How To Clean A Car Interior: Top 10 Car Interior Cleaning Tips

Your car has probably sat idle more than usual over the past few months, but that hasn’t stopped dust and dirt from building up inside. Even if your car wash stayed open during the pandemic, you might not want someone doing a detailed or thorough cleaning of your vehicle’s interior. Also, the job can cost $100 or more, requires you to bring and collect your car, and can easily be done on your own.

Keeping your car clean will also prevent odors from developing and can also add to its resale value. And a thorough cleaning just before the sale won’t be enough – it will be too late to remove all the stains and grime that have settled over the years.

When Should You Clean Your Car Interior?

The interior of your car should be cleaned thoroughly once a month, but you should also do everything in your power to remove surface dust and rid the vehicle of debris on a regular basis. Garbage can make your car smell bad, and odors are harder to get rid of.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule as to how often you should clean the car interior.

Determining the frequency depends on several factors, including:

  • Driving Conditions
  • Number of passengers
  • How often do you drive

If you or someone else spills food or drink in the car, the mess needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible. Every time you and the passengers get into the vehicle, dirt, mud and other contaminants enter the interior.

You can clean all of that. However, if we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the invisible pathogens that can do major damage.

As it turns out, car interiors can – for lack of a better word – be incredibly dirty, even when they look clean.

Consider these:

Did you know that the steering wheel, for example, contains an average of 629 bacteria per square centimeter (colony forming units or CFU)? Maybe that number doesn’t sound threatening. To put it in perspective, this is a lot dirtier than:

  • Mobile phone screen (100 CFU)
  • Public toilet seat (172 CFU)
  • Public elevator buttons (313 CFU)

Can you imagine your steering wheel is four times dirtier than toilet seats – for the public?

The two most common bacteria you come into contact with within the car are:

  • Staphylococcus. A gram-positive bacterium that can cause, among others, MRSA, food poisoning, and skin infection.
  • Propionibacterium. A gram-positive, anaerobic bacteria that cause inflammation and infection.

Some people recommend cleaning the car interior at least twice a year (deep cleaning). Others do it more frequently – once a month or a week or every other day.

If you plan to do it yourself, you also have to consider the time it will take. Due to time constraints, you may not be able to clean your vehicle as often as you would like. In this context, you have the opportunity to have your interior design detailed by professionals.

What You’ll Need

Equipment needed:

  • Cotton swab
  • Duster
  • Garden hose
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Scrub brush (soft-bristled)
  • Sponge
  • Toothbrush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Wet wipe (anti-microbial)
  • Trash bin
  • Vacuum with a hose, crevice tool attachments or shop-vac
  • Bucket
  • Tarp or drop cloth
  • Dull knife or flat-head screwdriver (optional)
  • Ruler or paint stirrer stick
  • Spray bottle (optional)

Materials needed:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Baking soda
  • Bleach (oxygen-based)
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Garbage bag
  • Leather cleaner
  • Leather conditioner
  • Paper towel
  • Upholstery cleaner
  • Window cleaner (ammonia-free)

How To Clean Car Interior?

Cleaning the interior of your car may not bring back the heady smell of new cars, but it will certainly improve air quality. Washing the windows, cleaning up trash and clutter, and cleaning the carpet and seats can make breathing easier and even improve your driving skills.

Professional detailing can be quite costly, but with just a few tools and cleaning supplies you probably have on hand, you can clean your car like the pros.

Step-1. Gather Trash and Debris

Before you pull out the vacuum and cleaning supplies, get rid of the obvious trash. Check everything thoroughly. Collect all the trash from the floorboards, cup holders, door pockets, and seat pockets. Remove car seats, toys, and other items from the car that your vacuum cleaner cannot handle. These are the cleaning secrets that only car detailers know.

Step-2. Remove and Clean the Floor Mats

Floor mats are often among the dirtiest items in the car interior. Remove them all from the car for easier cleaning. Shake or vacuum each mat well before beginning cleaning. Then place them on a tarp or other type of drape rather than on the dirty floor.

For carpet mats, use a carpet or upholstery cleaner and follow the instructions.

