It’s no secret that our cars can accumulate trash, crumbs, and other debris insanely quickly. You could be the cleanest person in the world, but after a few days of spending time in your car, it gets dirty with a fine layer of dust. Add between children, the shedding family dog, or a trip to the beach, and your car will need some immediate cleaning attention.
You’re probably going to want some professional detailing done, but car cleaning pros can be costly. Luckily, you can do it yourself when you have the right tools and cleaning supplies. The main goals of car cleaning pros, are to wash the windows, get rid of trash and clutter, and clean the car interior’s carpet and seats. But you don’t need to be a professional or even have professional products in order to accomplish these goals.
Below, you’ll find everything you’ll need to keep your car’s interior in its best shape, extending its life and retaining its value when you sell or trade it in. Keep reading this guide to find out how you can get professional results when cleaning your car at home.
What You’ll Need
You’re going to want to make sure you have everything you need before you start the cleaning process. There are a variety of products and materials you’ll want to have on hand, but don’t worry. We’ll make things easier for you and give you a general list of things you’ll want to have on hand:
How to Clean Your Car’s Interior
Start by removing car seats, toys, and other things that will get in the way of cleaning from around your car and trunk. Gather up and dispose of all the trash from the floor, cup holders, door pockets, seat pockets, and from the center console and glove compartment.
For the best results when dusting, use a dusting cloth or tool to remove dust from the dashboard and cotton swabs to get into small spaces around vents and knobs. After you dust, use a damp microfiber cloth to remove grime and fingerprints from around the surface. Or, you can use a product made for cleaning and dusting cars like Chemical Guys Total Interior Cleaner & Protectant.
Cars can collect germs and bacteria, especially on the steering wheel and gear shift knobs when they get regular use. To fix that and properly clean up, use a disinfecting wipe like Lysol Wipes to wipe clean and kill the bacteria hiding around these high-touch surfaces. Once clean, you can dry these surfaces with a clean and dry microfiber cloth.
Remove all of the floor mats from the car and give each mat a good shake or vacuum them, then place them on a tarp or drop cloth rather than on the ground. For carpeted mats, follow the instructions and use a carpet or upholstery cleaner. For rubber, vinyl, or silicone mats you can use your hose to wash away any stains and debris. For carpet or upholstery mats, mix warm water with a few drops of dish soap in a bucket, then dip a scrub brush in and clean the mats. Rinse your floor mats well and allow a few hours to fully air dry.
Console & Cup Holders
Your car’s center console often includes cup holders that can get messy very easily. If your car’s cup holders are removable, take them out and allow them to soak for a while in warm water with a few drops of dish soap then scrub it clean with a sponge. Finish by wiping it down with a soft cloth and rinsing well with fresh water, and then you can dry and reassemble the console.
To clean the gearstick and other controls, you’ll want to use a clean microfiber cloth that is only slightly damp with warm soapy water. To reach any tight corners, we suggest using an old toothbrush or a damp cotton swab, or you can wrap a wet paper towel around the tip of a dull knife or flat-head screwdriver.
To get the best results when cleaning your car’s windows and mirrors, you’ll need some microfiber cloths and an ammonia-free window cleaner like ammonia-free Windex or Invisible Glass, or make your own solution with diluted white vinegar.
Ammonia-based cleaners can damage interior plastics and dashboard touchscreens and remove anti-glare or anti-fingerprint coatings so make sure to check that any products you use do not contain ammonia.
Lower the car’s windows slightly and clean them from top to bottom, catch any drips as you clean them. If you have tinted windows, make sure you read any cleaning product instructions to ensure it’s safe to use on your windows.
For Leather Seats
If your car has leather seats, use your vacuum’s crevice tool to carefully remove any remaining dust and grime from stitching as well as the spaces where the backs and bottom of the seats join. Wipe down each seat with a commercial leather cleaner made for cars or a solution of saddle soap and water like Lexol, both have properties that are great for keeping leather looking its best.
After cleaning your car’s seats, we highly suggest finishing with a leather conditioner to restore the leather’s suppleness and shine.
For Cloth Seats
If your car has cloth car seats, you’ll need to start the process by vacuuming each seat thoroughly. Pretreat any stained areas with some upholstery cleaner on the entire seat or create your own with a paste of powdered oxygen-based bleach and a bit of water for dye-based stains.
