Cleaning Your Car Seat for Pesach
As a frum CPST (Child Passenger Safety Technician), I want to talk about cleaning car seats for Pesach. Many people don't realize that's it's *essential* to follow the instructions in the manual to clean your seat. Bleach is never allowed. Hosing down the seat is never allowed.
What could go wrong? Bleach and even saturating the straps with water causes the straps to weaken or change their strength. (Too thick is also bad.) Hosing down the seat usually leaves drops of water inside, which can create rust on the metal parts or mold on the fabrics that goes unseen. Machine washing on a regular or heavy duty cycle can cause the padding in the cover to disintegrate and the fabric around the slot holes to fray.
I know you're all thinking... really? Honestly - this probably won't make much of a difference if someone is bumped at a stop sign. We all get that. But if G-d forbid we are talking about a serious crash, rust or mold or bleached straps or straps that are thickened with water absolutely can have an effect. The same goes for the vehicle seatbelts, by the way.
Many of you may be worrying at this point. I know there are many kids who have their Cheerios in the car on the way to school or the babysitter! I would encourage everyone to ask their Rav. Keep in mind that people are so quick to ask for things like permission not to tovel an electronic appliance, because you’re afraid it will break. But no one asks about potentially weakening a car seat by cleaning it.
I spoke with Rabbi Sholom Zagelbaum of my shul Ahavas Torah in Scottsdale. Everyone should ask their own rav, but I just want to note that this is a right-wing "Yeshivish" shul. So this is not a 'modern' answer at all.
He said I could quote him: “According to the strict Halacha, vacuuming is sufficient and one does not even need to wash the car seat at all. If one does want to abide by a Middas Chassidus (pious practice), they should wash the cover and wipe down the straps in mild soap as per the instructions. Anything more than that would not be necessary.”
If you have your manual, follow the instructions in the manual. If you don't have it - you can google to find it, or reach out to me and I'll send it to you, or, the below instructions are ok for every car seat: - Hand wash the cover or wash on delicate cycle in cold water. Mild detergent can be used. No bleach, Febreze or Oxiclean. If you know your machine's delicate cycle is more aggressive than hand washing, then hand wash. (There are a few that allow regular cycle - always check your manual.) - Hang the cover to dry. (A few seats allow the dryer, but that's specific to each car seat. Most don't.) - The straps, cover, inserts and plastic parts can be wiped down with baby wipes (Pampers wipes etc). You can also make a washcloth damp with a bit of water and sink detergent (Dawn type) and wipe with that. - If there's "gunk" or a stain, the best way to get rid of it is to wrap a baby wipe around your finger and work at it with your fingernail from underneath. - For bad cases (vomit etc) these steps should be repeated. Virtually all manufacturers sell the individual parts to replace if needed. Leaving in the sun helps deodorize. - Always make sure everything is dry before reinstalling.
If you're wondering what to do if you've already bleached your seat for a few years, call the manufacturer. They will advise on how to proceed. For example, let's say they crash test a seat with bleached straps, and it fails crash testing after three bleachings. They have that info, but of course they're not going to write that in the manual. They'll just say not to do it. But if you did it once by mistake, that might be ok. But they'd have to be the ones to make that call, as every seat is different.
Last of all - I would not advise using a professional detailing service for your car seats. These types of places have one goal, and that is to make the seat look new again. They don't care what chemicals they use to achieve that. (No one is going to leave them a good Yelp review if a seat is cleaned correctly and is left with faded stains!) I've also seen these places attempt to reinstall the seats, which they have no idea how to do. Worst of all, they usually put the car seat back on a damp vehicle seat, which leads to mold on the car seat and the vehicle seat. Not fun.
I would also not recommend using local bochurim to do your children’s car seats unless you specifically tell them the instructions for that seat. Also make sure that if they do your car, they aren’t using bleach on the seatbelts. I know bochurim are usually just so enthusiastic to get chemicals all over the chometz, but it’s really not the best idea in the car.
Chag Kasher V'Sameach!