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How to Clean Your Car Interior Like a Pro

Image courtesy of whologwhy on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Keeping the interior of your car clean and tidy is a regular part of car maintenance. However, there are times when you may wish to perform a more thorough cleaning of your car’s interior, especially if you’re planning to sell the car. Depending on the materials used in the interior of your car, you’ll need to use different methods to ensure that your interior is cleaned properly. By learning the proper techniques and cleaning your car’s interior in the right order, you can clean efficiently and effectively.

Gathering Your Cleaning Tools

Before you start cleaning, you will need:

  • Window cleaner
  • Foam cleaner
  • Carpet cleaner
  • Mechanic’s hand cleaner

You’ll also need to equip yourself with some essential gear, including:

  • Sponges and brushes
  • Toothbrushes
  • Rubber gloves
  • Rags
  • Q-tips
  • Paper towels
  • Garbage bags
  • The First Steps

To efficiently clean your car, start with the interior roof and work your way down. Next, move on to the dashboard. Next, clean the seats before finishing at your car’s floor. Cleaning in this order helps you avoid accidentally smudging the parts of the car that you’ve already cleaned.

When cleaning plastic surfaces in your car’s interior, start with a thorough dusting. Rags are ideal for smaller spaces, but handheld vacuums can help you dust a large area quickly. Use a wet rag or paper towel to wipe off smudges and stains. If water alone isn’t enough for a particular stain, glass cleaner is often effective on plastic surfaces. For tight spots that are too small for your rag, use a toothbrush or Q-tip to scrub the surface.

Cleaning a Car with Leather Interior

Image courtesy of Bryn Pinzgauer on Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Image courtesy of Bryn Pinzgauer on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Leather is an attractive option used for the interiors of many luxury cars. However, over time, leather can begin to crack and wear. Regular cleaning and maintenance, however, can help prevent long-term damage to your car’s interior. Leather interiors require specialized cleaners to keep the leather supple and prevent it from losing its color.

If your car’s steering wheel is wrapped in leather, start your cleaning with the steering wheel. Apply a little bit of leather cleaner to a soft cotton cloth and gently wipe down the steering wheel until it looks clean. Use a vacuum cleaner on your seats to pick up crumbs and dust; make sure to use the soft brush attachment to avoid scratching the leather. Afterwards, use your leather cleaner and a soft cloth to complete the cleaning process.

For crevices and other small, detailed pieces, apply a leather cleaner to a Q-tip and gently wipe the spot until it’s clean. You’ll also want to use a soft toothbrush to clean between the grain on leather surfaces. Apply the cleaner with the brush, and work it in a slow circular motion to clean out trapped dirt and grime. Use a new toothbrush for best results.

How to Clean a Fabric or Cloth Interior

Fabric is a common upholstery material used in many cars. Cloth isn’t used in modern cars, but if you have an older car with a cloth interior, the process of cleaning it is similar. For best results on these materials, you’ll want to use a variety of different cleaners, including foaming, carpet and mechanic’s cleaners.

Begin by vacuuming your interior thoroughly to remove dust, hair and food crumbs. Use the foaming cleaner with a sponge to remove any sticky residue or stains on the fabric or cloth. For a non-greasy stain, you can use a carpet cleaner. If the stain is difficult to remove, let the cleaner sit for several minutes. Mechanic’s cleaner can help break up greasy stains. Use a cleaner without pumice to prevent accidental damage to your interior.

Cleaning the Carpet

A car’s carpet often goes overlooked, but a clean carpet enhances the appeal of your interior. Begin with careful vacuuming, and follow up with thorough use of stain removers. Use a cloth to dab up any extra cleaning residue. After wiping up the excess cleaner, vacuum your carpet a second time. To make future carpet cleaning easier, you can install floor mats to cover your carpets. If you do use floor mats, you can clean them in the same manner as you would clean other plastic parts of your interior.

How to Quickly Clean a Spill

Accidental messes happen all the time in cars, from spilled drinks to dropped lipsticks. If you tackle these stains immediately, most of them are relatively easy to remove. However, if you neglect to clean them, they may become a permanent fixture of your car’s interior; some stains require as little as 24 hours before removing them is virtually impossible. The three most common stains include spilled coffee, dropped food and ink.

If you spill coffee in your car, attack the stain as quickly as possible. If your car’s interior is leather, blot the excess coffee with a paper towel before scrubbing the stain out. Use a damp towel with a mild detergent to gently rub the stain away. For cloth or fabric interiors, use a spray bottle to apply a mixture of white vinegar and water to the stain; use two parts water per one part vinegar. Wipe the stain away as you see it lifting out of your interior.

Image courtesy of The Tire ZooImage courtesy of The Tire Zoo on Flickr / CC BY 2.0 on Flickr.
Image courtesy of The Tire Zoo on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Food stains come in a wide variety of different stain types, but most can be treated with a mixture of 80% warm water and 20% liquid dish soap. Test the mixture on a small, unseen area of your car’s interior before removing the stain to make sure that you won’t damage the material. Before applying the mixture, manually remove as much of the stain as possible with some paper towels or cloth. After that, gently rub the mixture into the stain with a soft cloth.

To get rid of ink or crayon stains, your best tool is a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser or a similar cleaner. Wet the sponge, squeeze out the excess water and gently clean the area until the stain is gone. However, this method works best for leather or vinyl interiors; for fabric interiors, mix a small amount of dishwashing detergent and vinegar in a cup of water. Wet a towel in the mixture and gently dab at the stain until it lifts from the fabric. You can also remove the stain with specialized stain lifter products.

Image courtesy of emdot on Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Image courtesy of emdot on Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Pet hair can also accumulate to unsightly levels if left alone, but it can be easily dealt with as part of your regular cleaning. Vacuuming your car’s interior is an easy way to pick up pet hair, especially if you have a special brush that quickly catches it. For more persistent problems, you can use a damp cloth or electrostatically charged material to pick up pet hair.

Preventive Measures Preserve Your Interior

Ultimately, it’s easier to clean your car on a regular basis than it is to clean it in one mammoth effort. Regular cleaning will prevent dirt and grime from working themselves deeply into your upholstery, and stains are easier to lift when they’re fresh. In addition, it’s important to use sunscreens to protect the interior of your car, especially if your interior is covered with leather or vinyl. Direct sunlight can prematurely age these materials.

How often do you clean your car?

Vacuuming, dusting, and use of the proper cleaners for your car’s interior is the key to keeping the interior of your car looking good. Attack stains immediately, and don’t let pet hair accumulate unchecked.

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