Intro: Alcantara Seat Repair
I couldn’t find any info online for fixing Alcantara so I decided to have a go at it myself. I picked up a pair of junk Subaru Sti seats for $40. These things were BEAT UP and I thought that I have nothing to lose. These seats appeared to be burnt/ extremely worn and had all sorts of nasty stains all over them. The seats had areas that were blackened and appeared to be lacking the fibers of the Alcantara itself and gave it an almost leathery appearance. The previous owner said that he had tried everything to get these seats clean but nothing seemed to work. As you can see from the pictures I was skeptical but having detailed many cars before, I was game to learn something new. I spent a lot of time trying different things to get the seats cleaned up and if I had to do it again I would say that I would have between 2-4 hours into the seats from removal to installation.
Disclaimer. This repair is for Alcantara ONLY! It is difficult to tell the difference between Suede and Alcantara. I had to find a brochure online for the car when it was built to ensure that the seats weren’t suede. You do not want to get suede wet and many of the things that I do in this Instructable may not be suitable for suede.
- Basic hand tools - Socket set, screwdrivers, and pliers
- Drop point knife (ensures that you do not gouge the material)
- 600 grit sandpaper (a 6” square will do an entire seat)
- Razor Blade – Round the corners of the blade to prevent gouging of the material
- 3M Super 77 Upholstery Glue (or similar product)
Step 1: Removal
Remove the seats from the car. Take off all plastic side covers to access the bolts that hold the cushion and backrest to the frame. This will vary from model to model. Try and take off as little as possible and avoid taking off any springs for the reclining feature as you will be frustrated later on I’m sure. Make sure your bolts, clips, screws, etc are organized. Maybe keep a parts bag for each seat so the stuff isn’t mixed up. Separate the seat cushion and backrest from the seat rails and base frame so that you can access the clips that hold the seat cover on.
Step 2: Cover Removal
Carefully pull the cover off of the foam for both the backrest and seat cushion. Start with the zippers and undo any clips or staples. Use a small hook to reach into the seat and grab the zipper is applicable to your situation. The cover was glued with upholstery glue to the foam on these seats (yours may be different). This isn’t a problem they can be re-glued easily enough later on. I used 3M Super 77 Spray upholstery glue.
Step 3: Bath Time
I needed to see what I was up against and needed to get as much of the nastiness off of these seats as possible before continuing. Double check that your seats are not suede before attempting this step. Fill a bathtub with water that is warmer than lukewarm and add a bunch of dish soap. I was worried that the blue dye would come out of the material with warm water but I didn’t have any problems at all. I read online that someone used a pressure washer on their Alcantara seats and punched a hole right through them so maybe avoid that. Alcantara is very robust but will not withstand a few thousand PSI from a pressure washer. Soak the covers for 20-30 minutes and agitate them with your hands. Rinse them with warm water and let them hang dry outside.
Step 4: Tackling the Stains – Take Your Time on This Step and Be Patient!
I tried a bunch of different things and I found that a drop point knife and 600 grit sand paper worked the best (yes I said sandpaper!). I gently worked the knife back and forth in a similar motion to shading a large area with a pencil crayon. It lifted the crushed fibers and worked the areas that appeared to be badly worn burnt. I then used 600 grit sandpaper and moved it back and forth gently at first and then I applied more pressure and moved it more quickly. I found that Alcantara can take quite a bit of abuse. Definitely start gently and you will find that you can be a bit more aggressive in sanding and scraping with a knife. I alternated between the knife and sandpaper half a dozen times before I was satisfied with the look of the material. To give it that new look, I took a new razor blade and rounded the corners with a bench grinder so they wouldn’t gouge the material. Make sure the surface is dead flat and scrape the Alcantara surface with the razor at a 45degree angle. Do not apply too much pressure as you are just trying to remove any small fibers that the sanding and scraping with a knife left behind. You might opt to rewash the seat cover. I did this with only one of the covers and used a potato scrubber in a back and forth motion. The cover came out MINT.
Step 5: Cover Installation
Start by attaching the front clips onto the front of the seat cushion and test fit your cover. Lift up the back of the cover and spray the glue on the foam and on the underside of the cover (being cautious of overspray). I used 3M Super 77 Industrial upholstery glue and it worked great. Stretch the cover towards the back and attach the rear clips. Press your clean hands along the seat cushion to smooth out any wrinkles. You have a bit of time before the glue dries fully so ensure that there are no creases or wrinkles and that you sprayed enough glue in all of the areas that would have had glue from the factory. You want to make sure this step is done perfectly as it will be permanent in 15-20 minutes when the glue fully dries. On the seat back, I found it easiest to fold the cover inside out and start at the top of the seat. Roll the cover down and spray a small section of glue on the cover and foam as you go until the cover is fully on. As on the seat cushion slide your hand from the top to the bottom along the middle of the seatback ensuring that there are not wrinkles or creases.
Step 6: Reassembly and Install
Attach the seat back and the cushion back onto the base with the rails and reinstall all plastics and electrical adjusters etc. Install the seats back into the car and tighten the seats into the car thoroughly. I used the seats as office chairs so I skipped the installation step. I hope your seats turned out as well as mine did.