How to Clean Your Car's Interior

While cleaning the interior of a car may not be romanticized like cleaning the exterior, it is just as important. Cleaning the interior of your car will help maintain the value of your car as well as make it a more pleasant place to spend time.

It doesn't have to be a long, onerous process to clean out the inside of your vehicle. All it takes are some inexpensive supplies and a little bit of time. It is likely that you will be able to clean out the entire interior of your car within a few hours, if not quicker.

How to Clean Your Car’s Interior

1. Remove All Items

The first thing that you are going to want to do when you begin to clean out the interior of your car is to ensure that you clear out all of your belongings. Some folks practically live in their vehicles, which means that trash can accumulate. If you are driving around with children in tow, the situation can get messy fast.

Make sure that you remove everything from the interior of the car that is not attached. This includes trash, gym bags, children’s toys, magazines, or anything else that is in there. You may find it advantageous to have a trash receptacle and a recycling bin near the car while you are doing this. Also, remove the front and rear floor mats. Now is a great time to hose them down. Even if they are carpeted floor mats, then can be soaped, scrubbed, and hosed off. Hang them over an outdoor chair or somewhere in the sun for several hours to dry out.

2. Vacuum

Once you are done removing everything, you can begin the vacuum process. Regardless of whether you start in the back floors or front, move the front seats all the way forward, or backward to gain the most space to vacuum. Don’t forget the trunk or cargo area. Many cars present challenging nooks and crevices, especially along the edge of the door that are tough to fit a vacuum or Shop Vac extension into.

One tip is to make your own custom hose tool by attaching a length of smaller heater hose (like 5/8 size) or vinyl hose and taping it around a vacuum extension piece. Then, whenever you need to tackle these tough crevices, install your custom hose, and have the ability to clean tight spots.

3. Interior Detailing

Now it’s time to start your car’s interior cleaning. Using some basic cleaning wipes or glass cleaner, you can start wiping down the dash, instrument cluster, and center console.

Most center console units that have cup holders will have a way to remove either the holders, or the entire section, which can then be cleaned in the sink with soap and water. This is best to remove spilled drink residue and grime.

For small cracks, vents, and tough to reach spots, you can use detailing brushes, an old toothbrush, or cotton swabs to clean.

Once your plastic dash and interior pieces are clean, these can be treated with interior shine, such as Meguiar’s Supreme Shine interior detailer. Use a microfiber towel or applicator pad to apply the detailer.

After you are done with cleaning the plastic pieces of the interior, you can move onto the interior windows. A microfiber towel or good old paper towel will work well here. Some folks even swear on old newspaper (yes, it’s a thing!) You can go ahead and spray the interior windows with window cleaner and use the towel to get a streak-free shine. If you have tinted windows, make sure that you follow any cleaning instructions that came with them, so you do not accidentally ruin the finish. Don’t forget the inside of the back window, which is often neglected.

Last, you can address your upholstery. If your seats are cloth, they can be cleaned with either a foam cleaner or a small portable carpet cleaner. If you happen to have leather seats rather than upholstered ones, you can clean them with treatments used specifically for cleaning and conditioning leather, like Lexol products. Make sure to test your preferred cleanser out on a small area to ensure that it does not affect the coloring or feel of the leather.

Once you are done with all of this, make sure that you leave time for your car to air out. It is likely that you will have used multiple cleaners inside of the car, and while you probably commonly use these cleaners in your house, the small interior of your car will make the smells more overwhelming. Leaving your car doors open for a bit so that the smells can dissipate will make your car a more pleasant place to be. 

Finally, you may wish to finish with an air freshener if you like to use these in your vehicle. 

Final Thoughts

There is no one best way to clean a car’s interior, but the overall process can be very simple. A few hours of your time on a lazy weekday can help make your car a much more pleasant place to be for the rest of the work week.

Don’t forget: the more often you clean your car, the less time it takes! Consider how much time you spend inside your vehicle, and it’s easy to see how that time can go a long way to more pleasant times down the road.

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