How To Clean Your Car’s Interior Like A Pro

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A dry afternoon and a few basic cleaning supplies are all you need to detail and clean your car’s interior like a pro.

Close up of woman's hand using a microfiber cloth to clean car interior as part of DIY car detailing

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 not spotless. 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 always best to clean your car interior on an overcast day or in a shady spot, so the cleaning products don’t dry too quickly in the heat and leave streaks.

Materials and Equipment

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!

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2. Clean the Soft Surfaces

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, 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 debris 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 panels, 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.

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.

Polish leather and vinyl. 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 soapy water can remove most upholstery stains, even on leather seats. Stir in 2 tablespoons of baking soda to remove odors. Make sure the fabric 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 stubborn stains or even a carpet stain treatment if needed. 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 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 haven’t dropped anything that’s rolled underneath.

How to get pet hair off of your car’s seats: 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.

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.)

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.

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 or try silicone ones and just wash them.

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. Swap those floor mats with rubber ones if your family enjoys outdoor activities. 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? Tap the image below to print or save it.

Printable checklist to detail and clean car's interior

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  1. Maranda Gaither says:

    I love this! I wish it was a printable like so many of your lovely routines. I have all of them laminated and posted in respective rooms. I clean my car weekly and would love to have a schedule there as well. Thank you so much for all your wonderful tips and schedules they have seriously helped keep my life clean! (I have a seriously messy husband ๐Ÿ˜‰ haha.)

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’ll try to make it a printable by this summer, Maranda. It does my heart so good to know you’re printing and laminating them! God bless you and your messy husband. (I have one, too, though I have to give mine a pass due to the brain cancer. Or so they tell me.)

    2. PickledPeter says:

      Just copy and paste it onto a Word document then done.

  2. UpstateNYer says:

    I like to keep a box of used plastic grocery store bags in the trunk. I can use them to clean out the car or take them to Aldi’s when I forget to take my reusable ones. I take an empty square tissue box and stuff them all inside till it is packed. Use them as needed and easy to store away when not in use.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      That’s a very clever idea! I forget my bags half the time when I go to Aldi’s, and having a garbage bag on hand would certainly keep my car neater. Thank you!

  3. Laura Domingo says:

    I would love a printable for this ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’ll add that to my To Do list!

  4. Penny Bailey says:

    I’m so happy ( relieved ) to know there are others that like a clean car. I have a plastic tub on the floor of the back seat where Incan put any trash I get during the day in my car. I empty that as needed. I keep napkins in my glove box bc you just never know when you will need them and they do come in handy. Every day when I get home I take out everything that doesn’t belong in my car. I have a hand vac that I use weekly on the seats and floor. I wipe down the dash and anything else as needed. This sounds like a lot but really probably only takes ten minutes .

    I can think better in a clean area and also the Holy Spirit will not dwell
    In messy areas.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I do love a clean car.

  5. Tiffany Angel says:

    Me too! ๐Ÿ™‚ You have such great printables that even my kids can do it.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’m so glad! Enjoy your clean car. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. George Sutherland says:

    Very good article, I use Gain laundry soap on my upholstery and then my carpet , I do the worst area last, and dry it as I go with old towels, smells great for a long time. Comes very clean as Gain is designed for different fabrics. I picked Gain because I like the smell Best. The car needs overnight to dry out. Super clean result. Use same amount as a load of laundry and 3/4 bucket of warm water., A 2 gallon bucket would have 1and 1/2 gallons of water. A good size scrud brush is recommended and 6 towels.unless you have a wet and dry vacuum.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I bet your car smells lovely!

  7. I always put a plastic bag with one handle over the shiftstick. That way it is always open and ready for garbage. Maybe a food idea?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      Great idea. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Idk if anyone’s said this but please don’t vacuum your cars ceiling. This is the headliner and it is fabric over foam board and if the adhesive us damaged, which vacuuming will DEFINITELY do, then the fabric will seperate from the foam and sag. This is not only unsightly but can be dangerous if it obstructs your view

    1. Katie Berry says:

      The headliner can and should be vacuumed. Professional detail services do this routinely, as do literally millions of people who own cars. Vacuuming doesn’t destroy adhesive, especially using a home vacuum with a dust attachment as described here. Moisture does, however, so you should never steam clean or shampoo a car’s headliner.

  9. Mary McLendon says:

    So glad your list included vacuuming the sealing. I cleaned my car last night and forgot that. I found a trick for the windows. I wash them first with baby wipes. They get all the basic dirt off. Then I use a streak free window cleaner. I canโ€™t tell if my windows are up. I live in a apartment building, so I donโ€™t have access to a hose. So I just vacuum them. But I have too tak my car and have it washed. I just canโ€™t do that anymore. Iโ€™ve had cancer twice. That takes a toll on the body. Your check list will help me a lot. That way I wonโ€™t forget anything. Thank you so much.

  10. Avdhoot Hapse says:

    Can you make a video of cleaning the car by the steps you mentioned above? It would be very helpful!!
    Thank you for the tips!! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I will at some point when it’s not 100ยฐF (37ยฐC) outside. ๐Ÿ™‚