Take Pride in Your Ride: Basic Tips for Cleaning Your Vehicle’s Interior

Sure, a shiny exterior enhances your vehicle’s image to everyone outside but keeping the interior clean makes life more pleasant for you and your family.

Dirty air vents can spread dust and other allergens throughout the vehicle’s interior. Filmy windows and mirrors can obstruct the driver’s view of the road. Grit and grime can eventually work their way inside buttons and switches and cause them to fail.

Cleaning your car interior on a regular basis can also help protect cloth or leather seats and other areas from long-term damage such as stains and cracking.

Fact is, keeping your vehicle’s interior clean is also an essential part of a good preventive maintenance plan. A dirty interior not only looks and smells bad, it can contribute to operating difficulties.

One more thing. If a vehicle isn’t kept clean on a regular basis, it can be de-valued at the time of trade-in or resale.


Over the river and through the woods, clean your car, you know you should . . . with these tools and materials

Vacuum cleaner and attachments, different-sized and textured brushes, paper towels, an assortment of cloths including a microfiber cloth, all-purpose interior cleaning products, cotton swabs, a sponge, a toothbrush and window cleaning agents are essential tools when it comes to cleaning the inside of your car.

Tip: If you are using a cleaner for the first time, do a test spot in an inconspicuous area before using it. Once you’ve established it’s safe on your car’s materials, then you can proceed.


Naughty or nice, take our advice. Clean your car once or twice . . . a month

Let’s face it, sandwiched amid the commute to work, soccer practice and PTO meetings, your family probably spends a whole bunch of time in your vehicle. Plus, unlike at home, messy shoes are most likely on in your vehicle, and there’s a better than even chance you and the kids have been snacking during the dash to the next stop. All this makes for a somewhat gritty interior, but, unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to clean it as often as they should.

To keep the interior of your vehicle sparkling, you want to be cleaning it at least once a month. And if the dog hair and potato chip crumbs start building up even faster, you might want to clean it a bit more often. In other words, there’s a good chance you need to clean yours more than you have been.

Luckily, we’ve got the steps below you need to get the job done:

First and foremost, declutter the vehicle. You should take out all your valuables and stuff that could get in the way, such as gym bags, kid’s toys, books and magazines.

Remove all trash, too. Don’t forget to look between and under the seats. You might be surprised what you find down there. Perhaps some loose change?


When in doubt, vac it out

DYIers usually begin by vacuuming the carpet! Don’t! You’ll end up pushing dirt back on the carpet when you clean the seats and other areas. Rather, start by tackling the dashboard, door panels and console with your vacuum.

Always work from the top down, so that crumbs that drop during cleaning can be picked up later when you vacuum the seats and carpet.

Use your vacuum’s crevice tool to get into all the hard-to-reach areas such as between and under the seats, visors, etc.

As for the upholstery, use the upholstery nozzle on the seats and other upholstered areas, such as the rear shelf. Remove the floor mats and vacuum and clean them separately. While you’re at it, don’t forget about the trunk or rear cargo area. If you’re truly ambitious, remove the spare tire and tools to vacuum that compartment.

When vacuuming the carpet, don’t scrub too hard as this could damage the fibers. Instead, use the soft brush head tool and a lifting action to remove stubborn ground-in dirt.

Tip: Vehicles come with floor mats for a reason: to make them easier to clean. Simply shaking the dirt and debris off the removable floor mats regularly (even daily) is a good habit.

Tip 2: If the vacuum doesn’t remove all the pet hair, try a bit of basic science. Just blow up a balloon and rub it on the seats to create static electricity and remove the rest of the pet fur.


Twinkle, twinkle, little star, it’s time to clean your car

Now that you’re done vacuuming, it’s time to clean. . . DYI-style.


Take them out of the car and use a hose or, better yet, a floor mat cleaner, letting them air dry completely before reinstalling them.


A good way to clean just about any carpet is with a steam cleaner. But buying or renting one just for your vehicle could be a bit pricey. If you already have a steam cleaner or plan to rent one to steam the carpets in your home, this would be a great cleaning option for your vehicle.

If a steam cleaner is not available, you can use a general spray on carpet cleaner. Work the compound into the carpet with a stiff bristle brush. Avoid getting the carpet and upholstery too wet as you risk getting mildew or damaging nearby electronic equipment. If you have a problem like makeup, oil, gum, tree sap or tar, you should use a specialty cleaning product.


Admittedly, cloth interiors are becoming difficult to find, but if you have an older vehicle in which cloth seats were more common, you’ll want to give your seats a cleaning a few times a year.

Before doing so, you need to ask yourself a few questions. Are there any tough stains? Do the seats need a general cleaning or do you need to get rid of some nasty odors? Your answers to these questions will dictate the type of product you’ll want to use.

Again, if you already have a steam cleaner or plan to rent one to steam the carpets in your home, this would be a great choice for your vehicle’s cloth upholstery.

Otherwise, use a spray-on upholstery cleaner and work it with a soft brush, then dab up excess moisture with a rag and let it dry. If you don’t have an upholstery cleaner, a laundry detergent will work as well. Mix it with some warm water. When done, dry surface with a clean, soft dry cloth.

Tip: Always be careful with water inside your vehicle. If water gets into electrical components, it might cause problems. Likewise, you don’t want water to get inside your seats or under the carpet. It could cause corrosion, stains and a moldy smell.


Clean any vinyl or leather surfaces by wiping them down with a damp cloth. However, avoid using an overly wet cloth or soap that can dry out your leather and cause cracking.

You might want to give some thought to purchasing specialized wipes for either leather or vinyl. These wipes often come with a scented formula appropriate for use on a vehicle’s interior. Make sure you always follow the instructions on such products.

Hint: If dirt has embedded itself in the textures of your vinyl, some extra scrubbing with a toothbrush may be necessary.

Don’t forget the door panels and jambs.

It’s important to clean around any door handles and window buttons, using a toothbrush and soapy water. Make sure to clean and dry speaker grilles and the wells on armrests, too. If there are storage pockets, use a sponge to clean these, as they usually collect plenty of dirt and crud. Next, use your sponge and soapy water to clean all the way around the door frame and sill. When you’re done, dry the door completely with a clean towel.



We have faith. We have hope. But your front panel needs some soap . . . or a microfiber dust cloth

Unfortunately, with all the knobs, switches, vents and nooks and crannies, it might seem particularly hard to clean, but not if you have the right tools.


You need not be overly observant to notice the dashboard collects its fair share of dirt and dust. Whether made of leather, vinyl or some other material, it can be a bit difficult to clean. Plus, the angle of the windshield is some vehicles can create hard-to-reach areas on the dash.

Tip: Keep your dashboard looking shiny with a bit of olive oil. Rubbing it into your dash will keep it looking nice and it will help keep some moisture in the material. And over time, it’s less likely to crack.

Vacuuming as well as using a microfiber dust cloth is a great way to remove dirt. It’s also recommended you apply a protectant once the dashboard has been cleaned to help prevent fading, cracking and peeling. Such protectants also aid in retaining the color of an interior against the sun and damaging UV rays. And don’t forget the steering wheel. Use the protectant wipes and give the steering wheel and gearshift a careful wipe down to get rid of germs and bacteria.


The many control features with their knobs and buttons in today’s vehicles can mean a nightmare to clean. Try this: Make yourself a specialized tool to clean the tightest spots. Wrap a cloth around the tip of a flat-head screw driver; the key is to use the thinnest cloth available. Move it gently along the trim lines to pick up the gunk. Keep refreshing the surface of the cloth.


While not especially difficult, air vents can be quite exasperating to clean. Again, using the proper tools can speed up the job — a soft, long bristle brush and a can of compressed air can do the job post-haste.


Clean windows will improve your outlook

A glass cleaner and a microfiber cloth can work wonders when cleaning your vehicle’s glass surfaces. Make sure, though, you’re cleaning glass, not plastic. For example, gauge covers on the console are usually made of plastic, so you can use an all-purpose cleaner.


When cleaning windows and mirrors, spray the liquid right on the towel and wipe the window in a rhythmic manner. Buff with a towel to reduce streaks.


Caution: If you have tinted windows, be especially careful. Some tinting is part of the window, while other tinting is really a sheet applied to the window’s interior. These can be easily damaged by cleaning products, especially if there is ammonia. If in doubt, contact the shop that applied the tinting.


Lastly, roll down the windows part way.  Ever notice that line of grime on the tops of windows when they’re partially rolled down? Most people overlook this detail when giving their windows a quick cleaning. A few minutes with a glass cleaner and a fresh rag are all it takes.


Hint: If you have streaks and can’t figure out whether it’s streaking on the inside or outside of the glass surface, wipe the exterior surface horizontally and the interior vertically. This way, you can see the side the streak is on.


Take out the junk and clean the trunk

Trunks can be a catch-all for both essential and nonessential items. They can also be the source of nasty smells. Often overlooked when cleaning the interior, it’s still important to keep them clutter-free, clean and organized.


De-stink the interior

Lingering odors, such as cigarette smoke or pet odors can be difficult to remove. As you’d expect, there are several products on the market that are great at removing these type odors.

But before making that purchase, be sure there is nothing causing the smell stuck in a hidden place – even a top-notch odor-eliminating product can’t get rid of the smell if the source remains.

Here’s a trick: When everything’s fresh and clean, keep it smelling that way with a baking soda air freshener.


Time to think about a professional detailing?

We know you’re busy and often find it difficult to devote the time necessary to clean your vehicle’s interior to the utmost.

That’s why we recommend that you consider using a professional detailing service a couple of times a year, in between your DYI monthly cleanings.

Contact the specialists at Doubletake Auto for complete information.