Car Interior Cleaning: The Ultimate Guide

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Washing the outside of your car is easy. You grab some soap and water, or better yet, you drive through a car wash and forget about it. But car interior cleaning is a much bigger job. We all eat in our cars, our kids eat in our cars, our pets get hair all over the seats. Basically, our cars can turn into a hazard zone pretty quickly. 

That’s why I decided to share my tips on how to clean a car interior. Today we’re going to cover a list of the most common areas you should be cleaning in your car: 

  • Clean your car’s floor mats
  • How to clean car carpets
  • How to clean inside car windows
  • How to clean car seats 
  • Cleaning car consoles and doors
  • Eliminating car odors

A few years ago, I wrote the blog My Expert Car Cleaning Tips to outline my favorite tips and secrets on car cleaning. Now, I’m getting into the dirty details of what to clean in your car and how, plus some DIY cleaning solution recipes. So buckle up for my best car cleaning secrets and get to work on those fast-food wrappers and dust mites that have made your car their home. 

Melissa putting a box of food into her car

Toss The Junk

One of my cleaning rules is that decluttering is the first step to cleaning. You can’t start cleaning car carpets or washing doors if you’re wading through a mountain of drive-thru takeout containers and dirty tissues. OK, so that’s an exaggeration (I hope), but you should still declutter first. Grab a garbage bag and recycling bin and get to work! 

If you have other items in your car, remove them as well. This goes for bags, car seats, toys, blankets; anything that you aren’t going to clean and isn’t part of your car will just get in the way and make the cleaning process longer.  

Clean Your Car Floor Mats

Floor mats are dark-colored, which means you usually don’t notice they’re dirty, but you are literally stepping on them every day. Car mats are caked in all the dirt from your shoes and everything else that goes in your car. 

Take all your car mats out, and you’ll see just how gross they are. The first thing to do is give them a thorough shake to get all the loose grime and debris off. Next, grab a clean tarp to put them on. This way, they aren’t getting dirty again from the ground. If you don’t have a tarp, just lay out some clean garbage bags. 

A vacuum is a great way to suck up even more dirt and grime before you wash. Then, spray your mats with a hose. Your mats should be looking pretty clean at this point, but to be thorough, mix warm water and a squirt of dish soap in a bucket. Scrub your mats clean and hang them to dry before returning them to the car. 

Car Carpet Cleaning

Once you’re finished with your car mats, you can move on to the carpet. Take your vacuum cleaner and get all the dirt and dust out of there. Don’t forget to vacuum in all the corners and under the seats and pedals. 

If your carpet is stained, it’s helpful to identify the stain before you treat it. Different stains respond to different cleaning solutions. With stain removers, you can make your own, or you can use a store-bought stain remover. 

The Biokleen Bac-Out Stain & Odor Remover is an enzyme-based cleaner, and it’s great for carpet and upholstery cleaning. You can check out my blog Six Products for Effectively Removing Carpet and Upholstery Stains for more ideas. 

Here’s my recipe for a great DIY carpet cleaner for your car: 

  • One cup dish soap
  • One cup white vinegar
  • One cup club soda 

Spray the stain until it is soaked and then let sit for 10 minutes then scrub. 

Use the carpet cleaner of your choice on the rest of your carpet, scrubbing with a bristle brush. Allow to dry, and then vacuum one last time. And for more DIY cleaners, check out my 50 DIY Cleaning Recipes.

Car Window Cleaning

Before you come at me for making you scrub your car carpets, let me just say cleaning car windows is a breeze in comparison. A microfiber cloth is the best cloth to use for most cleaning jobs, but especially glass windows. 

To clean car windows, you can use any store-bought glass cleaning solution or make your own. My favorite DIY window cleaner is: 

  • One cup water
  • One cup white vinegar
  • One teaspoon cornstarch

Always start at the top of the window and work down to catch any drips and prevent streaks. 

Melissa cleaning her car windows

How to Clean Car Seats

How you clean your car seats will depend if they’re made of leather or cloth. If your seats are made of cloth, start by vacuuming each seat thoroughly. Get your vacuum into the seams and where the bottom of the seat meets the back. This is where all those chip crumbs that miss your mouth usually end up. 

You can treat any stains with a store-bought or DIY stain remover. Once again, what product or solution you use will depend on what caused the stain. A spray-on upholstery cleaner should work for most stains. 

Many of us guzzle coffee on our way to work in the morning, so one of the most common car seat stains is coffee. Here’s a DIY cleaner for coffee stains: 

  • One cup white vinegar
  • Two cups of water
  • One teaspoon dish soap. 

Remember, all stain solutions should be left to soak for about 10 minutes before scrubbing. 

If you’re not working with stains, you can use any upholstery cleaner on cotton seats. Work the cleaner with a scrub brush, then wipe with a wet microfiber cloth to remove. And, of course, let dry. 

If you have leather car seats, a vacuum crevice attachment is really helpful here. Use your vacuum thoroughly, especially around the stitching area of the leather. Then, wipe down with a commercial leather cleaner. If you want to go that extra mile, you can use a leather conditioner to make your leather seats look like new. 

Cleaning Car Consoles and Doors

Car consoles and doors are often overlooked when cleaning cars, but they are both high-touch surfaces that need to be cleaned periodically. Keep your car doors open while cleaning doors, so any dirt falls outside of your car. 

Most car doors are made from carpet and vinyl or leather. Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down every part of the door, including inside the pockets. You can use your damp microfiber cloth to tackle your console and gear shift too. 

I don’t know about you, but my daughter’s juice, my tea, and Chad’s coffee often leak or spill in the bottom of the cup holder, and it’s pretty gross in there. If your cup holder is removable, you can soak it in a solution of warm water with a bit of dish soap. If not, make the same solution and use your microfiber cloth to clean inside and around the cupholder.  

Melissa with microfiber cloth and tea in her car

Eliminate Car Odors

Following all these steps to clean your car is an essential part of eliminating car odors, but sometimes you need some extra help in getting that lived-in car smell to disappear. Just like when you clean your fridge, you can use baking soda to prevent and eliminate odors. 

After your car is dry, sprinkle a little baking soda over the carpet and cloth seats. Do not use baking soda on leather seats!! Leave this overnight and then vacuum in the morning. 

Your car should smell fresh and clean, ready for you to start eating french fries and spilling coffee all over again. 

Car Interior Cleaning Maintenance

Cleaning your car is a big task. Luckily, you don’t have to do this very often. How often you need to clean your car will depend on how often you eat in your car, if you have pets in your car, and if you have kids in your car. 

Staying on top of the mess before it builds up can help you avoid cleaning your car too frequently. Throw out garbage daily, and spot treat stains as they happen. That being said, I hope that when you do have to clean your car, you know exactly what to do.

AFFILIATE DISCLOSURE: As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases on amazon.com.
Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.

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