Interior Detailing of a Car | 50 Steps You Need to Know to Get Car Interior Clean

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Updated on:

October 21, 2023

How to Do Car Interior Detailing like a PRO | Complete Workflow of Interior Detailing

Interior detailing is often ignored by detailers who seem to believe their skill as a detailer centers exclusively on their ability to restore a paint finish to a flawless, scratch-free glossy shine. However, the interior is as important, if not more important than the exterior of the vehicle since this is where the motorist spends their time, in the automobile. Moreover, women drivers are especially sensitive to the vehicle interior, more so than men.Considering that over 50% of the drivers on the road today are women and they account for over 58% of the automotive services purchased, today’s detailers need to focus more on learning about the materials in the interior and how to effectively clean and restore it to a like-new condition.

Key Takeaways:

  • Interior detailing is crucial as the interior of a vehicle is where the motorist spends their time, and women drivers, who account for a significant portion of automotive services purchased, are particularly sensitive to the vehicle interior.
  • Professional car interior detailing requires knowledge of materials, identification of cleaning problems, and proper tools, equipment, supplies, and chemicals for effective cleaning and restoration.
  • Following a standardized step-by-step procedure is essential for efficient and thorough interior detailing, ensuring no steps are missed and reducing wasted time and effort.

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Table of Contents (Show)

Table of Contents (Hide)

leather protection coating

1. Car Interior Materials

To prove a point, listed below are the many materials that are used in today’s vehicles so you can get an idea of how complicated proper and professional interior cleaning is:

• Headliners – fabric or plastic

• Seats – all types of synthetic fabric, leather or vinyl, plastic edges

• Dashboards – vinyl, plastic

• Panels – clear plastic covering

• Carpets – almost all automotive carpet is nylon

• Console & Glove Boxes – interior material

• Door Panels – plastic, vinyl, carpet material

• Glass – plain, tinted, film covered

• Woodgrain Trim

• Carbon Fiber Trim

• Painted Surfaces

car interior detailing

2. Knowledge of Car Interior Detailing

A true “professional” will be able to identify all of the materials, and not only understand the nature of the material but identify cleaning problems and have the tools, chemicals, and knowledge of correction procedures. It should never be, “trial and error”, which has been the modus operand of the detailer. Try something and if it works, great. I would hate to think my doctor worked on my body with that kind of mentality.

To make ananalogy. The doctor is educated and proven he understands every organ in the body; he has the knowledge of every disease that can affect the organs and inmost cases, is knowledgeable on how to correct the problem. On the other hand, if he is not able, he should refer you to a “specialist” that knows how to treat something he can't. Let us use an example closer to home. The auto mechanic. You bring him your vehicle that is not operating properly. He asks you to tell him what is happening and then he will do a couple of things:

• Listen to the car

• Take it for a test drive to ascertain the problem

• Put it on the computer to see what it says In short, he diagnoses the problem to determine how to fix it. Then, a professional auto repair specialist will have all of the equipment, tools, and access to the supplies and chemicals they need to repair the problem.

Check our guide, If you need to know how to detail car at home.
how to make stripes on carpets

3. Detailing Equipment, Tools, Supplies & Chemicals

A true professional detailer will not only have the knowledge of the materials he will be working with and the knowledge of how to correct the problem, but he will have all of the equipment, tools, supplies, and chemicals required to make the correction. It does not make much sense to know your materials, be able to identify the problem, and know how to correct it but not have the necessary equipment, tools, supplies, and chemicals to do the cleaning and correction. Unfortunately, that is all too often the case with detailers.

Their excuse is,“I can’t afford everything I need”, or “I don’t need it”, (an excuse for not being able to afford it). Unfortunately, because any Tom, Dick, or Harriet can call themselves a detailer with nothing more than a bottle of waterless wash; a $39.95 shop vacuum; maybe a buffing or polishing tool and some chemicals the industry struggles to have identifiable standards.

Even those who can afford to have some equipment, tools, supplies, and chemicals do not have all they need and do not have the true knowledge of what they are doing. No training.

Just the other day I conversed with a local mobile operator who called himself

–XXXX Detail. In reality, all the person was doing is washing the vehicle with waterless wash; vacuuming the interior; had a home-style Bissel carpet cleaner and some towels and chemicals. He really believed that he was providing polymer protection and shine on the vehicle finish with the waterless wash. He knew nothing about paint finishes, or the chemicals used to correct paint finish problems.

