Refresher Course: Basic Guidelines for Cleaning CRs

This article originated in the March/April 2020 issue of Safe Ride News.

Here are some basic CR cleaning guidelines.  Of course, always refer to specific model instructions.  However, these general recommendations can alert caregivers to the fact that, for important safety reasons, rules for cleaning a CR differ from rules for cleaning other items.  These rules must be followed to maintain crashworthiness, even given heightened concerns about cleanliness during the COVID-19 crisis.

Read instructions and check websites

Every CR owner’s manual has cleaning instructions, usually broken out by part and usually on one of the last pages of the manual.  During education, CPSTs should guide caregivers to these instructions so that caregivers will be able to refer to them quickly when messes occur.  For deep cleaning, caregivers should check manufacturer websites, as updated instructions may be posted there, or call customer service.  A general CR cleaning statement, issued by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association, can be found here.

Take photos before disassembling

Consult the instructions to reassemble any parts removed for cleaning; having photos of how the CR looked before disassembly can be helpful.

Keep it simple

For most situations, it’s enough to vacuum the padding and spot clean spills. This approach is far less likely to cause a problem than taking the entire seat apart.

Keep it gentle

Typically, use only mild detergent and water, and avoid any strong chemicals. Just like when washing hands, mild soap and water are very effective at removing germs. A caregiver who desires stronger disinfecting should consult the manufacturer’s website or call customer service.

Wash as directed

Use a washer and/or dryer to clean padding only if doing so is specifically permitted in the instructions.  Follow temperature guidance; high heat can damage and/or shrink the material.  If uncertain, hand wash and air dry.  Never machine wash or iron webbing, as doing so will damage the fibers.

Don’t forget the buckle

A buckle should be cleaned if debris has collected inside it.  In general, never oil a buckle or use soap or oily substances to clean it, as this can affect the buckle’s performance in a crash.  Manufacturer instructions for cleaning a buckle typically say to first soak it in water, then agitate it, press the button a few times, rinse, and allow the assembly to thoroughly dry.  (Many manufacturers have posted instructions and/or videos on their company website or YouTube channel.  Some manuals include detailed instructions, as well.)  Do not use chemicals to clean the exterior of buckles, as this can cause functional damage to it.

Be patient

Do not reassemble or use a CR until all parts (fabric, foam, webbing, buckle, shell) are thoroughly dry.

Consider replacement parts

If padding or other parts are very dirty, the best bet may be to order replacement parts from the manufacturer.  For instance, mold, mildew, or rust on CR parts often cannot be removed without damaging the part.  If webbing is frayed, cut, or shows other signs of wear, it’s not safe to use.

Know how to reinstall

Once reassembled (following instructions), a CR that has been cleaned will need to be properly reinstalled in the vehicle.  Explain to caregivers during CR checkups that this is one reason they must learn to do the installation themselves—all CRs eventually have to be reinstalled.