How to clean your car interior like a pro

Renata Liubertaitė

Renata Liubertaitė

When was the last time you cleaned your car’s interior? And not just casually swept the dust off, but actually cleaned it thoroughly?

It’s odd how visiting the car wash is so common, but when it comes to cleaning car interiors, many people still don’t go beyond taking the trash out.

The good news is that you don’t have to visit a costly car cleaning place to get it done. With the right tools and some spare time, you can make your car shine at home – here’s how.

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Tools and supplies for a car interior cleaning

car cleaning products
Source: NewAfrica / Shutterstock

Consider this the ultimate checklist that will help you destroy germs and get rid of smells and stains no one’s a fan of:

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • An upholstery cleaner
  • Leather cleaner (for leather seats)
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Window cleaner
  • Car carpet cleaner
  • Sponge or cleaning brush
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton swabs or a toothbrush
  • Disinfecting wipes or spray
  • Dish soap (optional)
  • Odor eliminator (if needed)
  • Gloves (recommended)
  • Bucket with clean water
  • Trash bags

DIY and eco-friendly alternatives you can find at home

As the world moves to a greener future, many people seek eco-friendlier alternatives in all areas of life. Cleaning a car is not an exception since you can make some of the required products yourself or reuse everyday things and materials you already have at home.

For instance, if you don’t have a window cleaner, you can make your own by mixing equal parts of white vinegar and water. In fact, you can use it not only to clean windows but also other plastic or vinyl surfaces (avoid using it on leather upholstery, though).

Baking soda is another product you can use to absorb odors and keep the air in your car fresh. Sprinkle some of it on carpets and upholstery and let it sit for a few hours or overnight (you can also add a couple of drops of your favorite essential oil for a pleasant and natural scent). Once done, vacuum it up.

Check whether you can use reusable “equipment” in other cases too. For example, instead of using disposable gloves, opt for reusable ones; instead of paper towels, consider some old regular towels you no longer use; don’t throw away your old toothbrush and keep it for the next time you need to clean your car – it can help you clean harder-to-reach corners of your car.

Step-by-step guide: car interior cleaning

cleaning car interior
Source: autowelt_2014 / Pixabay

Now that you have all the necessary supplies, it’s time to get to work.

There are no universal recommendations on how to clean your car, yet you can organize this process into several different stages to keep it consistent and avoid making an even bigger mess.

Step 1: Pre-cleaning preparations

To start the cleaning on the right note, ensure your car interior is free of items that can hamper the process. Remove car seats, toys, get rid of trash and all other loose items you might have there. 

Check your trunk, cup holders, door and seat pockets, and transfer everything you still need in some basket or a box so that you can quickly put those items back later.

As for everything else, including trash, this is where trash bags come in handy. Think twice about old things you carry in your car every day but never use – maybe it’s time for some serious decluttering?

Step 2: Clean the floor mats

Floor mats are one of the dirtiest things in your car, at least visually. For more convenient cleaning, it’s best to remove all of them from the car. Give floor mats a good shake and place them on a clean surface, e.g., a drop cloth.

Depending on the material of the mat, you can use different methods to clean it.

  • Carpet mats – after vacuuming your carpet mats, use a carpet or upholstery cleaner to give them a shiny new look.
  • Rubber, vinyl, or silicone mats – to clean these, you can use warm water and a few drops of dish soap or all-purpose cleaner. Use a sponge or a cleaning brush to clean your mats, wash away any excess dirt, and leave them to dry.

Overall, if you see any place in your car that needs vacuuming, do it at this point so that it’s easier to clean the rest.

Step 3: Move on to windows and mirrors

car window cleaning
Source: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels

At this stage, prepare your microfiber cloth and a window cleaner – either the one you bought or made yourself. Some people prefer to use window vacuums that can quickly collect dirty water, but if you don’t have one, quality cloth and a good cleaner are really more than enough.

Step 4: Clean the dashboard and the center console

While the dashboard gets dusty fairly quickly, the center console is a place that is usually quite messy in nearly every owner’s car. Assuming you’ve already emptied storage compartments between the front seats, grab a sponge and follow further instructions:

  • Clean the cup holder thoroughly. If it’s possible to remove it, wash it under warm water using dish soap. Once done, wipe it down and reassemble the console.
  • Grab your microfibre cloth to clean the dashboard. Dip it into the water to make it slightly damp and eliminate all the dust, grime, and fingerprints.
  • Use cotton swabs or an old toothbrush for corners that are more difficult to reach.

Step 5: Get rid of bacteria from the steering wheel and door panels

You touch many different surfaces every day, and all of those germs and bacteria stay on your steering wheel and door panels – both are high-touch places in your vehicle.

Use disinfecting wipes or spray and a cloth to clean the steering wheel and other areas that might benefit from it. Even better, do this regularly, ideally every other day and not just when this big car interior cleaning day comes.

