upholstery materials.  In that post, I mentioned the ease of cleaning as a factor that might be the deciding one for you

Now, it’s super-easy to clean car seats if you have vinyl, which is about the only good thing about vinyl. Wipe it down with a damp cloth and there you go. If you have a classic that is cursed with vinyl seats and you’ve done the sensible thing and put aftermarket covers on them, it’s still simple. Take the covers off the seats, toss them into the washing machine on the gentle cycle, dry them on the old Hills Hoist and pop them back on. Simple.

It’s not so simple if you haven’t got car seat covers that come off for washing quite so easily.  You’re going to have to get in there and clean it yourself.  Tackling this job is going to be different depending on whether you chose the leather or the cloth.

OK, let’s start with the cloth seats.  If you decided against leather on the grounds that you have messy children or dogs that would wreck leather, you’re definitely going to have to get the grub out of the upholstery from time to time. Banning really messy food or sticky drinks in the back seat might help keep the muck to a minimum but accidents happen and everybody has the odd icecream in the car now and again. Plus there’s always that small child who needs the loo while you’re stuck in the middle of heavy traffic with no way to pull over… In short, mess will happen!

Here’s how to clean cloth car seats front and back.

  1. Get out the vacuum cleaner and go all over the seats, the back and the headrest, plus any armrests. You may as well give the footwell a good going-over and the cupholders too, while you’re at it. This gets off dog hair, human hair, dirt particles and other loose grit.
  2. Hire one of those carpet shampooing machines and make sure that you get the upholstery head. Follow the instructions and leave the seats to dry out before you sit on them again… which could be a problem if you need to drive back to where you hired the upholstery cleaning machine from before your time runs out.
  3. If you don’t hire one of those machines but want to give it a go yourself, you still have to allow for plenty of drying time, during which you can’t sit on the seats. It’s also a good idea to leave the windows open for better evaporation and air circulation.  Also avoid the temptation to use lots of water – use only just enough. What you’ll need plenty of is elbow grease.
  4. Sprinkle the seats all over with baking soda. Be generous. Use one of those kitchen shaker things or a reclaimed talcum powder container.  Baking soda absorbs smells, so if your car interior is particularly stinky, then leave the baking soda on overnight.  If you want to spot-treat just one stain or area, you can do this, but you might be left with a conspicuously clean patch.
  5. Get a spray bottle of the spritzer or plant mister type and spray the baking soda. Don’t overdo it – you should spray on just enough to make the baking soda pasty.
  6. Grab a toothbrush (if you’re feeling masochistic) or a larger scrubbing brush that isn’t too stiff or scratchy. Now get busy scrubbing the fabric.
  7. Once you’re done scrubbing, get an old towel and blot up as much moisture as possible.
  8. Get your spritzer bottle and fill with a 50/50 mixture of white vinegar and warm water. You can add some essential oils if you feel like it or if you want a nice smell.  Detergent like you use for handwashing dishes can go in, but no more than a couple of drops.  Now spray this all over the baking soda – again, not excessively.  The vinegar will react with the baking soda and it will fizz up.
  9. Blot again with another old towel – or possibly several. This will absorb the moisture plus the grime loosened by the baking soda, the vinegar and the elbow grease. Once you think you’ve blotted it all, do it again just to make sure.
  10. Open the doors and windows and leave the car interior to dry out. If you can leave the car in the garage with the windows open overnight, all the better.

Admittedly, this process is going to be easier if you have a small city hatch rather than a van or MPV. With larger vehicles, just spot-treat any obvious bits of awfulness (e.g. the place where the dog threw up) and keep up the regular vacuuming.  If you really want a perfect interior, then use the hire machines.

Now for leather seats.  With leather, you have to be really careful with moisture (which will leave leather tough and hard after it dries) and with scratching.  You can start with vacuuming but be very careful to use a proper head with a nice soft brush.

