Cleaning your car's carpet is a key part of a thorough interior wash or detail. But although most people only get their carpets shampooed when they take their car to a full detailing service, you can actually clean your car's carpets yourself with home detailing products, some scrubbing tools, and a little extra time.
Today, let’s go over how to clean your car carpet as thoroughly and rigorously as even the best professional detailing service.
Things You’ll Need
To thoroughly clean the carpets in your car, you’ll need a few key pieces of equipment and a particular cleaning solution: carpet cleaner. This type of specialized shampoo is formulated to get up heavy grit, oil, food and juice stains, and anything else you can imagine that might be scrubbed into your carpets over time. It’s potent stuff, though you can sometimes substitute car shampoo for other fabric cleaners. Just don’t mix it up with leather conditioner or other types of soaps/protectants.
- Car shampoo/cleaner
- A handful of clean and dry microfiber cloths. Use microfiber since they won’t leave any fabric strands behind and are great for rubbing solution into carpet
- A scrub brush, preferably with stiffer bristles
- A bucket of clean water
- Another empty bucket to put soiled cloths into
Once you have all of your stuff in order, you can begin cleaning your car's carpets. If you're trying to clean your carpets as part of a thorough car washing or detailing effort, we'd recommend saving your carpets for after you clean the other parts of your interior. That’s because dirt or debris from the console can fall onto the carpet, and if you cleaned it beforehand, you’re just making the carpet dirty again.
Step 1 – Remove Junk and Floor Mats
To start cleaning your car’s carpets, get rid of any junk you can see, as well as your floor mats. This may include things in your cup holders, on the seats, on the floors, or on the dash. Get rid of anything that can fall onto the carpets. In fact, empty your car of anything that doesn’t have to be there--you can always put it back when you’re done cleaning.
Get rid of the floor mats and, if you like, give them a rinse and a wash with an interior cleaning product like Shine Armor’s Interior Cleaner. This formula and others can do a great job of getting rid of stains or even grease smears on floor mats. Use a hose to get rid of any loose dirt and let the floor mats dry over a few hours.
Step 2 – Vacuum All Hard Debris Away
The next phase is vacuuming. You should already have a handheld vacuum for the explicit purpose of vacuuming out the inside of your car. But you can also use a larger shop vac or household vacuum cleaner, provided either of those two machines has an extendable hose you can use to reach into the crevices of your car.
We’d specifically recommend getting a vacuum cleaner or hose that has an attachment for fabric or fiber. Such an attachment will allow you to vacuum debris that has been grounded to the carpet fibers over time, like pet hair, food crumbs, or just dirt from your shoes.
Either way, be sure to vacuum everywhere you can. Suck up debris in between the seats, under the floor pedals, and even in the door jambs.
Step 3 – Apply Carpet Shampoo/Cleaner
After vacuuming your car to the best of your ability, you can finally start using the carpet shampoo.
The trick is to not just spray the shampoo directly onto the carpet. Here’s something to be aware of – if you make your carpet too wet, it won’t thoroughly dry and you’ll end up inviting mold to your car’s undercarriage or cabin. This can eventually become dirty and dangerous to your health over time.
So, don’t soak your carpets with the shampoo, as it may become impossible for you to get all of that extra soap out when it comes time to rinse.
We’d instead recommend spraying the shampoo onto the microfiber cloth or brush that you plan to do your scrubbing with. This has the added benefit of preventing you from spraying shampoo product over your seats or the vinyl consoles and the like.
Step 4 – Scrub Your Carpets
After applying the shampoo to your brush or cloth, start scrubbing. The shampoo will work its way down into the fibers and curls of your carpet and start dismantling dirt, oil, and other contaminants. Don’t be afraid to press down hard – you won’t damage the carpets of your car like you might leather seats.
We'd recommend using a brush with stiff bristles if you can find one. This will do a better job of working underneath the dirt and debris in your carpet and lifting it loose.
Spend a good few minutes on each section of carpet. Pay particular attention to any stained areas. These areas can, more often than not, be thoroughly cleaned with some extra force and a little extra shampoo.
If you need to work harder on a particular spot, let the shampoo settle for a little longer before scrubbing. You can also repeat the entire process (finished below) a few times for really tough stains.
Step 5 – Wet and Rinse Your Carpets
After shampooing the carpets and scrubbing them down, it’s time to rinse. You don’t want your car to smell like carpet shampoo forever, right?
To do this, take some fresh microfiber cloths and dunk them in the bucket of clear water that we had you prepare earlier. But, don’t soak them thoroughly – the idea is that you can press the cloth into your carpet and the soap will be passed from the carpet to the cloth via the water. The water acts as a rinsing agent.
Every few presses, take the cloth and bring it out in the empty bucket. This prevents you from reapplying shampoo to the carpets over and over.
This is the most time-consuming part of the process (for your work, anyway), and don’t hesitate to spend a little extra time doing this.
At the same time, remember that you don’t want to make your carpets too wet, as this can invite mold. Just try to get up as much of the shampoo as you can without soaking your carpets through and you’ll be fine.
Step 6 – Let Your Car Dry
After shampooing and rinsing your carpets, it’s time to let things dry. The easiest way to do this is to just open the doors of your car and let your carpets air dry over 24 hours or so. However, you can also take a blow dryer or a similar appliance if you want to dry the carpet more quickly (for instance, if you need to drive the car later during the day).
Either way, try not to drive or step on the carpet before everything has dried out. It’ll be easier for your carpets to absorb dirt and grease if they’re still a little damp.
All in all, cleaning your car’s carpets isn’t too difficult and doesn’t take too long, especially compared to many other car cleaning or maintenance tasks. It is something you should try to do at least every few months, and potentially even more frequently if you transport your kids or pets around in your car all the time.
However, the frequency of your carpet cleaning is ultimately up to you. Doing this regularly will extend the lifespan of your vehicle and make it look and smell a lot nicer. Keep this in mind if you plan to resell the car in the near future, as you’ll drive a higher price with clean carpets compared to dirty carpets!