1. ABCs of Car Interior Cleaning
There are things you should do on a regular basis like glass cleaning, debris removal and stain treatments. Doing a deep interior car cleaning two to three times per year will prevent things from getting out of hand, and will help your car realize more value when it is time to sell or trade.
2. Tools and Interior Cleaning Agents to Gather
- Protective Gloves
- Garbage can or bin for trash
- Vacuum with attachments
- Extractor or steam cleaner (recommended)
- Tarp or drop cloth (optional)
- Garden hose (optional)
- Hand brush
- Old toothbrush
- Microfiber cloths
- Flashlight or use your phone light
- Cleaning detergent
- Baking soda (if odors are present)
- Ammonia-free glass cleaner
- Stain removal products
- Leather cleaner
- Upholstery cleaner
- Hard surface cleaner
- Disinfecting wipes
- Vinegar (for certain situations)
- Lint remover (for pet hair)
- Duct tape (for pet hair)
- Squeegee (for pet hair)
- Ozone generator
- Vinegar (for pet odor)
Learn more about full set of detailing equipment for mobile services.
3. Inspect the Interior of the Car
Look for stains, scratches and marks that may need to be addressed and require special cleaning. Check under and between the seats for loose objects that may have fallen down. Check for mold and odors in the car.
4. Remove the Trash and Debris from the Car
Gathering and removing the trash and debris will allow you to have these items out of your work areas from the start.
5. Remove and Clean the Floor Mats
Starting with the floor mats gives them time to dry while you complete the other interior areas of the car. If you are washing on concrete, place the floor mats on the concrete. If you are washing on grass or gravel, use a tarp or drop cloth verses placing the floor mats on the dirty ground. Vacuum the floor mats with a strong vacuum or Shop Vac.
For fabric floor mats, you can use a detergent with a brush and then rinse with water. For the best floor mat cleaning, we recommend using an extractor so you can get the deepest clean.
For rubber or vinyl floor mats, rinse them to dislodge small particles and prep for cleaning. You can use a cleaning agent that will remove oil and other problem stains. You can use a harder-bristle brush to work the stains out. You may have to repeat this process several times on tougher mat stains.
6. Clean the Center Console and Cup Holders
This section of the car can get messy. Drinks and food tend to build up in these areas. Vacuum the cup holders with a small-tipped accessory. Clean all hard surfaces with an effective cleaner. Use a cloth with a larger fiber surface to really get the grime out.
7. Clean the Gear Shift and All Control Knobs
To clean these controls, use a microfiber cloth that is just a little damp. You can spray a mild detergent on the cloth itself and wipe the surfaces. This will remove any grime and fingerprints. If there is buildup on the edges of the gear shift housing, use a round toothpick to scrape the material out.
8. Dust and Clean the Dashboard
Use a duster or a dust-collecting disposable cloth on the dashboard. Doing this first, removes the dust particles from the car. After that, clean the dash using a cleaner and microfiber cloth. It is hard to reach and effectively clean the narrow edge where the dashboard meets the windshield. You can wrap a ruler with a slightly damp microfiber cloth and run that down the length of the dash.
8.1 Dashboard Gauge Area
This area of the car interior can be a little tricky to clean. It is not always easy to get your hands in there, especially in the corners. Cleaning this area is important as the driver looks at the gauge area frequently. Do not spray a cleaning agent directly on this surface. Spray the cleaning agent on the microfiber cloth and wipe this area down. To get the corners, wrap a popsicle stick with the cloth and go along the edges.
8.2 Steering Wheel
When choosing a cleaner for the steering wheel in the car, be sure to choose one that will not leave a slippery film. The steering wheel is a key safety device of the interior. Use a microfiber cloth on the top, bottom and column of the steering wheel. The steering wheel can be a germ and bacteria collector. Use a sanitizing or disinfecting wipe for fresh and healthy driving.