The trick for cleaning leather is that you will wipe rather than scrub.  The good news is that this will work.  Baby wipes and damp cloths will work but be sure to have a towel handy to dry the leather off immediately.  There are truckloads of recipes for cleaning leather, most of which use some combination of soap and water, or detergent and water plus a nice soft cloth.  The alternative is vinegar, which has the added bonus of killing mould and bacteria.  Actually, a rag moistened in water or vinegar followed by drying could be all you need. Just be careful not to let the water/vinegar soak into the leather – you need only enough moisture to loosen the dirt.

However, you might want to add a bit of sheen to the leather and something to help it stay supple – kind of like a moisturiser for the cow skin (or goat skin) covering the seats.  If you’re a horsey type, you probably already have access to saddle soap – and what works for the leather of a saddle or bridle will work for leather seats.    However, the rest of us needn’t despair.  You can buy some overpriced fancy specialist product for cleaning leather seats. Or you can look for a cheaper option in your pantry: mix up some oil and vinegar, just like you would for a salad.  A lot of recipes out there call for olive oil but the secret is that any sort of oil will do the job.  Again, essential oils can be added if you fancy but these are optional.  If you want to add them, my advice is to use lavender (for calming) or eucalyptus (for mental alertness).

Shake the mixture up in a spritzer bottle (and you’ll need to shake before every spray) then spray sparingly on the seats, treating one part at a time.  Again, don’t use too much.  Buff the leather well with a nice old towel or a nasty old T-shirt that’s seen better days – the vinegar and the oil will loosen grime, and any leftover oil will soak into the leather and give it a nice natural shine that helps keep the leather supple. If you’ve got any of the mixture left over, then you can actually use it in a salad – unless you’ve added essential oils, in which case, use it in the bath or as a body oil.

But what about Alcantara, that synthetic suede from the motor racing world?  How do you clean that?  OK, it’s a beast to clean because the suede-like finish shows marks so easily.  However, it is stain-resistant, so the dirt will at least be surface dirt.

To clean Alcantara, you will probably need a proper cleaning product. Stay away from steam cleaning machines and from products designed for leather.   If you can’t get hold of the products made by Alcantara for their product, then you can make do with a lightly moistened sponge or a soft cloth – and make sure that the cloth in question is white just in case the colour bleeds from the rag to the upholstery.  Car detailers have been known to use old-school shaving brushes.  Run the cloth over the upholstery, taking great care not to (a) crush the soft little floofy finish down or (b) use too much moisture.  You’ll need to do it several times, and it’s best to work in a circular motion to avoid leaving streaks in the suede-like finish.  Leave to dry overnight, then get a very soft brush (that old-school shaving brush) or a dry sponge or a dry terrycloth face flannel and gently fluff up the finish again.  Imagine that you’re stroking a kitten and you’ll get the action about right.

 

Coping With Car Clutter

You might be scrupulous about washing the outside of your car, and possibly waxing it as well, but what about the inside of the car? If you’re the typical Aussie driver, whether you’re doing the daily commute or the school run, or if you’re a tradie, consultant or sales rep who’s always on the road, it’s all too easy to let the inside of your vehicle get a bit on the cluttered side.

In-car clutter takes a range of forms, from obvious mess and rubbish that you’re going to get around to cleaning up one of these days, through to that spare jumper or raincoat you stashed in the luggage compartment of your hatchback (and another spare raincoat and a puffer jacket and…). And there’s everything else that you’ve put in the glovebox or the centre console because it might be useful at some point.

Clutter in your car is a problem for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s visually annoying and it doesn’t make for a very pleasant journey if you have to spend a long time in a car that’s full of stuff. Secondly, having a large number of loose objects rolling around in your car can be something of a safety hazard in the situation of an emergency stop. Thirdly, you end up having trouble finding what you want in a hurry if your car is full of all sorts of odds and ends (I know I had that change for the parking meter in here somewhere…). Fourthly, all those little things add up and you could be carting about a kilo or even more of useless junk that shouldn’t be in your car, and this will decrease your fuel efficiency, even if only by a tiny bit.

