How to clean your car's interior like a pro

April 10, 2020

A clean car is a happy car. Your car deserves to be happy.

For some it’s therapeutic (raises hand) and for others it’s a necessary evil. Whichever end of the spectrum you fall on, cleaning the inside of your car is necessary maintenance that isn’t difficult to do. The hardest part is deciding to do it.

Keeping the interior of your car clean not only helps maintain resale value, it makes it safer, last longer, smell better, and above all else, it creates a more pleasant driving—and idling—experience.

It only takes a couple hours once you have the right products and processes. From over 25 years of cleaning cars and six years of professional detailing, not to mention my ridiculous level of OCD when it comes to cars, I’ve assembled the essential steps, along with a few tips and tricks, to take things to the next level of clean.

Empty it

Yes, seriously. Take everything out of the vehicle. From floor mats to ice scrapers, tow ropes to emergency kit bags, child seats and kids’ toys, it’s surprising how much stuff is rolling around in the car. Everything needs to be removed from the vehicle to properly clean every crevice.

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

Suck it

Once the vehicle is empty it’s time to vacuum all the dirt, grime, and Goldfish crumbs out of all the nooks and crannies.

Dust busters and hand-held vacuum cleaners aren’t ideal as they don’t have the suction power of a shop vac. Any shop vac with a few horsepower will do, along with attachments including a dusting brush, crevice tool, and floor brush.

Start from the front and move top to bottom starting at the base of the A-pillars to the rear of the vehicle. Work your way around to the other side of the vehicle, moving always top to bottom.

To get the bulk of the loose dust and crumbs, use the power of suction to vacuum the dashboard and center console with the dusting brush, but do not use this attachment on screens. Yes, vacuum the dash to suck up large dust particles or crumbs before wiping. It’s more efficient than the rag, which you’ll use on the next step. Be gentle with the vacuum, and never push down as to not scratch or mar anything. This isn’t wiping, it’s sucking up dust and crumbs.

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

Move on to the seats and use the crevice tool to get all the dirt, grime, and crumbs from the seat cracks. Use your fingers to gently pull apart the material near the seams while opening the crevice for the vacuum to get every last crumb.

Before moving to the carpeted floor it’s important to move the front seats to their highest seating positions both forward and backward. This allows you to see every nook and cranny (a headlamp will help provide more light for those hard-to-see spots). Use the crevice tool to vacuum under and around the seat, seat tracks, and various plastic covers where grime and gunk like to form. Then switch over to the floor brush to get the wide swaths of carpet.

When vacuuming the back seat or rear cargo area on SUVs, minivans, or pickup trucks it’s important to move every seat into various positions and open up every storage cubby. Crumbs love to hide in these dark hidden spots.

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

Wipe it

Once all the crumbs and dirt are out of the car it’s time to clean and protect the plastics, vinyl, and leather bits of the vehicle’s interior. A clean microfiber rag and a cleaner/protectant with no sheen or sticky residue is all that’s necessary here.

Don’t just go to the store and buy anything off the shelf. In my experience, products from 303, AMMO, Meguiar’s, Wizards, and Griot’s Garage do the best job without leaving greasy residue or harming the plastics or vinyl.

For leather, use a special cleaner/protectant from one of the above brands with either a clean microfiber rag, leather sponge, or your own hands.

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

To clean glass inside and out, a clean microfiber rag (or high-end paper towel in a pinch) with an ammonia-free glass cleaner such as Sprayaway Glass Cleaner or Stoner Glass Cleaner will leave windows streak-free and clear. Keeping glass clean is essential as it improves vision to make driving easier and safer.

If it’s been a long time since the vehicle’s been cleaned there’s likely dust and gunk on the air vents. A Q-tip can be used, or an inexpensive vent brush can attach to the end of a vacuum to clean these vents. Be gentle, as the vents are made of plastic bits that can break.

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

How to clean your car's interior like a pro

So fresh, so clean

Once all the surfaces have been wiped clean it’s time to put mats and necessary items back into the vehicle. This is the time to take stock as to what really needs to be in the vehicle day-to-day. In the spring, ditch the snow scraper or stow it in a cargo hold or under a rear seat. It becomes an unnecessary projectile in the case of an accident in the spring, summer, and fall months.

Your mileage, and cleanliness may vary due to how many kids, pets, or passengers are in the car. After doing a deep clean like this, bi-weekly cleaning should be all it takes to keep your car’s interior clean and to make driving a more pleasant, happier experience.

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