Step 6: Clean the seats

car seat vacuuming
Source: Studio113 / Shutterstock

If you have fabric car seats, start by vacuuming them. Then, use upholstery cleaner on the entire seat (but not too much so that the seat doesn’t get soaking wet) and thoroughly brush it, removing unwanted stains or other dirt. Once done, use a microfiber cloth to wipe away everything that’s left.

After repeating this with all your seats (including seatbelts!), let them dry. If possible, leave the windows or car doors open, or use a fan to speed up the process. Leaving seats damp can lead to musty odors or mold growth.

As for the leather seats, ideally, you would use a crevice tool to vacuum them and remove dust. Then, simply wipe the seats down with a leather cleaner, and they will be good to go after 15-20 minutes.

Step 7: Clean the air vents and other hard-to-reach places

This one is almost the last but one of the trickiest car interior cleaning parts. You need to gather the proper tools to do it right, and in this case, it’s best to use a small cleaning brush, a vacuum cleaner with the same crevice tool attached, microfiber cloths, and some mild cleaning solution (e.g., water + all-purpose cleaner).

Firstly, use the brush to loosen dust and debris from the air vents. Work the brush back and forth to ensure all the unwanted participles are gone. You can also suck up the dust with the vacuum cleaner, but be careful not to do any damage to the vents.

Then, dip the microfiber cloth into the water (or use a cleaning solution) and gently wipe down the air vents to remove any remaining grime or dust.

Do the same to other hard-to-reach areas. You can also use a cotton swab or toothbrush to reach loosened dirt or crumbs.

Step 8: Give it one final wipe

Take one final look at your now clean car interior and evaluate if there’s anything left to do. Maybe a couple of last touches with the vacuum cleaner? A few swipes using the cloth?

Think it’s all done? Great job!

Is there a way to maintain a clean car interior?

Source: Andraz Lazic / Unsplash

Although sometimes necessary, you can avoid such deep car cleanings if you develop a regular cleaning routine.

Here are a few tips on how you can keep your car clean:

  • Set aside a specific time each day/every few days to clean your car – consistency will help you maintain its cleanliness effortlessly.
  • Remove trash daily – don’t just keep them in the trunk or on the back seat.
  • Stop eating/drinking/smoking in the car.
  • Use products that help minimize dust and dirt.
  • Invest in a nice, portable vacuum cleaner.
  • Store some wipes or microfiber cloths in your car so that you always have them nearby.
  • Use organizers, bins, and compartments to keep your belongings organized and not scattered all over your car.
  • Regularly check and clean windows so that they don’t impair your visibility.
  • If you have pets that often travel with you, consider special back seat covers to prevent them from getting dirty.

The importance of maintaining a clean car interior

A clean car interior is not just a matter of visual appearance. Besides keeping you and your family safe from germs and bacteria, it can also help to ensure that your car retains its value and lasts longer.

Impact on the car’s longevity and resale value

Likely, you’re not the last owner of your current car. You might want to sell it in the future, and not having your car’s interior regularly cleaned might be one of the things you will regret when the time comes.

A clean and well-maintained interior creates a positive impression on potential buyers. It can increase your vehicle’s appeal and show that you’ve been taking good care of it. 

As a result, this can attract more interested buyers and help you fetch a higher resale price. Conversely, a dirty and visually worn interior can signal poor maintenance, making your car less desirable and lowering its perceived value.

car interior
Source: DariuszSankowsi / Pixabay

It might sound like a clean car interior is just an illusion of proper maintenance, but it does help to preserve the materials and components inside the car.

Every day, you bring dirt and debris inside your vehicle, not to mention natural dust you can’t avoid. These particles accumulate over time and can cause premature wear and tear.

If a potential buyer uses something like a VIN decoder, s/he can easily check the status of your car, see the record history, damages, and many other things. Meaning you don’t want to negatively impact their purchase decisions just because you were too lazy to use a duster once in a while.

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Regularly cleaning your car can prevent damage to surfaces, upholstery, or electronic components, extending its lifespan and maximizing the chances of selling it in the future.

Contribution to the overall driving experience

Besides improving a car’s resale value and longevity, regular car interior cleaning can also enhance your driving experience. 

You’d be comfortably sitting in a clean and well-maintained seat, breathing air that’s free of dust, pollen, and other allergens, not being distracted by the clutter and loose items around you… Should we go on?

All of these things can positively impact your mood and mental well-being, not to mention make the driving environment more pleasant. An interior that is free from dirt can evoke a sense of order and calmness, reducing stress and contributing to a positive and more enjoyable driving experience.

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Renata Liubertaitė

Article by

Renata Liubertaitė

Renata is a writer with over 8 years of experience in publishing, marketing, and SaaS companies. Writing in various fields and covering highly technical topics has taught her to turn complex things into something everyone can understand. When not writing for carVertical, she loves DIY projects and spontaneous bike rides.