So how do you go about decluttering and organising your car so that you have the useful bits you need in the car for emergencies but don’t have too much? The good news is that decluttering a car is a lot easier than decluttering your garage (we won’t go there!), as it’s not a huge space. OK, decluttering a little Mini  is going to be quicker than decluttering a Range Rover ! However, from a small city hatch through to a big bush-bashing seven-seater 4×4, the basic principles are the same. (Here, I’ve got to do a shout-out to US clutter-free guru Kathi Lipp  for the outline of the basic principles and stages of decluttering anything).

  1. Get it all out. Pull everything out of your car. Everything. Including the mats, as there could be something underneath them that needs to go.
  2. Sort it. Here, the most efficient system seems to be the “Three Boxes, Two Bags” method (thank you, Ms Lipp!). The three boxes take items that are fall into the categories “Put It Back”, “Give It Away” and “Put It Away Somewhere Else”; the two bags are for rubbish and recycling. Of course, you don’t need to get too hung up on whether you’re using a bag or a box! Put some music on while you sort and don’t stop to read anything or put anything away just yet. Stick to the job and concentrate on what you’re doing. It’s best if you don’t enlist help from your nearest and dearest at this stage, as this could lead to arguments about how many CDs or aux cords need to live in the car. Call them in at later stages.
  3. Clean it. Now that you’ve got everything out of your car, this is a good moment to grab the vacuum cleaner and maybe a rag and some cleaning spray of your choice, and give the interior of your vehicle a good going-over. You probably don’t need to polish the leather seats or shine up the chrome – unless you’ve got lots of time set aside for this job.
  4. Put it back. The first set of stuff that you’ve taken out of your car that you will deal with will be the “Put It Back” items. Exactly what you will put back in your car will vary from person to person, but for me, the items to be put back would always include the manual, a first aid kit, a phone charger, hand sanitiser, some tissues (which can be used to clean the inside of the windscreen as well as to blow your nose), an old-school paper map for when you’re out of reception or when Google Maps has decided to send you round the long way, the logbook (I use my vehicle for business purposes and have to track this) and a pen. Spare change for parking meters also doesn’t go amiss, and nor does a packet of nibbles such as rice crackers or almonds for those moments when you’re stuck in traffic and getting hangry. These days, it can be wise to keep your reusable shopping bags in the car as well so you don’t forget them. Other things that may be best kept in your car include jumper leads, ropes suitable for towing, fuses, and a blankets for chilly mornings when the heater is sulking and/or impromptu picnics (and for first aid).
  5. Put it away. All those jerseys, toys, coffee mugs, etc. that really belong in the house go into the house right now. You probably want to drop them off in the dishwasher or kitchen sink, or the laundry as appropriate, as they’ll probably be grubby after a stint in the car.
  6. Throw it away. The recycling and the rubbish – you know what to do with it.
  7. Give it away. These are the items that you don’t use or need any more, such as the charger or aux cable for a phone or MP3 player that you no longer own, the cardie that’s been sitting in the back for so long that the child it belongs to has outgrown it and… oh yes. The bags of stuff that you were going to take down to the nearest charity shop next time you were out. No more procrastinating! As soon as you’ve finished all the other steps, get in the car, start your engine and off you go to get rid of them RIGHT NOW. If this really isn’t practical (you live in the country and the nearest charity store or bin is half an hour’s drive away, for example) then make a reminder for yourself so that you don’t forget those bags of old clothes sitting in the boot yet again!

Now enjoy having a nice clean car and make a commitment to yourself to keep it that way – or at least try to!

A Wee Rant About Road Works

I’ll slow down… if there really are road works ahead.

Yes, yes, I know that roads need to be repaired regularly so they stay safe to drive on.  I also know that we need to keep the guys and girls working on the roads safe and that we shouldn’t just roar through road works at our usual speed.  However, there are times when seeing those “road works ahead” signs up ahead really makes me see red.

I particularly see red when I’m on my pushbike and the road works people have decided the bike lane is the best place to put out their warning signs, forcing me to either nip into the main stream of the traffic or onto the footpath.  However, there are times that even when I’m behind the wheel of a car that those road works signs arouse my ire.

Not that I’m complaining about the road works themselves.  I don’t mind slowing down when something’s actually going on or there really is something I need to take care with – lots of busy people, a single lane or stacks of loose gravel.  If there’s one of those traffic controllers with a stop/go sign on a pole, I’ll give them a friendly smile and wave, or even say hello if I’m close enough – after all, traffic controlling work is one of the most mind-bogglingly boring jobs out there, although it’s probably better than it was 25 years ago, seeing as one could now probably listen to a podcast or audiobook on the smartphone through one ear.  And I’d much rather see a real human employed for traffic control duty than one of those temporary traffic lights that keeps going at night and will hold up a huge line of cars for no reason whatsoever thanks to its internal programming.

The problem happens when the road works warning signs are the only type of road works out there.

You know how this scenario goes.  You’re travelling along and you see one of those temporary warning signs on the road up ahead of you, so you slow down. However, as you get closer to where the signs are, what do you see?  Do you see bulldozers and bitumen mixers?  Do you see sweaty guys in high-viz with power tools jackhammering the road surface open?  Is there a massive hole in the road or similar amusements?

Nope.  The only thing that you can see is maybe a single road cone marking where the road works have been… and beside that sits a tiny little patch of loose gravel over where they’ve repaired a pothole. Alternatively, all you can see is a few spraypainted marks where they’re going to repair something.  Or possibly, there’s a half-done kerb on the side of the road that they’re going to finish off when it’s stopped raining or when the weekend is over.  Or the road works are taking place on a side road that intersects with the road you’re driving on (but don’t affect the road you’re driving on, except indirectly).

You have to ask yourself sometimes: are the warning signs the first things that they put up before beginning a job and the last things they take away?  Honestly, I’m convinced that the road signs go up as soon as they’ve decided to fix something on the road and stay there until they’ve finished the paperwork to sign the job off after it’s done.

And then they wonder why people don’t like to slow down when they see those signs.  Haven’t they all heard the fable of the boy who cried wolf?  You’d think that they’re trying to condition us to ignore the road signs. I know for one that my reaction upon seeing those road signs is “What road works where?” I’m probably not the only one who gets into the very bad habit of not quite slowing down to the temporary speed limit when seeing these signs.

Dear road workers, us drivers appreciate all your hard work, we really do, and we don’t want to put you in danger.  However, you guys need to do your bit.  Let’s do a deal: you put the warning signs up when you’re actually working on the road, not three weeks beforehand, take them down when you’re finished and maybe even lay them facedown during the weekend if the road isn’t actually hazardous.  It can’t take you that long to put them up and take them down. In return, we’ll pay much more attention to the signs and really will slow down to 80, 50 or 30 as the case may be, and we’ll probably be nicer to you when we drive past.

Particularly annoying road works signs I have seen over the years (with specific locations removed) include:

  • The ones on a large chunk of main road that could only be fixed on a sunny day… and the road signs went out in the rainy season when sunny days were few and far between. They stayed there for at least three weeks with no sign of action on the roads before the work began.  I’m not sure when they came down, because by that stage, I’d found an alternate route on a minor road.
  • The traffic control light that stopped a major highway for ten minutes (I was counting) just so they could set up a line of road cones. Honestly, after having waited that long, I was expecting to see something major going on!  Couldn’t they have maybe set them out in small batches rather than letting a long line of traffic build up?
  • Not quite so annoying this time: the sign warning that road marking was going on ahead. We’d kind of guessed, as the tank of yellow paint had sprung a leak and there was a thin trail of yellow in the middle of the lane near some very new, very white centre lines.

