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.