8.3 Glove Box
Wipe down the exterior of the glove box with a cleaning agent. Place all of the glove box contents in a dry bucket. Vacuum the glove box with a small tool attachment. Wipe down the interior and let it dry. Place the contents back in the glove box.
9. Pet Hair and Odor Removal
We love our pets, but they can be tough on the interior of a car or truck. Hair builds up in many areas and odors are created. Fortunately, there are some proven ways to clean pet hair from cars and eliminate pet odors on car surfaces. You will need to gather a few specific items to get the job done, such as duct tape, a squeegee and vinegar. Paying special attention to removing all the hair and the pet smells is not difficult, it will just take a little extra detailed work.
10. Clean All Glass
This part of the interior is a key safety area. Use a high-quality commercial glass cleaner. It will make a difference. Make sure the glass cleaner is ammonia free. Ammonia can damage and degrade many of the surfaces in a vehicle. Clean the windshield, side windows, rear window and sunroof. Look at the cleaned glass from different angles to ensure you removed all of the smudges, streaks and grime.
If you have water spots on car glass and paint check this guide.
10.1 Visors-Including Mirrors
Clean the visors with a damp cloth. You can treat any stains with a stain remover. Open the mirror and clean with a glass cleaner. Sanitize this area if you wish.
11. Clean the Door Panels
Door panels get marked and scuffed. Some door panels have a combination of carpeted and hard surfaces. To get the best clean in this part of the car’s interior, you will need to treat these surface types differently.
Wipe all of the pockets and door handles with a damp microfiber cloth. On carpeted surfaces, use a vacuum to dislodge the particles. You can then use a brush and carpet cleaner on this area. If you are using a steamer, you can easily steam the entire door panel.
For the hard vinyl surfaces, wipe down the area with a moist microfiber cloth. If there are ground in stains, you may have to use a stain removal product and persistent rubbing to remove it.
As you survey the interior of the car, you will notice trim everywhere. Most of this material that needs to be cleaned is vinyl or plastic. Take a wet cloth and go over all sections of the car’s trim. You may want to avoid spraying directly on the trim, as you will probably overspray on the windows and surrounding areas you have already cleaned. There may be debris stuck to some areas of the trim. Use a toothbrush, popsicle stick or some non-metal object to dislodge the debris.
12. Plan to Eliminate Odors
If you originally identified odors or discover them as you clean the vehicle, plan to eliminate them. Odors can be caused by many things, including cigarette smoke, spilled food, exterior dust, mold and much more. Eliminating odors will be key to a complete car cleaning. Using items like baking soda, a mild detergent and a steam cleaner in the process, will help you conquer any odor. There is also an ozone treatment that can be used for odor removal.
Detailed seat cleaning is key for a great interior car cleaning job. You will spend a significant amount of time on this area of the car. Seats are one of the highest profile areas of a car or truck. Keeping seats free of dirt particles and stains can extend their life and enhance their look.
13.1 Remove the Car Seat Cover
Remove the car seat and vacuum the fabric. Use a safe upholstery cleaner on the car seat. Clean the cup holder with a safe cleaner. Wipe the hard surfaces down with a sanitary wipe.
13.2 Cloth Car Seats
For cloth car seats, you can start with a good vacuum. Dirt and contaminants become embedded in fabric car seats. Be sure to vacuum between the cushions with a smaller attachment. Food and dirt particles easily drop and gather in this part of a car interior. After vacuuming, the preferred method is to use an extractor to shampoo and rinse the upholstery. If you do not have one, you can use a brush with a mild detergent. Use a damp cloth and then a dry cloth to remove the detergent from the seat.
If you discover tough stains, there are very good and safe products on the market for stain removal. Following the manufacturer’s instructions should help you remove stains from car seats and other fabric items in the car’s interior. Using a brush to work the stain remover in the fabric is common. You can follow this up with a damp cloth and then a dry cloth to soak up the cleaner and soil.
