It is hard to get a used car to smell like a brand new car, but that won't keep us from trying whenever we are cleaning the interior of our vehicles. Just because the exterior of your car is the only part of it visible to the people you drive past every day doesn't make it any less important to keep the inside clean, too. This is your domain as a driver, and where you spend a lot of your time in the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
A clean car interior means for a smoother and more enjoyable overall driving experience, so what are you waiting for? Let’s go through how to do it!
Prepping the Materials
Even when your vehicle sits unused for days on end, dust and dirt can still accumulate inside. Maintaining a clean car keeps nasty odors from getting embedded in the interior too, which can be hard to get out without steaming or upholstery services.
Don't be the person that waits until the last minute to try and clean their car for an unexpected passenger, throwing trash in the back seat and trying to cover up whatever that sticky red stuff is in the cupholder.
Let's get into how to clean your car interior and make the most of your ride from the inside.
Before getting started, get these cleaning supplies ready:
- Interior car cleaner
- Leather cleaner (only if you have leather seats of course)
- Vacuum with hose-end attachments
- Microfiber cloths
- Scrub brush with stiff bristles
Step 1: Remove the Trash
Try to start your car interior cleaning process with as much of a clean slate as possible. Get all of those fast food wrappers and old receipts out of the cup holders and floors and into recycling bins or garbage cans. Not everything that is making your car look junky is junk, either. Collect all of those children's toys, empty reusable water bottles, and other random items and either put them back where they belong out of the car, or consider investing in a storage organizer for your vehicle.
Step 2: Floor Mats
Think about the condition your poor floor mats are in. It is easier to pull them all the way out of the car to clean them than to try to leave them in, especially since you have to undo one or two buttons at most to take them out.
Shake those filthy floor mats off, then vacuum them before you go any further. Carpeted mats may need a proper upholstery cleaner. Be sure to pay close attention to the provided instructions when using these carpet-friendly cleaners.
Otherwise, a good interior cleaner like ours should be able to tackle cleaning your floor mats in addition to the rest of your vehicle, which we’ll get to in just a bit! Follow the instructions on the cleaner bottle, which usually involves spraying some of the cleaner directly onto a microfiber towel and scrubbing in circular motions to get dirt and grime off the mats. Don’t forget to get in the indents and grooves, where a lot of dirt tends to settle!
Step 3: Mirrors and Windows
The inside of your car windows can become dirty from all sorts of things, ranging from fingerprints to dirt and dust that’s made its way inside the vehicle.
Use your microfiber cloth as well as an ammonia-free window cleaner to wipe down the inside windows. Lower the windows down a bit to make sure you get the very tops, and work your way down. For tinted windows, be sure that the cleaning product is safe for tint. Be aware that ammonia can ruin interior plastics, make sure to use a formula that doesn’t have any. There are also automotive-specific glass cleaners too you may want to invest in to be safe!
Clean your windows and mirrors with a microfiber cloth and a glass cleaner. Use a pair of cloths to help prevent leaving streaks behind while wiping. Put the cleaning solution on one cloth, and designate the other to wipe the glass clean afterward. Don't spray directly on the glass either--this helps prevent getting glass cleaner on the rest of your interior.
While you’re at it, you may want to consider using a hydrophobic window coating on the outside of the windows, too to help keep them clean and water-resistant!
Step 4: Steering Wheel, Dashboard, Center Console, and Side Panels
When it’s time to get to the hard surfaces like your dash and console, use a duster or a dry microfiber cloth to get rid of as much dust as you possibly can. Then, take your interior cleaner and spritz a clean microfiber cloth. A good interior cleaner should be able to handle the dashboard, plastics, vinyls, and other hard-surfaced interior sections of your vehicle to get them dirt-free and looking new! Don’t forget tiny spaces like vents!
The center console, where your cup holders typically are found, can be tricky. If the cup holder can be removed, soak it in some warm water and some dishwashing liquid, then complete the job by wiping it down with a soft cloth and fresh water rinse.
Don't forget to clean the steering wheel and shift knobs with that solution-damp microfiber cloth, too!
Step 5: Seats and Flooring
Next, it’s time to clean the car seats and the floors.
Use the vacuum and a crevice or smaller attachment to carefully remove crumbs, dirt, and debris from your seats’ seams and stitching, as well as the area where the backs and bottoms of the seats connect.
Wipe down leather seats with a dedicated leather cleaner and conditioner to both clean and condition at the same time. For vinyl seats, you can use the interior cleaner you’ve been using--just make sure not to oversaturate! Never use products containing bleach or hydrogen peroxide on leather and vinyl.
Cloth car seats should be vacuumed, and can be cleaned with a carpet cleaning or upholstery solution. Follow the instructions on the upholstery cleaner to properly clean the seat. It will take a scrub brush to really put the cleaner to work on the fabric. Use either a microfiber cloth dampened with regular water to wipe away the cleaner and grime, or more ideally, if you have a wet-dry vacuum, you can vacuum that dirty moisture out. Then allow the seats to air dry for a few hours.
After finish the seats, the last step is to vacuum the flooring, which will also take care of any debris you knocked onto the flooring while cleaning the rest of the vehicle!
What if there’s a weird odor?
What should you do if your automobile still stinks after all of that cleaning? Freshen up your carpets and car seats by sprinkling them with some dry baking soda. Keep it there overnight and then vacuum off afterward--this should help absorb any lingering smells that didn’t come off otherwise. It might also be helpful to open your doors and windows and let your car air out for a couple hours--sometimes trapped moisture or even just lingering smells can be taken care of with a little airing out.
Your car is a huge part of your personal space, and with this guide handy, you can keep it clean, comfortable, and not something you have to be ashamed of when giving someone a ride!