He did not have nor know how to use even an orbital waxer. He knew even less about the interior of a vehicle other than there were carpets, leather, or vinyl seats. Yet, he was calling himself a detailer.

seats shampooing

3.1 Full list of Interior Detailing Equipment

So what equipment do you need to clean and detail today’s interiors? The following list is what every detailer who claims to be a professional should have in their tool arsenal:

• Powerful Vacuum

• Heated Soil Extractor

Vapor Steamer

Ozone Generator or Fogger

• Interior Dryer

3.2 Full list of Interior Detailing Tools

• Shampooer Tool – air or electric - Steamer or Vaporiser

• Nylon Scrub Brushes

• Parts Cleaning Brush

Detail Brushes

• Detail Tool Brushes

• Razor Blade Scraper Ozon Generator

3.3 Full list of Interior Detailing Supplies

Microfiber Towels – one for glass, one for chemicals

• Q-Tips

• Scrubbie Pads

• Dressing Applicator Pads

• Floor mats – either plastic or coated-paper

• Seat covers

• Loose Items Bags

• Plastic or Metal Razors

besy shampoo for seats

4. Detailing Chemicals

The professional philosophy regarding chemical use is this: “use chemicals for what they were formulated to be used for”. Carpet shampoo for carpets, glass cleaner for glass, extractor shampoo for use in an extractor, leather cleaners for leathers, and etc. As obvious as this might seem, far too many detailers use a degreaser, which is formulated to “burn” dirt off metal engine parts as a carpet and interior cleaner. Of course, it works. Joy could be used to wash your hair, but you would not, or should not do that because of the damage to scalp and hair.

• Stain Removers for all types of stains

Extractor Shampoo – a no-foam shampoo

• Carpet Shampoo – foaming type

• All-Purpose Cleaner – a low pH alkaline cleaner for leather, vinyl, plastic

Glass Cleaner

• Water-Based Dressing

Leather Conditioner

Fabric Protectant – anti-stain treatment

• Fragrance

• Biological Odor Eliminator

Keep in mind that you do not absolutely need every piece of equipment, such as a vapor steamer, but they play a huge part in getting a more effective and faster cleaning. Nor do you need an ozone generator, but it is very effective in eliminating odor.

Learn more about full set of equipment, tools and cleaning materials needed for mobile detailing

5. Standard Operating Procedures for Professional Car Interior Detailing

Even with all of the right equipment, tools, supplies, and chemicals at hand, if you do not have proper procedures this can be useless if you or your employees miss or skip steps in the cleaning and shampooing process. For that reason, as well as reducing the time to complete the job, you need a step-by-step procedure for a complete interior detail. There can be many ways to detail an interior, but the one below was developed from a time and motion point of view to ensure that each and every part of the interior is cleaned or shampooed and treated with the least amount of wasted motion and time.

how to clean door panel

6. Complete guide with all Interior cleaning steps

6.1 Preliminary Steps

1. Read the Service Order for instructions

2. Open doors and evaluate the condition of interior

3. Remove floor mats (front & back and give to the person cleaning trunk OR clean/shampoo immediately and place near the rear of the vehicle to dry

4. Push the front seat all the way back

5. Use a bag to store leftover items(front &back), use a separate bag for the glove box, and one for the console. Set bags on the rear seat. 6. Remove ashtrays (front & back), clean, & dry.Before replacing, clean area around ashtray.

7. Flip down sun visors

8. With the air blower or if you have a steamer, blow out the entire interior (front & back) concentrating on the dash, panel, vents, under seats and cracks, and crevices in seats

9. Vacuum the entire interior – carpets, seats, panels, etc.

10a. If you have Steamer, quickly go through dirtiest spots to break it and make much easier to remove .

10b.Apply appropriate spot remover(front & back) to all heavy spots on carpets, seats, door panels, etc.

6.2 Cleaning Steps

11. Starting on the driver's side, clean headliner, front half

12. Clean sun visors, visor mirror, and rear-view mirror

13. Clean trim around doors and front window

If you have water spots that need to be removed, check our guide.