For rubber, vinyl, or silicone mats, use a hose to wash off excess dirt. Mix a solution of warm water and a few drops of dish soap in a bucket. Dip a scrubbing brush in the solution and clean the mats. Rinse well and allow to air dry before placing back in the car and continuing to clean the other areas of the interior.

Note: – Some carpeted mats may be able to be treated with stain remover and machine-washed but check the label.

Step-3. Clean the Interior Windows and Mirror

Use a microfiber cloth and non-ammonia commercial window cleaner (ammonia can damage interior plastics) in a spray bottle to remove haze from interior windows.

Make your own window cleaner by mixing one cup of water, two tablespoons of vinegar, and one cup of rubbing alcohol for an effective homemade window cleaner. Lower the windows slightly and start at the top of the window and work down so you catch any drips.

Step-4. Clean the Center Console

The center console usually includes cup holders that can get messy. If the cup holder is removable, allow it to soak in some warm water and a bit of dishwashing liquid. Scrub it clean with a sponge. Finish by wiping it down with a soft cloth and rinsing well with fresh water. Dry and reassemble the console.

To clean the gearstick and other controls, use a clean microfiber cloth that is only slightly damp. To reach tight corners, use an old toothbrush, or damp cotton swab, or wrap a damp paper towel around the tip of a dull knife or flat-head screwdriver.

Cleaning Tips for the Inside of Your Car

Reaching Into Tiny Crevices. Use a toothpick or a pair of tweezers to gently remove debris from the smallest nooks and crannies of your car’s interior. You can also run your vacuum’s crevice tool over the console (and dashboard) to remove dust particles.

Step-5. Remove Dashboard Dust and Grime

Use a duster to remove as much dust as possible from the dashboard and cotton swabs to get into small spaces around vents and knobs. After dusting, use a slightly damp microfiber cloth to remove any grime and fingerprints.

Eliminate Hidden Dashboard Grunge. Reach the narrow part of the dashboard where it joins the windshield by wrapping a slightly damp microfiber cloth around a ruler or wooden paint stirrer. Slide it through the area to collect the debris.

Step-6. Disinfect the Steering Wheel

Eliminate the build-up of germs and bacteria from your steering wheel and gear shift knobs with a disinfecting wipe. Buff dry with a clean microfiber cloth.

Step-7. Clean Leather Car Seats

If you have leather car seats, use the vacuum crevice tool to carefully remove dust and grime from stitching and the area where the backs and bottom seats join. Wipe down each seat with a commercial leather cleaner or a solution of saddle soap and water.

After cleaning the seat, consider using a leather conditioner to restore suppleness and shine.

Step-8. Clean Cloth Car Seats

For cloth car seats, begin by vacuuming each seat well. Pretreat heavily-stained areas with a bit of upholstery cleaner or follow the guidelines for a specific type of stain. For dye-based stains like Kool-Aid, make a paste of powdered oxygen-based bleach and a bit of water. Apply the paste to the stained area and let it work for at least one hour before vacuuming away residue.

Once the heavy stains are removed, follow the instructions on the upholstery cleaner for the entire seat. Use a scrub brush to work the cleaner into the fabric and then use a microfiber cloth dipped in plain water to wipe away the cleaner and grime.

Repeat the steps if necessary and allow the seats to air-dry.

Clean the Seat Belts: Don’t forget to clean your seat belts. Use the upholstery cleaner to clean the fabric straps to remove grime and stains. Wipe down the metal fasteners and molded clasps with a damp microfiber cloth.

Step-9. Vacuum and Clean the Interior Carpet

Vacuum the car’s carpet or floor as one of the last steps to suck away all the dirt and debris that’s come out of your vents and crevices. If there are stains on the carpet, use a commercial carpet cleaner and follow the instructions. Don’t forget to vacuum the carpet that’s in the trunk.

Step-10. Clean the Door Panels

The door panels may be a combination of carpet and vinyl or leather. Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the finishes and wipe out the pockets. Don’t forget to clean the back door or hatchback. Keep the doors open when cleaning so the dirt and dander land on the outside of your car.

Step-11. Tackle Tough Odors

Finally, if your car still smells stale, sprinkle the carpet and cloth seats with dry baking soda. Let it remain overnight and then vacuum it away.

