How to Clean a Car Interior

How to Clean a Car Interior

Nothing compares to that very distinctive “new car smell”.  One of the best parts about buying a new car is that very memorable aroma that will linger as long as possible.   However, with life’s daily ups and downs, it’s difficult to maintain that level of vehicle cleanliness on a long-term and regular basis.   While not an easy process, learning how to detail your car’s interior is a great way to enjoy a car that looks and smells great for years after its first day home. To help you with this, we came up with the ultimate guide on how to clean and care for all of the parts of your car’s interior.  Detailing a car interior involves several different cleaning methods including decluttering, vacuuming, cleaning with cloths, and polishing.

Since having a car professionally detailed can be extremely costly, many people resign themselves to living with a car that is passable in the cleanliness department, thinking detailing is simply unaffordable. The good news is that you most likely already have all of the items you need in your pantry to get your car’s interior back to tip-top shape, a substantial cost-savings over hiring a professional. 

What Tools Do I Need to Clean My Car’s Interior?

Taking the time to learn how to detail a car interior is a valuable skill, providing greater convenience and saving your money. Most homes are already well-stocked with all of the necessary tools to get a car’s interior looking spic and span, making that new car smell and feeling easily attainable and for next to no financial investment. 

The tools you need to detail a car interior include:

  • A good quality vacuum cleaner with a variety of attachments and crevice tools
  • A steam cleaner (optional)
  • Wet wipes
  • Glass cleaner
  • Sponges, towels, rags
  • Brushes
  • Garbage bags
  • Paper towels

How to detail a car interior begins with having the right tools to get the job done. If you’re missing a few of the essentials in your car cleaning kit, most of these items can be purchased at a local hardware store for pretty cheap. 

How Often Does My Car’s Interior Need to Be Cleaned?

How often your car’s interior will need to be detailed depends on your lifestyle.  For people who tend to keep up with the day-to-day clutter and mess, detailing can be done as infrequently as every few months. However, if your car sees heavier traffic from pets, kids, or if you tend to treat your car more like a storage unit, it may require more. As a general rule of thumb, the typical vehicle should be detailed two to three times each year to maintain a sparkling clean appearance. 

What is the Best Way to Clean Each Part of My Car’s Interior?

To help a vehicle maintain a new smell and appearance, the detailing process should address every component of a car’s interior. The process of learning how to detail a car includes the proper tools and techniques for each interior feature. 

Here are the best methods, cleaners, and tools for cleaning each aspect of a vehicle’s interior:

Car Seats – Our Specialty!

Auto upholstery is typically made of a combination of various materials, including leather, vinyl, fabric or cloth, suede, and more. A vital part of learning how to detail a car interior includes determining how to clean each of these materials appropriately. 

Leather-trimmed and Vinyl Seats

The great thing about leather-trimmed interiors is that you almost never need to clean them! Katzkin leather is especially easy to clean. Each interior receives a special protective treatment during the manufacturing process, to preserve and protect the materials from any dirt and stains that come from normal, everyday use.  For the most part, leather seats simply wipe clean with lukewarm water and air dry naturally. But, for stubborn spots or spills, simply use a mild solution of Ivory® bar soap (not dishwashing liquid) and clear, lukewarm water.  Apply the soap to a clean, wet sponge or towel and blot the affected area. Make sure you do not apply force or pressure though, as the heat and friction of rubbing will damage the surface over time. Rinse and allow to air dry naturally.

Many leather-trimmed interiors also include some amount of vinyl on the areas where a bit more durability and flexibility are required. Just like leather, the vinyl has a topcoat to protect it from everyday driving. And, similar to leather, there are no special cleaners required for detailing vinyl and the cleaning instructions are virtually the same. Be sure you check the labels of any cleaning products used on your leather/vinyl interiors. Never use anything containing detergent, solvents, alcohol (such as hand sanitizer), or household disinfecting sprays as these will damage the topcoat over time.  

Sanitizing Leather and Vinyl

Germs, sanitizing, and disinfecting are really hot topics today. We recommend using only botanical-based disinfectant sprays or wipes on the interior of your vehicle, for a few reasons. They contain no harsh chemicals and will not leave a residue or damage on any part of your interior, specifically the topcoat of the seats. They are also better for you. No harsh smells from ammonia for you to breathe in. Plus, you don’t need any special cleaning supplies like gloves or eye protection. 

Simple care and cleaning will keep your leather-trimmed interiors in great shape for the life of your vehicle. 

Cloth Seats

If you have cloth or fabric seats, they have a few more cleaning issues than leather or vinyl. Cloth seats quickly absorb stains, not to mention germs. Because fabrics are porous materials, cloth seats are prone to retaining both smells and stains. Removing them completely can be very difficult. If you’ve got cloth seats, just know that they’re typically the hardest of all car interiors to keep clean.

Fabric protectors, such as Scotchgard, can you help protect your cloth from liquid stains. Multi-purpose cleaners are a great choice for refreshing fabrics.  