14. Clean/scrub dashboard

15. Clean panel &steering column and glove box

16. Scrub spots/stains on front carpets

17. Apply shampoo and friction shampoo carpets (if necessary)

18. Using Extractor, extract all shampoo and dirt residue NOTE: Fortador PRO PLUS with built-in extractor will safe time on drying Fabric Seats

19. Scrub spots/stains on fabric seats

20. Apply shampoo& friction shampoo seats (if necessary)

21a. Using Extractor, extract all shampoo and dirt residue

21b. If you have Steamer or Vaporiser, remove all chemical residues with steam following dry microfibre

22. Using Scrubbier clean/scrub center console Vinyl/Leather Seats

23. Scrub vinyl/leather upholstery with Scrubbier orRotary Shampooer and wipe dry

24. Using Scrubbier clean/scrub center console

25. Clean/shampoo front seat belts

26. Push the front seat all the way forward

27. Scrub spots/stains on front door panels

28. Clean/shampoo door panels using either a Scrubbier, nylon scrub brush, or Rotary Shampooer. Wipe dry and/or extract residue

29. Spray doorjamb and door edges with All Purpose cleaner (as needed) and wipe dry NOTE: avoid using the steamer on headliner and door panels, the double distance between tip and surface to avoid damaging gluing REAR

30. Place "loose items bag(s)" on the front seat

31. Clean the headliner, back half from front to rear

32. Clear the rear window deck (be sure to blow out the dirt near the window) Fabric Seats

33. See Steps 19 – 22 Vinyl/Leather Seats

34. See Steps 23- 24

35. Clean/shampoo back of front seat following procedures for either fabric or vinyl/leather upholstery

36. Scrub spots/stains on rear carpets

37. Apply shampoo & friction shampoo carpets (if necessary)

38. UsingExtractor, extract all shampoo & dirt residue

39. Scrub spots/stains on rear door panels

40. Clean/shampoo rear door panels using either a Scrubbier, nylon scrub brush, or Rotary Shampooer. Wipe dry and/or extract residue

41. Spray doorjamb and door edges with All Purpose Cleaner (as needed) and wipe dryDressing/Conditioning Procedure

42. Starting on the driver’s side, move front to back and dress all vinyl, leather, and rubber in the interior. Wipe off with dry towel for satin finish Window Cleaning Procedure

43. Spray all interior windows & mirrors with glass cleaner

44. Using a window towel, clean each window individually & dry

45. Put all windows down and clean the top edge, put up again

Expert Tips for Stain Removal from Car Seats

  1. Steam and Wipe: Begin by utilizing a steamer on the stained area to break down the stain. Allow the steam to penetrate the fabric and loosen the stain effectively, wipe with towel as much as you can.
  2. Dwell and Brush: Apply a suitable cleaning solution and let it dwell on the stain for a few minutes. This allows the chemicals to work their magic. Then, use a soft-bristle brush to gently agitate the stain and further loosen it.
  3. Extract and Dry: After brushing, use a cloth or extraction machine to extract the loosened stain and remove excess moisture from the car seat fabric. Ensure the seat is adequately dried to prevent any potential damage or mildew growth.
leather protection coaing

6.3 Final Inspection Procedure

46. Make a complete check of the interior, looking for dirt on carpets, improper application of dressing, dirty/smeared windows & correct

47. Do a final vacuum (if necessary)

48. Spray deodorizer under front seats

49. Put in a plastic floor mat, seat cover, litter bag

50.Put in window sticker reminder (if used) TIP: If you have steamer few put few drops of aroma oil on the floor and spray steam into the spot, aroma smell will fulfil all car PS. I didn’t mention anything about the trunk, but of course, it is a part of the car and you need to take care of it also

Learn more how to correctly wash your microfiber towels to reuse them for long.

SUMMARY There you have it, a complete anatomy of what is needed to end upwith a clean and flawless interior. Two detailers with the recommended equipment, tools, supplies, and chemicals, following the procedures outlined above were able to clean the inside of an average dirty Chevrolet Tahoe in 36minutes, a total of just under 1.5 man-hours.

Learn more about smoke smell removal out of car.
Learn more about cleaning car baby seats

7. EXTRA Materials

Read how to remove mold from car interior.

About the Authors

Lev Tretyakov
With over 25 years in the industry, I bring extensive sales expertise in heavy equipment across diverse sectors. Pioneered the first CAD/CAM school in CIS countries. Proud owner of Miami's premier auto detailing hub, Totaal Steam Detailing, hailed as the finest in Miami-Dade by Google.
Sergey "Serg" Paskevich
Panama-based detailing pro, proud owner of Car Care Performance Detailing studio in Panama-City. Specializing in Paint Correction, Ceramic Coating, and comprehensive Car Detailing services

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