You can also control odors by placing some baking soda or activated charcoal in a sealed plastic container. Cut some slits in the lid and place it under one of the seats. Change the contents every other month.

How to Clean Car Interior?

Carpet and Seats

Crumbs, spills, and dirt can start to smell if not regularly cleaned.

What to do: Vacuum the carpet and cloth upholstery using the right attachment for the job. An upholstery tool’s short bristles can agitate dirt out of cloth; a crevice tool can reach under and in between seats and into corners. A steam cleaner lifts stains from carpet and upholstery, but soap and water on a soft cloth work, too.

What not to do: Don’t soak seats; damp cushions encourage mold and can create a musty smell.

Leather and Vinyl

Leather and vinyl are treated with a protective coating that requires gentle cleaning.

What to do: Clean them with a soft cloth and a small amount of dish or saddle soap and water. Follow with a leather conditioner to keep the leather from drying out.

What not to do: Never use products containing bleach or hydrogen peroxide. And avoid commercial detailing sprays that leave the dashboard surface looking wet or glossy, because that can create glare.

Hard Surfaces

Solutions containing at least 70 percent alcohol are safe to use on most hard interior surfaces of a vehicle, and are also effective against the coronavirus, according to the CDC.

What to do: Dampen a small, clean paintbrush or soft toothbrush to clean vents, seams, and cup holders. Then apply alcohol to a microfiber cloth to gently clean other hard surfaces.

What not to do: Don’t use paper towels, which can leave a trail of lint behind.


The inside of the windshield and other windows can become dirty from outside air pollution and also from interior vapors that leave residues and may impede visibility.

What to do: Clean with a soft cloth (preferably chamois) and a glass cleaner containing alcohol. Use two cloths to avoid streaks: Apply the product with one, and wipe the glass clean with the other.

What not to do: To avoid getting cleaner on your upholstery, always remember to spray the cloth and not the glass.

Touch Screens

Infotainment screens have become more prominent, which means so are the dust and fingerprints that they collect. These require different cleaning products than you’d use for glass.

What to do: Dampen a microfiber cloth with isopropyl alcohol, then gently rub the screen clean.

What not to do: Never use an ammonia-based glass or window cleaner, which might damage a screen’s anti-glare and anti-fingerprint coatings.


How much does it cost to clean the inside of a car?

Basic car detailing service should include a wash, wax, interior vacuuming, interior polish, window wash, mirror and trim cleaning, and tire cleaning. You can expect to pay $50 to $125 for an average-sized vehicle and $75 to $150 for an SUV or van. An upgraded package usually consists of much more attention to detail.

What cleans car interior the best?

Rubbing Alcohol: This would be the best household cleaner for car interior, as it’s a very versatile household item for car interior cleaning. It can be used for cleaning different areas in the interior of a car such as hard surfaces, leather or vinyl seats, and fabric.

How do I deep clean my car interior?

Is steam cleaning good for cars?

Choosing steam is an excellent choice when cleaning and disinfecting your vehicle because the high temperatures actually kill and denatures harmful bacteria and microorganisms. Since steam is airborne, the heat naturally kills any bacteria or viruses in the air.

Can I use pledge in my car?

The Pledge product is safe to use on vinyl, leather, and wood paneling, so you can probably use it on almost the entire interior of your car. The Lemon Pledge has long been a secret trick used by car dealerships to give their customers a clean, shiny finish that can be used to buy a home as well.

How can I clean the inside of my car without a vacuum?

Answer provided by

  • A handheld broom and dustpan. Use these to sweep out any loose dirt and debris.
  • Soap or upholstery cleaner and water. Using these should go a long way towards freshening up the carpet!
  • Scrub brush. Use it to scrub the soap into the carpet to get rid of any remaining dirt.

Can I use Windex on my car interior?

Windex is a great cleaner for inside your car, getting rid of built-up gunk on windows, dashboards, steering wheel, and upholstery. It’s non-greasy, so it won’t leave everything slippery nor damage the upholstery and faux wood surfaces.

How do I clean filthy car carpet?

