Like most everyone else, parents across the country are reaching for bleach-based cleaning products and other virus-killing chemicals to help combat the coronavirus pandemic. But there’s one area of family life, in particular, where parents need to pause before using those powerful cleaners: child car seats.
Moms and dads looking to clean their children’s car seats should follow the car seat maker’s instructions — such as using a mild detergent and water. Those harsher cleaning products could damage the car seat, which means it might not protect a child in a crash.
“There are so many cleaning agents out there that it’s impossible for any car seat manufacturer to test every chemical or makeup of cleaning agents to know how it reacts to or affects any of the [car seat’s] components,” said Sarah Tilton, Britax’s director of consumer advocacy.
Tilton warned: “We don’t recommend cleaning your car seat in any other method than what the car seat manufacturer provides.”
Dish soap or even baby soap is best for cleaning some car seat parts, but before you roll up your sleeves, the first thing to do is read your car seat’s owner’s manual. If you can’t find it, there’s always a version online via the car seat manufacturer’s website.
If you’re going to clean your child’s car seat, it’s important to also tackle your car’s interior. After consulting the CDC’s guidelines on how to protect children from COVID-19, Tilton recommended the following for cleaning car seats (any child safety seat, not just Britax):
Cleaning the Car-Seat Base
Use the warmest water you can tolerate and mild soap to clean the car’s seat’s plastic base. Make sure to rinse off the soap with clean water. Towel dry the base, or if it’s a warmer day, let the car seat dry outside in the sunlight.
Cleaning the Car Seat’s Fabric
This is where things get a little tricky. Many parents will want to throw their car seat’s fabric cover into the washing machine, but this could impact the fabric’s flame retardants. Check your owner’s manual for recommendations on how to wash the fabric seat cover. Some will allow for machine washing on a specific temperature setting, but others may only recommend hand washing. Make sure to check for drying recommendations, too.
Cleaning the Car Seat’s Harness Webbing and Buckle
Again, follow the car seat manufacturer’s directions, but Tilton said to make sure not to use the washing machine to clean the harness webbing — and don’t iron or bleach it, either.
When cleaning the buckle, Tilton said it’s important that the cleaning product you use doesn’t lubricate the buckle.
“Anything that has the slightest bit of oil base to it — a lubricant-type compound — will likely affect the performance of that buckle,” she said.
For parents who have machine-washed their harness or possibly damaged it in some other way, Tilton recommends reaching out to the car seat manufacturer to purchase a new one. And if you machine-washed your car seat cover when you shouldn’t have, she said to reach out to the manufacturer and let them know of your mistake. They’ll tell you whether you can buy a replacement piece or if you need to get a new car seat.
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Fit ’n’ Finish
Once you’ve finished cleaning your car seat and your car’s interior, it’s a good time to ensure that the car seat still accommodates your child’s height and weight, and to double-check the harness fit.
After reinstalling your child’s car seat, double-check the installation. If you’re unsure whether you’ve done it correctly, Britax is offering one-on-one virtual car -seat consultations — again, for any car seat brand, not just Britax.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, “no one is checking seats,” Tilton said. Installation can be tricky for parents, especially new parents — and who couldn’t use a little assistance when it comes to making sure your kids are as safe as possible in the car?
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