Tired of sticky residue, pet hair, and snack crumbs all over your car? Then it’s time to give your vehicle a little TLC. Freshening up your car’s interior isn’t just a courtesy to your passengers, as it can also help your car last. Since good car care means keeping up with your vehicle both inside and out, learning about how to clean your car interior can help you maintain your vehicle and protect your investment.
Whether you use your car to transport pets, kids, guests, or just yourself, keeping things squeaky clean is going to keep you and your passengers riding happy. Plus, dirt, dust, and grime can build up over time to degrade your car’s interior materials, so you could end up with even bigger problems than weird smells and ugly stains.
Ready to get started? Let us help you get your car’s interior fresh-from-the-dealership clean. We put together this guide so you can give the inside of your car the attention it deserves. Say goodbye to cracker crumbs and last month’s spilled soda with these steps, tips, and products.
What You Need
To get your car interior cleaner than the day you drove it off the lot, you need to know what stuff to use. While you can repurpose many common household items to use in your car, you can also purchase cleaners specifically designed to give your car a deep clean while protecting its materials.
Keep in mind, some household cleaners may include harsh chemicals that can damage surfaces in your vehicle over time. These chemicals can degrade leather, plastics, and cloth materials, so avoid or dilute them to protect your car. Instead, we recommend using products and cleaners specifically designed to give your car a deep clean while protecting its materials.
Recommended Products for Your Car
Here’s what you need to banish stains, destroy germs, and get rid of that funky smell:
Equip yourself right before you get started. Here are all the supplies you need to care for your car:
- Microfiber cloth
- Vacuum with attachments
- Stiff-bristle scrub brush
- Spray bottle
- Crevice cleaning tool
Step by Step: Detailing a Car Interior
Once you’ve gathered your supplies, it’s time to get started. Follow these steps to clean every curve, crack, and crevice of your car:
1. Take Out and Clean Floor Mats
After removing all the trash from your car, take out your floor mats. If you’re going to wash your floor mats with water and cleaner, it’s a good idea to do this step early in the cleaning process so they have time to dry while you detail the rest of your car’s interior. When you take your floor mats out, shake them outside to remove large crumbs and other debris. Run the vacuum to collect dirt embedded in your mats.
If you have carpeted mats, apply a carpet or upholstery cleaner by following the instructions for the product. You can use a bucket with water and a few drops of the product to soak and scrub your mats before rinsing them and hanging them to dry. Another option is to check whether your floor mats are safe for machine washing. If you don’t have a good place to hang the mats, lay out a tarp or drop cloth instead of putting them on the ground.
With non-carpeted mats, like those made from rubber, silicone, or vinyl, you can use a hose to wash away excess dirt and soil. To wash more thoroughly, use a rubber floor mat cleaner. Another option is to add some dishwashing soap to a bucket of warm water and use a scrub brush to clean the mats. Rinse them thoroughly to get any remaining soap off and let them air-dry.
2. Vacuum Interior
With the floor mats removed, run your vacuum throughout the interior of your car. Use the attachments to get into those hard-to-reach corners, like your cupholders and the space between your windshield and dashboard. Don’t forget to run the vacuum over your seats to collect all the sneaky bits of dirt and crumbs.
3. Clear Dust and Disinfect Dashboard
While the vacuum is great for picking up some of the dirt and dust in your car, it may be too large to navigate the smaller areas of your dash. Use a duster or microfiber cloth to clear your dash and vents of smaller particles. Dusters and microfiber cloths are soft enough that they won’t scratch your vents, and they’re designed to capture dust rather than spreading it throughout your vehicle.
After removing the dust from your dashboard, use disinfecting wipes to kill germs and bacteria living on your dash. Avoid using any bleach-based products and always read product labels carefully before using chemicals in your car. Crumbs, spills, and everyday use can cause bacteria to thrive on your dash, particularly on high-contact surfaces, so make a regular habit of disinfecting these areas. Keeping your dash clean can prevent the spread of illnesses to keep you and your passengers safe and healthy. Sticky dashboard? No more! Your passengers will thank you.
4. Carefully Clean Console
Similar to your dashboard, it’s important to remove dust, dirt, and debris from your console. Be careful when cleaning areas like your gearshift, infotainment panel, and console controls. For example, the climate control and radio buttons embedded in your console may be sensitive, so be gentle when dusting and disinfecting them.