Right, that’s my rant over.  Now it’s your turn.  What’s your worst experience with road works and pointless signs?  Have a good old grizzle in the comments and let us sympathise with you.

Your Teenage Daughter* Is Learning To Drive… The Conversation You Need To Have

keep-calm-and-learn-to-drive-properlySo you’ve got your licence – you go, girl!  It’s not that long (from Mum and Dad’s point of view) that you were just heading off to school for the first time, so it definitely won’t be long until you will be on your P-plates and really getting some independence.

During this learner licence phase, we’re going to get the basics in place so you become a competent driver who can hold her head up high and won’t give berks an excuse to sneer about women drivers.  OK, there will always be some berks who do this, but if you know what you’re doing and you actually are driving well, you can ignore them (and don’t respond – the rule about not feeding the trolls applies to real life as well as on social media).

For a start, I don’t care if your friends are learning to drive in a vehicle with automatic transmission, blind spot monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, cameras and all the rest of it.  You won’t be.  If you learn to drive on a vehicle that has all the driver aids out there, you won’t learn how to do it for yourself and cope when you buy your first car… which will probably be some second-hand thing from the 1990s or early 2000s that isn’t quite as likely to have any of these things.  Yes, this means you will be doing heaps of gear changes up and down the street and the boys from school may see you when you get it wrong… and you will get it wrong occasionally.  If they laugh at you, they’re not the sort of guy you want to impress, so just brush them off.  Doing it the hard way now will mean that you don’t look or act like a dumb bimbo later.

Before you get behind the wheel, you will hand your cellphone over and remove those high heels.  Trainers are fine, but you can’t drive properly in heels. If your outfit requires heels, then change when you get to your destination and don’t wear them when you’re driving.  Ditch the flip-flops as well, as they can flip and flop into nasty places, like under the brake pedal so you can’t apply it properly.

Adjust the mirror before you start driving.  You should be able to see the road behind you; it’s not for checking your lip gloss.

As well as learning all the basics about driving a car, you are also going to learn a few maintenance basics.

Hooray - there are some decent and realistic images out there!

It’s a nasty fact, but there are a few mechanics and similar types who try to rip off women on the grounds that they don’t know anything about mechanics.  The more you know about your car and the more you can do yourself, the less likely you are to be ripped off.  You will also learn how to change a tyre.  If you do get a puncture on a lonely road (or anywhere, really), you want to be the one holding the big heavy metal wheel jack even (or especially) if some guy comes along and offers to help.  He may be genuinely trying to help a damsel in distress or he may see you as a vulnerable target. If you have a flat tyre and a guy pulls up and offers to do it for you, smile nicely and tell him “I got it – thanks for the offer.” And keep hold of that jack and your phone just in case he’s a creep.

When the time comes for you to get your P-plates, don’t take it for granted that you’ll be just able to use the family car Shakira-style (whenever and wherever – although you probably think this song is horribly old-fashioned and so yesterday).  With privilege comes responsibility, so if you do get the use of our car, you’ll be helping us out either with money for fuel or running errands.  We will also be particularly tough on you keeping to the conditions of your licence.

As you learn to drive and start loving it, you may start thinking about what you’d like as a car of your own. Never let anybody tell you that girls don’t drive big bush-bashing 4x4s and vans, or that little hatchbacks are girlie cars.  Although cars have names like Megane, Mercedes, Clio and Octavia , they don’t have gender and you can drive what you want to. In any colour you want.  In spite of what some people tell you, there is no such thing as a woman’s car or a man’s car.  It’s not like bikes, where seat style and frame style make things awkward for skirts or knackers.  Cars are built for all humans.

Now grab those keys and let’s get driving!

 

* The majority of the advice in this article applies to guys as well (although the bits about lip gloss and high heels may not be applicable).  It’s just that my daughter did just get her learner’s licence last week.  Tailor it to your situation as applicable.