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How to Clean Road Salt From Your Car’s Interior

The floor mat of a car encrusted with dried road salt.

You know how to clean road salt from the outside of your car, but do you know how to clean it from the interior? While the salt will be immediately visible as a film of white on your paint, it can take a little more time to show up inside your car. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, and it can be damaging no matter where it hides.

Here’s how to remove road salt and sand from inside your car to keep it looking good and prevent damaging build-up.

Why Is Salt Bad?Snow Plow

Salt is fine on French fries, but it’s absolutely not good for your car. Salt is abrasive, and when it mixes with water, it accelerates the corrosive process that causes rust. Inside your car, salt shows up as telltale white stains on your floor mats and other surfaces that come into contact with it, including leather and fabric seats. Even plastics (especially door sills) can get covered in the same white film that shows up on your car’s exterior.

While interior surfaces won’t rust unless you have exposed metal, salt can still be damaging to sensitive fabrics and leather. Those white marks are hard to remove, and if they’re left unattended, they can become permanent. Salt looks unsightly, weakens materials and often comes mixed with chemicals used to treat roads during the winter.

How to Clean Road Salt from Hard Surfaces

Hard surfaces, including plastics and metal trims, that show signs of salt can be wiped down with a damp cloth to remove salt residue. Be cautious with wood trims though, especially any open-pore woods, as they’re more easily damaged by water or cleaning solutions. Always double-check the labels on any cleaning product you use to make sure they’re the right product for the materials in your vehicle. It’s also a good idea to try them on an inconspicuous spot first, just in case there’s an issue.

How to Clean Road Salt from Soft Surfaces

You can keep salt from creating stains on soft surfaces like floor mats by vacuuming them regularly. You can also use a soft brush to loosen any dirt or salt that’s hardened and stuck to the fabric.

Stubborn stains require a bit more work and may benefit from the use of a carpet or upholstery cleaner. Even if you don’t see a stain from salt residue, using a cleaner is still a good idea because it ensures that there’s no invisible residue sitting further down in the fibers.

Winter conditions can be hard on a vehicle, and road salt is a chief offender. The best way to keep your car free from the damaging effects of salt is to keep it clean. Taking a little time now to remove any salt from your interior can help you avoid the need to deal with lasting salt stains in the spring.

Check out all the products for cleaning your car available on NAPA Online, or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information about how to clean salt from your car interior, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photos courtesy Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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