Knowing how to clean your car’s interior like a pro makes the daily commute so much nicer! It just takes a few hours on one sunny afternoon. When you’re done, it’ll feel like you’ve got a brand new ride.
It’s essential to follow these instructions on cleaning your car’s interior in order. Doing so keeps areas you’ve already cleaned from getting dirty as you work, and also ensures you don’t miss any spots.
How To Clean Your Car’s Interior
Professional Detailing is Expensive!
I used to give very little thought to my car’s cleanliness. After all, I was only in it to drive my kids to and from school and maybe run a few errands on the way.
Then one summer morning, I opened my car and was immediately greeted with what I can only describe as a noxious cloud of odors – the result of leaving food wrappers, half-empty cans of pop, and all sorts of other trash on the floor of my car. Why on earth was I starting my day like that?!
So, I took it to an auto detailer. A day later, I drove away close to $200 poorer, and my car was better but definitely not spotless. What hurt even more than spending so much money was the knowledge that I probably could have done it myself if I’d just done a little research.
Rather than spending so much money twice a year for a less than satisfactory job, I set out to learn how to clean a car interior better than that professional detailing service. Now I’m going to share what I’ve learned with you.
Steps to Clean Your Car’s Interior
You will need:
- Two empty garbage bags or boxes
- A vacuum cleaner with attachments
- Foam brush or old toothbrush
- Microfiber cleaning cloths
- A bucket of clean, warm water.
- Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol
- Window cleaner (here’s a streak-free homemade glass cleaner)
- Liquid dish soap
- Scrub brush
- Squeegee (for pet owners)
- Automotive cleaning products for leather/vinyl and carpeting (optional)
Put all garbage in the first bag and throw it away. Use the second bag to gather any items that don’t belong in your car and set it aside to deal with later.
Clean the Soft Surfaces
- Scoop up 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.
- Clean top to bottom: 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 car seats, under the seats, and finally, the floor.
- Mind the gaps: Using the crevice attachment — and the foam brush or old toothbrush if needed — 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.
Clean the Hard Surfaces
1. Remove 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.
2. Wash surfaces. Fill the bucket with warm water and add a few drops of liquid dish soap.
- Dip a microfiber cloth into the bucket and wipe down the dashboard, steering wheel, console, door handles, and all other non-glass surfaces.
- Be sure to rinse and wring the rag frequently, so you’re not just smearing dirt around.
- Switch to a clean cloth if the one you’re using starts to look dirty.
3. Clean floor stains. For light soil, vacuuming is enough to clean the carpet. For stains or spills, use the warm, soapy water and cleaning cloth. Be careful not to oversaturate the carpet, or you’ll wind up with mold and mildew.
- Get tough stains out of the carpet using the scrub brush and a carpet cleaner spray. (Resolve makes a good stain remover.)
- Blot dry with a clean towel, pressing firmly, to get up as much water as you can. Switch cloths as needed until you can’t get out any more moisture.
4. Clean upholstery stains. Dab stains on cloth upholstery with a microfiber cloth and a little rubbing alcohol, or with a commercial upholstery cleaner if you prefer. Rinse with a damp cloth to remove any lingering smell and then blot the area until it’s dry.
For leather upholstery, use a cleaning solution that conditions at the same time. (I like this one a lot.) Take care not to let leather cleaner get onto cloth surfaces, or it may attract dirt and leave a stain.
5. Clean the mats. Use a garden hose, soapy water, and scrub brush to clean the carpet mats on your driveway. Allow them to air dry in a sunny spot. Do not put them back into your car until the floor is completely dry.
6. Clean the 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.
7. 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.
Tips to Keep Your Car Clean
- Don’t use your car as a closet. Take things out of your vehicle when you get home, or at least empty it weekly. Making this a habit will help you discover things like spilled snacks or sippy cups that have rolled under the front seat before they attract pests.
- Make quick touch-ups easy. Keep a couple of microfiber cloths and some hand sanitizer packets (not the bottled stuff) in your car’s center console. Use these to clean up spills or to wipe spots on your windows and mirrors when you see them.
- Stash your trash. Use an empty plastic shopping bag or a container to collect garbage, instead of letting it pile up on the floor. Depending on the make of your car, you may be able to tuck a cereal storage container in the door compartment.
- Cover or swap your floor mats. During rainy or snowy seasons, lay beach towels on the floor of your backseat and passenger side to soak up drips and catch mud. Swap them for clean ones every few days. Or switch to rubber mats, rather than carpeted ones, since they’re easier to clean.
- Line your cupholders. Slip silicone or paper cupcake liners into your car’s cupholders to make cleanup a breeze.
- Collect your change. Rather than letting loose coins roll around in your console, store them in an old mint or gum container. They’ll still be handy, but they won’t add to the clutter that makes tidying your car difficult.
Note: This post first appeared in March 2012. It has been revised and updated for republication.