13.3 Leather Car Seats
Use a vacuum with a brush or soft attachment for cleaning leather car seats. Removing dirt particles can prevent scratching the leather. Use a car seat cleaner that is specifically designed for leather seats. Most manufacturers recommend applying the leather cleaner to a soft cloth and not directly on the leather seats. Doing this lets you test the cleaner and can prevent overuse of the product. You will save money by not using as much leather cleaner.
If you discover stains on the leather, there are stain removal products specifically made for leather seat stain removal. Following the manufacturer’s instructions is even more important for leather seats so you do not harm this natural material.
After cleaning the leather seats, you can apply a leather conditioner. A leather conditioner will protect your leather seats from aging, cracking and provide some level of stain resistance.
13.4 Seat Belts
Seat belts get handled every day. If driver and passenger hands are dirty, this transfers to the seat belts. You can use a mild detergent on a moist cloth for the belt and buckle. To clean the belt, use a cloth to wipe the front and back while you extend the belt from the pretensioner. Rotate the cloth and perform this two-to-three times per belt. Do not soak the seat belt with water or a detergent.
13.5 Under the Seats
Before you clean under the seats, be sure to take a flashlight and check for lost objects. Many items fall and get pushed under the seats. You will a hero if you find a missing item, and you do not want to vacuum them up.
13.6 Bugs and Mold Under Car Seats
Under the seats and in other dark areas of the car or truck, you can find bugs or mold. Be on the look out for these car contaminants. Ants, roaches, spiders, bed bugs and carpet beetles are the most common insects that infest a car. If you spot one insect, it is likely there are more. You can advise the owner or treat the car for insect removal.
Especially in warmer climates, mold spores can form in cars in high humidity and high moisture conditions. Often, mold starts because the sunroof was left open and a rain storm kicked up. You will be helping the health of all passengers if you remove the mold you find. A steam cleaner is the most effective method for car mold removal. You may also use a hot detergent in some situations.
14. Interior Ceiling
Do not forget to look up as you clean the vehicle. The interior ceiling of a car can gather the same dust and grim as other areas. Vacuum the fabric ceiling. Wiping the ceiling with a damp cloth is usually enough to freshen things up. If there are marks, you can use a cleaning agent, and if necessary, a brush to remove the grime.
15. Cargo Area
A SUV can gather dirt in the cargo area. This section of a vehicle can have vinyl, plastic and fabric in it. Vacuum the area first. Wash vinyl and plastic surfaces with a cleaning agent, brush and a cloth. Be sure to soak up the excess liquid with a cloth. Clean the fabric with an extractor or a soft brush and cloth. You can use the same cleaning agent that you would use on the car seats.
A trunk can often get overlooked with cleaning a car. Many people are just concerned about the passenger areas and the front and back seats. Using a vacuum in the truck is usually good enough to get the area clean and the job done.
16. Air Vents
Cleaning the front and fins of air vents can easily be done with a smaller brush, toothbrush and a cloth. Using a spray bottle with a cleaner is common. To truly improve the air quality of a car, we recommend a steam cleaner. You can use the steam cleaner to introduce and spray steam through the entire ventilation system. Doing this kills any bacteria, dust mites or other contaminants in the system.
If you have a pet, or a pet rides in the car frequently, we recommend cleaning the pet hair from the car or truck monthly. This reduces the build-up, which can get in some of the mechanisms in the vehicle.
17. Tips for Maintaining a Clean Car Interior
- Clean stains as you discover them
- Wipe off dust on the dash monthly
- Clean the windshield monthly
- Shake off floor mats as you see dirt
- Travel with napkins to clean up beverage spills immediately
- Empty trash and remove debris while you gas up
- If you discover an odor, find the source and it eliminate immediately
Keeping up with the little things every day combined with deep interior car cleaning two to three times a year will keep your interior safe, clean and in great condition.
Check our guide for smoke smell removal out of car