You can refresh fabrics through various products designed to eliminate the unpleasant smells of spilled food or pet odors. One of the most commonly used refreshing sprays is Febreze or sprayed air fresheners.  Lightly sprinkling some baking soda on seats, and then vacuuming can also help you neutralize odors. Over the long term though, these just mask the odors rather than remove them completely. You’ll likely have some remaining spill seep into the seat foam beneath the cloth and this is nearly impossible to remove completely. A wet vacuum or professional steam clean may help you here.

As with cleaning carpets, make sure you don’t saturate cloth seats. The material will need time to dry completely to prevent the growth and accumulation of mold or mildew.

Carpets and Mats

Since carpets and mats are the recipients of the most dirt and debris, they are an excellent starting point for detailing your car’s interior. To begin the cleaning process, you should start by decluttering your car. Make sure you remove all garbage, change, and unnecessary items. Having a trash bag on hand will simplify the process by providing a receptacle for all materials you consider to be garbage. To ensure all garbage has been removed, you should slide all car seats completely forward to see if any debris, wrappers, or change are hiding underneath.

Once all the excess garbage and unneeded items have been removed from your vehicle, the carpet is ready to be vacuumed. Many families like to use handheld devices since they can fit into small spaces more easily. However, you can also use a canister vacuum equipped with crevice tools and brushes. The brush attachment helps loosen any dirt that’s been embedded in the fabric. The crevice tool can suck out dirt from vehicle creases and between your seats and doors. 

Steam Cleaning

If your carpet is really dirty, it might benefit from a steam cleaning. Steam cleaners can be purchased for home use or can be rented from many hardware stores. Steam cleaning will help lift any set-in stains or ground-in dirt, restoring your carpet to its original freshness. 

Alternatively, a good commercial carpet cleaning product and a stiff bristle brush will accomplish the same purpose. Simply spray the cleaner on the affected areas and scrub with the brush until the carpet is clean. Make sure you don’t apply too much cleaner and always blot each cleaned section until nearly dry to prevent the growth of mold or mildew in your now clean interior. 

Floor mats often trap lots of gravel, dirt, and debris in their grooves, particularly winter mats that are designed to prevent water from spilling onto a vehicle’s carpets. As a preliminary cleaning measure, make sure you take all the mats out of your vehicle and shake them to remove any superfluous debris. 

Some mats require additional cleaning to help restore them to their original clean state. For vinyl mats, they can simply be removed then hosed down outdoors. Be sure to allow them to dry completely before you return them to your vehicle. 

Windows and Mirrors

All you need here is a good glass cleaner and either a paper towel or a soft, microfiber cloth. You should always check the surface to make sure it’s actually glass before using this type of cleaner on it. Plastic items should be detailed with the use of an all-purpose cleaning product. 

Tinted car windows require some additional care to prevent damage to the surface. To be certain the correct product is used, it’s best to check with the car manufacturer. Ammonia-based cleaners can cause permanent damage. 

Cleaning your windows and mirrors to a streak-free finish requires a different approach than other surfaces. Instead of spraying the cleaner directly on the window or mirror, make sure you apply the cleaner to a cloth then gently work over the surface. This simple step will help you prevent streaks.

When cleaning windows, make sure you roll the window down partially as the upper portion will retain dirt that must also be removed. 


As with car seats, dashboards can be made of many different materials. Because the dashboard is at an angle and can be lengthy on some vehicle models, it can be very difficult for you to reach to detail well. Since this area of a vehicle attracts the most dust, it’s important to give it a thorough wiping down.

We recommend first making use of a vacuum to remove the largest portion of any dust and debris. This provides the greatest reach to get into those difficult to access places. 

After vacuuming, wipe down the surface with a cloth and some all-purpose cleaner designed for car interior dashboards. This will eliminate any lingering dust and help provide a fresh scent. 


Consoles are particularly difficult to clean because of the many different cracks, crevices, buttons, and controls. This is where you’ll want to use items such as Q-tips, vacuum attachments, and small brushes. 

Special tip: use a flat-head screwdriver wrapped in a soft, thin cloth. Typically, the screwdriver will fit neatly into tight spots, allowing you to detail even the tiniest openings. 


An important feature you shouldn’t overlook is your car or truck’s air vents. This particular task can be tough without the right tools to get the job done. We recommend using a bristle brush with soft and flexible bristles. Couple that with a can of compressed air to help blow then brush any dust from the vents. This approach can also be used with knobs and buttons on the console that are challenging to clean. 


Most car doors are manufactured from similar materials as your vehicle’s dash or console. You can use the same products on your car doors, but always make sure you are using products designed for these surfaces, and not any household cleaners or sanitizers. 

Most doors do come equipped with either holders for cups or storage compartments which you must vacuum or wipe clean. 

If you’ve got questions on how to clean your car or truck’s interior please comment below. We’d love to help you out! 


Tags: , , ,