A dry afternoon and a few basic cleaning supplies are all you need to detail and clean your car’s interior like a pro.
Why Detail Your Car Yourself?
I used to ignore messes in my car for the most part. After all, I was only in it long enough to do the school run and maybe a few errands on the way. Then one summer morning, I opened my car and nearly gagged at the smell. All of the food wrappers, half-empty cans of pop, and other trash on the floor of my car were unbearable. Why on earth was I starting my day like that?!
Professional Detailing is Expensive!
So, I took it to an auto detailer. A day later, I’d spent $200 and, although my car was cleaner, it was definitely not spotless. To be honest, I felt ripped off because I could’ve done a better job myself if I’d only done a little research.
So, I learned how to clean a car interior better than that professional detailing service. Now I’m going to share my car cleaning checklist and routine with you.
How to Detail Your Car Interior at Home
It’s best to do this task on an overcast, breezy day or in a shady spot. That way, the cleaning products won’t streak, and you won’t sweat buckets while you work.
Materials and Equipment
*Heads up: the products I recommend here are ones that I use in my home. I share affiliate links to show you where you can order them or read reviews on Amazon. Affiliate links do not change your cost but generate a small commission for me.
1. Empty It
Put all garbage in the first bag and throw it away. Use the second bag to gather items that don’t belong in your car and set it aside to deal with later. Just be sure you don’t put it all back in your car when you’re done!
2. Clean the Soft Surfaces
Removing pet hair: If your pets frequently ride along in your car, your seats and carpeting have probably collected a lot of pet hair. Run a damp squeegee on the soft surfaces to lift most of the hair, so your vacuum can work better.
Work in this order: Cleaning efficiently involves working from top to bottom, so you’re always moving dirt down then out. Using the upholstery attachment, vacuum the floor mats, then remove them and set them aside. Vacuum the ceiling of your car (especially important if you’re a smoker), the seats, under the seats, then the rest of the floor. Be sure to move the seats forward and back as far as they’ll go, so you’re cleaning as much of the floor as possible.
Mind the gaps: Using the crevice attachment, clean between the seats and console, under the seats, around the edges of the seat rails, and all other areas where food and dirt hide. Use the foam brush or old toothbrush as needed to dislodge stubborn dirt.
3. Clean the Hard Surfaces
Dust. Using the brush attachment, clean the interior of your car by vacuuming the dashboard, the console, the inside of all cup holders, and all other surfaces where dust collects.
Wash. Fill the bucket with warm water and add a few drops of liquid dish soap. Use this to wipe the dashboard, steering wheel, console, door handles, and other non-glass surfaces. Switch cloths any time the one you’re working with looks dirty, and replace the soapy water if it begins looking grimy, too.
Windows. Use the glass cleaner and a clean, dry microfiber cloth to clean fingerprints and haze from the inside of windows. (Using a paper towel will leave traces of lint that become dust.) Polish any chrome surfaces, too.
Shine interior surfaces. If you like using a product to shine your car’s vinyl or leather surfaces, now’s the time to apply it. To keep overspray from getting windows or chrome messy, spray the polish onto a cloth and wipe it on, then buff to a shine with a separate clean, dry cloth.
4. Remove Stains
Seats: A microfiber cloth and a little soapy water can remove most upholstery stains, even on leather seats. Make sure the cloth isn’t soaking wet, so you aren’t saturating the surface. If the stain remains, use some rubbing alcohol on a clean cloth to dab (not rub) the stain until it lifts.
Floor: Soapy water also works on most carpet stains. Be sure you don’t get the floor too wet, though, or it can lead to mildew. Use a scrub brush on really stubborn stains, or even a carpet stain treatment if needed. (Resolve makes a good one.) Once the stain is gone, wipe the area with a clean, damp cloth to remove any soap residue, or it will just attract more dirt.
Floor mats: Use a garden hose, soapy water, and scrub brush to clean the carpet mats on your driveway. Finish with a blast of plain water to rinse away soap residue. Then move them to dry in a sunny spot.
How to Keep Your Car Clean
Some people really enjoy spending their Saturday afternoons cleaning their car’s interior and hand-washing it in the driveway. If you’re not one of those people, try the methods below to keep your car interior clean.
Don’t treat it as storage. The more stuff in your car, the easier it is for messes to go unnoticed. Empty your car when you get home, including the trunk. If you have kids, look under the seats to make sure they haven’t dropped anything that’s rolled underneath.
Keep cleaning supplies handy. Tuck a couple of microfiber cloths in your car’s center console or glove compartment. You might want to add a couple of hand sanitizer packets (not the bottled stuff), too. Use the cloths to dust your console and dash when you’re stuck in traffic. The sanitizer packets are alcohol-based, so they’re handy for cleaning up food spills. (Here are more uses for hand sanitizer, too.)
Use a car trash can. Get into the habit of putting things like food wrappers directly into a trash bag in your car. It doesn’t have to be fancy: even an empty plastic shopping bag or an old cereal container works. I use this waterproof car trash can that attaches to my center console, so I know it won’t bounce around.
Make cupholders easy to clean. Car cupholders get grimy, and they’re not the easiest things to wipe out. Stick cupcake liners in them to make those messes easy to clean. If you use paper liners, you can swap them out. For washable ones, try silicone liners like these.
Use the right floor mat. The carpeted floor mats that came with your car aren’t very good at actually protecting your car’s floor. If your family enjoys outdoor activities, swap those floor mats with rubber ones. They’ll protect your car’s floor from stains and water, and all you need is a hose to clean them.
Car Cleaning Checklist
Want a helpful, printable checklist to clean your car’s interior? Click the image below to open and print it, or right-click to save it to your device.