If your vehicle has an infotainment screen, avoid using any ammonia-based products to clean its surface. Since most manufacturers use plastic for infotainment touchscreens, ammonia-based glass cleaners can damage the surface, particularly if it’s treated with an anti-glare or anti-fingerprint coating. Instead, you can clean the touchscreen with a microfiber cloth dampened lightly with distilled water.
5. Clean Cupholders, Door Panels, and Steering Wheel
Take care of your cupholders, door panels, and steering wheel by removing dust and disinfecting these surfaces. If you have removable cupholders, take them out and wash them in warm water with some dishwashing soap. Use a sponge or soft-bristled brush to give them a good scrub to remove any residue. You can use disinfecting wipes to clean your door panels and steering wheel, which are both high-touch places in your vehicle. No one wants their car to double as a petri dish.
6. Wipe Interior Windows
Use an alcohol-based glass cleaner, like Invisible Glass, to wipe the insides of your windows and windshields. Never use products that aren’t made to clean glass. When using glass-cleaning products inside your car, try to use two microfiber cloths. Spray the product on one cloth and use it to apply the cleaner to the glass. This stops particles from the cleaner getting onto other surfaces inside your car where they might cause buildup and damage. Use the second cloth to wipe the glass clean. This strategy helps you reduce streaking, and a microfiber cloth saves your glass from abrasions.
7. Take Care of Seats
Clean your seats, first by using the vacuum with the hose attachment to remove crumbs and other debris. Then use the right products for your seat material to clean them. For leather seats, wipe the seats with a leather cleaner manufactured with cars in mind. Follow the instructions on the product and consider doing a follow-up treatment with a leather conditioner to keep things supple, soft, and shiny. Who doesn’t like that clean leather smell?
With cloth seats, look for any stains you need to remove. Choose a stain removal product and follow the package instructions to apply, set, and rinse the product. Apply an upholstery cleaner over the entire seat. A scrub brush can help you work the product into the seat to achieve a deeper clean. Rinse the product using a microfiber cloth dipped in water, but avoid soaking the seat since wet seats may encourage mold growth (again, no science experiments here, please). If needed, blot away excess water with a dry towel before letting the seats air dry.
Finally, get rid of that funky smell with baking soda, activated charcoal, and air fresheners. For example, you can add baking soda or activated charcoal with a few drops of your favorite essential oil into a lidded plastic container. Slice a few vents into the lid and tuck it securely under one of your seats, or use a gel air freshener. Every other month (or as needed in smellier cases), change out its contents to keep your vehicle fresh. Another option is to purchase a commercial air freshener to free your car from the smells of your last takeout meal.
How Often Should You Clean the Inside of Your Car?
How often you need to clean your car’s interior depends on your driving conditions and lifestyle. If you transport messy passengers (i.e., kids and pets) often, your car’s interior may require more regular cleaning. Beyond that, it’s a good general rule to perform a deep clean at least twice a year. For example, you might clean your car at the start of every spring to wash out mud and road salt tracked inside over the winter. Clean it again at the end of summer to get it ready for the colder months.
You might prioritize cleaning some spaces of your car more frequently. Clean the insides of your windows and windshields monthly or as needed to improve visibility on the road. Disinfect high-touch surfaces often, especially during cold and flu season. Remember, you want your car to run, but not your nose. Finally, make sure to clean food and drink spills quickly after they happen to prevent bacteria and bugs from moving into your vehicle.
How to Keep Your Car Interior Clean
Keeping your car’s interior clean can feel like an uphill battle. Use these tips to improve the cleanliness of your vehicle’s interior to protect it until your next deep cleaning:
- Buy car gel or putty and keep it on hand so you can easily clean hard-to-reach spots like your vents.
- Use a small container to collect trash in your vehicle, or simply opt for buying an in-car trashcan to reduce litter.
- Get a silicone baking cup to use as a liner for your cupholders to reduce the amount of residue that builds up.
- Invest in an over-the-seat organizer to store travel items, snacks, and entertainment for kids and other passengers.
While regular deep cleans are important for maintaining the interior of your vehicle, using some of these accessories can help you reduce inside messes and keep your car smelling better than the day you got it.
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