If your carpet is particularly dirty, you can use a steam cleaner or carpet cleaning machine to get an extra deep clean. Alternatively, use a portable carpet cleaner, such as the Bissell SpotClean with a small attachment to fit inside the car. These will apply water and shampoo deep into the fibers of the carpet.

How do I detail my car like a pro?

How to Detail Your Car Interior at Home:

  • Empty garbage bags or boxes.
  • A vacuum cleaner with attachments.
  • Foam brush or old toothbrush.
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths.
  • A bucket of clean, warm water.
  • Rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol.
  • Window cleaner (here’s a streak-free homemade glass cleaner)
  • Liquid dish soap.

How do you deodorize a car interior?

Try using white vinegar to spritz your car interior. Another method you can try for deodorizing your car is to make a mixture of equal parts of water and white vinegar. Spritz this mixture in the interior of your car, let it sit for some time, and then scrub the seats and carpet.

Is detailing a car worth it?

Detailing your vehicle is absolutely worth it, and not just because it saves you from washing your own car. Regular detailing will have valuable benefits for your vehicle, from classic cars to daily drivers.

What does an interior detail include?

Interior car detailing can range from simple tasks, such as vacuuming the floor mats and carpets, to full detailing which typically includes vinyl cleaning, dressing, carpet shampooing, and leather conditioning services.

What does interior detailing consist of?

Interior Car Detailing – Interior detailing involves cleaning the inner parts of a vehicle. Some of the components found in the interior cabin include leather, plastics, vinyl, carbon fiber plastics, and natural fibers. To clean the interior cabinet, different techniques such as steam-cleaning and vacuuming are used.

Does steam damage car paint?

Steam Cleaner for Car Exterior easy use and the right approach. For cleaning car exterior with steam, you need to understand simple things: steam is not damage car paint, but dirty microfiber does, so to avoid any damage we decide to describe all steps in one place.

How do you steam clean a car?

Can I use furniture polish on my car interior?

A better option is to simply keep the dash clean and avoid parking in direct sunlight (if possible); for those desiring a sheen on their dash top, some detailers recommend using Pledge furniture polish. Step one is cleaning interior glass.

Can you use multi surface cleaner on car?

Simple Green All-Purpose Cleaner is also great for cleaning the interior of your car, including carpets, dashboards, upholstery, etc. The paint and interior surfaces of cars and trucks are safe because it is free of harsh chemicals.

Can I use Pledge to clean my dashboard?

It is safe to use on surfaces of vinyl, leather, stainless steel, and wood. Seats, steering wheels, dashboards, shifters, and door panels are common interior applications. You can use it on the exterior for anything chrome or stainless, as well as to clean and polish the outside walls of your tires.

How can I clean my car carpet without a carpet cleaner?

Can you clean car carpet with dish soap?

Use any carpet cleaner or a mix of water, dish soap and white vinegar as your cleaning solution. Brush vigorously, before wiping away and removing the cleaner. The trick to carpet cleaning is the drying. We recommend buying or renting a wet/dry vacuum machine to extract the water and cleaning solution.

Can you use baby wipes on car interior?

Is It Safe to Use Baby Wipes on Car? For the rest of us, baby wipes are perfect for wiping your car clean at a red light or even when you have a passenger in your car in a few minutes. The best part is that, unlike disinfectant wipes, wipes made for babies won’t leave a scent that will ruin your secret.

Is vinegar safe for car interior?

Vinegar is perfectly suitable for cleaning the interior of a car and is safe for all surfaces. It is important, however, to not let the vinegar dry on any surface, but to wipe it off with a clean microfiber towel immediately. Vinegar should not be used on car paint, as it will dull and damage the paint.

How do I dry the carpet in my car?

  • Put on protective gears and find a suitable place to work.
  • Remove as much pooling water as possible.
  • Set up fans and a dehumidifier to blow air for drying.
  • Dry the underneath of the car carpets with a DIY leverage.
  • Use moisture-absorbing products to help with the drying.
  • Final check that everything is completely dried.

How do car dealers make cars so shiny?

Car dealers’ cars are so shiny because they employ specialist staff known as detailers who use special auto detailing products and equipment to produce that shiny showroom finish. Products like: Auto detergent. Carnauba wax.

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