You can apply that paste to the stained area and let it sit for at least an hour before vacuuming away any remaining residue. If you use a cleaner, use a scrub brush to work it into the fabric, then use a microfiber cloth dipped in plain water to wipe away the remaining cleaner and grime.
Try not to get the upholstery too wet as the cushions can take hours to dry and actually encourage mold growth. Avoid this by blotting the upholstery as dry as possible with a towel and allowing the seats to air dry by leaving the windows open when air drying.
While your seats dry, you can vacuum your car’s carpet or flooring to suck away all the dirt and debris. Remember to also vacuum the trunk’s carpeting if your car has any. If there are any stains on the carpet, use a commercial carpet cleaner and follow the product’s instructions carefully.
Your car’s door panels might be any combination of carpet, vinyl, or leather. To properly clean the door panels, use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the finishes and clean out the side pockets. Remember to clean the trunk door or hatchback. Keep the doors open when cleaning so the dirt and dander land on the outside of your car.
If your doors have carpet or upholstery, you can use a small amount of carpet cleaner to treat any visible stains.
Cars can develop a stale or musty odor after some time. If your car has developed an odor, you can remove it by sprinkling baking soda around the carpet and cloth seats, leaving it to work overnight, and then vacuuming it up the next day. You can keep a container of baking soda or activated charcoal in your car to keep any lingering odors under control.
You can also regularly treat your car with odor-fighting products like Febreze or OdoBan. Remember to bring your car to a professional detailer if you locate any strong, foul odors that could be from mold and mildew.
How Often to Clean Your Car Interior
When you should be cleaning your car really depends on driving conditions, how the vehicle is used (work, commercial, commuter, etc.), the number of regular passengers, and how frequently you drive it. Generally, your car should get a good deep cleaning about twice each year.
Keep in mind, however, that safety is the priority for car cleaning and maintenance so we suggest cleaning interior windows at least once a month or more often if grime starts to affect your ability to see the road.
Keep trash and debris under control and away from the driver’s floorboard and dashboard by clearing out any trash before it interferes with the vehicle’s controls.
Extra Tips & Tricks to Keep Your Car Interior Clean
- Keep car cleaning gel in your car to regularly clean out vents and other hard-to-reach places while stuck in traffic or spending any extended time in your vehicle.
- Put paper or silicone baking cups in your cup holders to keep them cleaner and free of debris for longer.
- Keep your glove compartment neat and organized with a mini expanding file folder so you have more room to hold small cleaning tools and to keep things from falling out of your glove compartment.
- Use pet covers on your backseats and a rubber glove or lint roller to wipe up any fur that’s settled on the seats or carpet.
- You can keep a small container in your car door pocket to catch any bits of trash that end up on the floor or cup holders.
- If you frequently have kids in the back seats of your car, you might want to invest in kick mats to protect and ward off muddy footprints on the back of your front seats.
What can I use to make my car interior shine?
After removing any dust and debris, you can use a professional dashboard cleaner and protectant to both protect and add shine to the surface. Many car owners actually use a few drops of vegetable oil on a cloth to add shine, but this will not prevent fading or cracking.
What do professionals use to clean car interiors?
Our most recommended products to use in your car are Chemical Guys Total Interior Cleaner & Protectant for your dash and hard surfaces and Armor All Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner Power Foam for carpet and upholstery.
What not to use when cleaning a car interior?
When cleaning your car, avoid using heavy-duty cleaning ingredients such as:
- Hydrogen Peroxide
- Other harsh and abrasive cleaners
These particular chemicals can permanently damage upholstery and interior surfaces so make sure to check the labels of any professional or commercial products that you use to clean your car.
What are the best tools for cleaning a car dashboard?
Your car’s dashboard is a dust magnet and can be stubborn to clean, so we suggest using an electrostatic duster, a vacuum with a brush or crevice attachment, a toothbrush, and a soft microfiber cloth. While all these may be simple, you’ll be able to keep your car clean without breaking the bank.
Check out this video and find out all the tips, tricks and techniques to properly clean, detail and protect your car’s interior:
Looking to multi-task while cleaning your car? We can help with that! Let Cleanzen tackle cleaning up around the house while you clean the car so that you can get back to your freshly tidied life as quickly as possible.