We are always on the go, and more often than not, that means snacks in the car. It could be chicken nuggets or cereal bars, or even ice cream, and it seems like more food ends up on my children than in their mouths. Subsequently, that means that all that food ends up smeared all over the car seat. On the straps, in the crevices, all over the base, and don't get me started on the cupholders. Shudder. But the straps seem to be super absorbent for gross, which begs the question, can you wash car seat straps? Or do I have to burn the whole thing and start over?
Car seats are petri dishes with a harness. Just imagine all that has happened in your kid's car seat. Maybe puke, maybe poop, and depending on the age, almost assuredly someone has peed in it. Kids eat in their car seats, drool on the car seats, and spill any number of things better left forgotten all over it. Unfortunately, the straps are one of the more delicate parts of the car seat because they need to hold their tensile strength to remain safe, and the structural integrity can be diminished if cleaned improperly. That's why it's absolutely imperative that you read the user's guide for your model to make sure you follow the directions exactly when cleaning car seat straps.
Each manufacturer is different. Some want you to only use a damp washcloth and wipe the straps and let dry thoroughly before use, eschewing the use of products like dish soap or Lysol because they might affect the strength and efficacy of the straps. Manufacturer Chicco advised that you should "sponge clean using warm water and mild soap. Air dry. DO NOT USE BLEACH, solvents, or household cleaners, as they may weaken the straps."
Graco noted in a YouTube video that "If the harness straps or latch belt are frayed or heavily soiled, they must be replaced." My daughter has a Graco car seat, and I have replaced the straps twice for this very reason. They're not as expensive as you are probably thinking. Graco sells them by their model number and manufacture date for $12.50 (or around there depending) on their website. They come with very detailed instructions on how to replace them, and honestly, the whole process only takes about 15 minutes, and it's well worth it if you ask me. Yes, it's worth it for the safety, but truly, it's almost as worth it just to eliminate the "yuck."
Graco also advised that you use warm water and mild soap to clean the car seat straps, but went further and advised "do not ever immerse the straps in water, as doing so may weaken them." Personally, I have found that a barely damp microfiber cloth with a tiny bit of baby shampoo does the trick with most run-of-the-mill messes. I understand the urge to just pull the darned car seat out and take it to a car wash station and use a power washer on the grimy thing. I do. Kids are gross. But this is not an option. According to the Car Seat Nerd, it's not only ill-advised, it's also dangerous. The website noted, "Submerging the straps in water weakens the fibers/webbing of the car seat straps. In an accident, weakened straps can break."
The Pulaski County Sheriff's office takes it one step further. They wrote, "Washing car seat straps can weaken webbing, allowing them to stretch in an accident. Additionally, detergents or cleaners can strip car seat straps of potentially life saving flame retardant." In a fire, you want everything possible to be protecting your child. Even the car seat.
So can you wash car seat straps with anything other than mild soap? None of the major manufacturers suggest it from what I found. Car seat maker UppaBaby has a genius tip though. They wrote, "You can spot clean your straps using a mild detergent and sandwich the harness between a rag to clean. Another option is using a soft brush and your own mild detergent to scrub the 'gunk' out of the straps, even an old toothbrush will work wonders."
Or you could just buy new straps every so often. Seriously, for the price of your Netflix subscription, you can get safe, stink-free new straps. Win/win. But before you do anything, read your car seat manual.