Cleaning your car’s interior is not difficult: you need a dry afternoon, some basic cleaning supplies, and this checklist that guides you through the steps to detail your car at home.
Several years back, I took my car to an auto detailer. A day later, I’d spent $200 and, although it was better, it was not spotless. I felt ripped off, so I came up with a checklist that I refined over several months. Follow the steps below, and you can get your car spotless at home, too.
Steps to Clean Your Car’s Interior
It’s best to clean your car on an overcast day or in a shady spot. Using cleaning products on hot surfaces or in direct sunlight causes them to evaporate too quickly, which can reduce their effectiveness or cause streaks.
Equipment and Materials
- Garbage bags
- A vacuum cleaner with attachments
- Foam brush or old toothbrush
- Microfiber cleaning cloths
- A bucket of clean, warm water
- Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
- Glass cleaner
- Mild liquid dish soap
- Scrub brush
- Squeegee (for pet owners)
- Leather or vinyl conditioner (optional)
Step 1: Empty it.
Put all the garbage in a bag and throw it away. Use another bag to gather items that don’t belong in your car. Set it aside to deal with when you’re done.
Step 2: Clean the soft surfaces.
Work in this order: Using the brush attachment, vacuum the ceiling of your car—this is especially important if you’re a smoker, since that’s where the odors collect. Switch to the upholstery attachment and clean the seats. Finally, switch to the regular brush head and vacuum the floor mats, then remove them and clean the rest of the floor.
Mind the gaps: Use the crevice attachment to clean between the seats and console, and around the edges of the seat rails. Scrub stubborn areas with a dry foam brush or toothbrush to dislodge dust, then go over them again with the vacuum.
Step 3: Clean the hard surfaces.
Dust. Use the brush attachment to clean the dashboard and console, inside of all cup holders, door panels, and pedals.
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 panels, door handles, and other non-glass surfaces. Rinse your rag often and switch to a fresh one if it looks dirty. Replace the soapy water if it looks grimy, too.
Clean the windows. To clean the inside of windows and remove fingerprints and haze, you can use glass cleaner or make a DIY spray with equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar. Grab a dry microfiber cloth and wipe away the smudges. Don’t forget to polish chrome or metal surfaces for a shiny look. Avoid using paper towels as they leave lint behind. Stick to a microfiber cloth for better results.
Step 4: Remove stains.
Soapy water is the best thing to clean most surfaces in your car besides glass. Use a mild liquid soap, not a detergent or “dishwashing liquid” which can dry out leather or vinyl surfaces. Castile soap, Ivory liquid dishwashing soap, or a plant-based dish soap are good choices.
Seats: To remove upholstery stains in your car, use a microfiber cloth and soapy water. Wring out your cloth well, so you don’t saturate the surface. If the stain remains, let the area air dry, then use rubbing alcohol on a clean cloth and dab the stain until it lifts. Do not try to speed up the drying process with heat, since that can set the stain.
Floor: The easiest way to clean your car’s floor without a carpet shampooer is by using a microfiber cloth and soapy water. Dab flooring stains with soapy water and scrub the area with a brush. Wipe away the soap residue with a clean damp cloth, then blot it dry with a fresh towel.
Floor mats: To clean your car’s floor mats, remove them and place them on the ground, then scrub them with soapy water and a scrub brush. Rinse with plain water and let them dry in a sunny spot. Make sure your mats are fully dry before you put them back in the car—damp mats can lead to problems with mold and mildew.
Polish leather and vinyl. You can use jojoba or almond oil as a leather or vinyl conditioner in your car. Perform a spot test in an inconspicuous area first. Then rub the oil onto the surface with a clean soft cloth, wait 5 minutes, and buff away any excess. Avoid using coconut, olive, or vegetable oils for this purpose because they can go rancid, attract pests, and leave odors in your car.
Tips to Keep Your Car Clean
Some people enjoy spending their Saturday afternoons cleaning their car’s interior and hand-washing it in the driveway. If that’s not your style, here are ways to keep your car interior clean.
Don’t treat it as storage. The more clutter 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 have dropped nothing that’s rolled underneath.
Remove pet hair weekly. If your pets frequently ride along, your car’s seats and carpeting have probably collected a lot of pet hair. Run a damp squeegee on the seats to lift most of the hair, so your vacuum can work better.
Keep cleaning supplies handy. Tuck a couple of microfiber cloths in your glove compartment. Use them to dust your car’s dash and console when you’re sitting at stoplights or waiting in line.
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.
Line your cupholders. Car cupholders are not the easiest things to wipe out. Stick cupcake liners in them to make those messes easy to clean.
Use the right floor mat. If your family is very active or you live in a snowy or rainy area, swap your carpet floor mats for rubber ones. They’ll protect against stains and moisture, and you can easily hose them clean in the driveway as needed.
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