Clean, tan seats in the rear of a car's cabin.

The Best Car Interior Cleaning Tips

A few car interior cleaning tips make a huge difference for the time you and your riders spend in the car, while also greatly affecting resale value. You shouldn’t have to deep clean a car’s interior but a few times a year, so when you do, get in there and do it right.

Devils In The Details

Remove all garbage first, clean from the top down and keep a vacuum with multiple attachment options handy. Don’t forget how much of your car moves, slides or folds to reveal more places to clean. Let’s break it down by area.

Windows and Mirrors: Use a putty knife and an adhesive-removing compound to get old stickers off the inside of the windshield. Then use glass cleaner and a microfiber towel to avoid streaks and residue. Spray the cleaner onto the towel to keep the chemicals from running onto the rest of the interior. Some solutions will actually destroy the tint on windows, so check the bottle, and maybe even with the original tint installers, to make sure your spray is safe. A car's dashboard.

Dash and Console: Vacuum first, then run over large surfaces with a damp microfiber cloth. Apply vinyl protectant to guard against cracking and fading from sun exposure. The console and air vents are obnoxious to clean, but doing so is important. Get what you can with a vacuum, then spray some compressed air on them. Navigate small spaces with cotton swabs in a cloth sprayed with all-purpose cleaner. Do the same for the vinyl door panels.

Seats: Clean up spills ASAP to avoid permanent stains. Next, vacuum again (told you to keep it handy!). If your interior is leather, you’ll want a special cleaning kit that protects the material from fading, cracking and discoloration. Vinyl is super easy to care for with a damp cloth or damp sponge brush to reach crevices. For fabric interiors, you’ll need to use carpet or upholstery cleaner, being careful not to use too much. Leaving surfaces damp for extended periods invites mold and mildew in. To combat this, sprinkle a light layer of baking soda on the seats to vacuum up after 30 to 60 minutes. The powder absorbs both moisture and odor.

Floorboards and Mats: Always shake mats outside first to remove excess dirt, then vacuum again. Clean the mats outside and leave them to dry in the sun. If you have plastic mats use soap and water. Taking care of cloth mats is also pretty straightforward with a bit of carpet cleaner and scrubbing. For any upholstery on the floor, a carpet cleaning machine works wonders. Just remember to keep moisture to a minimum.

Stank: If you’ve accidentally introduced moisture, keep mildew at bay by drying spills immediately and parking somewhere with the windows down on a sunny day. Cleaning or changing the cabin air filter regularly can also remove mystery smells. If you like the scent of coffee, throw a sachet or two of dry grounds completely sealed in a paper filter under the seats.

Most importantly, do no harm. Make sure the chemicals you use are compatible with the surfaces you’re using them on. Having a variety of rags, towels, brushes and vacuum add-ons is a must if you want to clean like a pro. Be patient and detail-oriented, and your interior will look like new in no time.

Check out all the interior products available on NAPA Online or trust one of our 16,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on car interior cleaning tips, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.

about author

Blair Lampe

Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter.  In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.

related articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *