Car Interior Cleaning: The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning your Car's Interior

Car Interior Cleaning: The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning your Car's Interior

From Dust to Perfection: The Ultimate Car Interior Cleaning Guide

So you've noticed a general build-up of dust on the dash, mud on the mats, and grubby prints on the windows and decided it's time to clean the interior of your car, but you don't know where to start or what to use. Fear not! Whether you want to give your vehicle a quick spruce up or a deep clean, this is the guide for you. Simply go through the steps and stick to the level of thoroughness you're aiming for.


What to consider when choosing cleaning products

Removing stains and marks from the car interior

Have you ever seen a car and just thought: wow, that looks pristine? You can make your own ride look like it belongs on a showroom floor with the right level of care. But sometimes even regular cleaning isn't enough to get all those stubborn stains out - and who wants an interior full of eye-sores when you're proudly displaying your vehicle? As someone passionate about taking excellent care of my car's exterior, I always make sure I've got top quality products for tackling tricky trouble spots - making sure that every time I fire up the engine, everything inside screams perfection!


Car interior cleaning products for different surfaces

Some cleaning products are formulated specifically with one type of material and a deep-clean process in mind. That means you have to use different cleaners for your fabrics, leathers, glass, and plastics. If you have leather seats or door panels, this is especially important, as some products are too harsh for leather and will damage or discolour it in the long run.

However, if you don't want to get too invested in a deep clean, there are all-purpose cleaners and protectants on the market that will be safe and effective on all surfaces, even leather.


Protecting hard and soft surfaces

Cleaning will become a less frequent job if you take a little more time to apply protectants to surfaces after you detail. The most important thing about protectants is their anti-static properties. That means your dash won't get dusty as quickly, and your seats will stay fresher for longer. There are specialised products for all the interior surfaces of your car, like leather, fabric, and plastic, and there are more all-purpose ones you can safely spray onto anything.


Removing odours at their source

If your car has a lingering smell that hits you every time you go for a drive, no matter how many air fresheners you use, it's time to eliminate it for good. Just using a good smelling soap isn't enough to really get rid of deep-seated off-putting odours, which often come from organic contaminants like food, pet accidents, or vomit. Dedicated products will use enzymes to break down bacteria that cause bad odours, meaning they won't return any time soon.



The step-by-step guide to car interior cleaning

Step 1: Tidy up and vacuum interior carpet

You'll feel better already once you've had a clear out of all the rubbish on the backseat, so start there. Hoover up all the dust and debris from the floors and seats before you get to cleaning, so you aren't just wiping dirt around later. Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies between seats and around the centre console to remove as much dust as possible.


Step 2: Clean car floor mats

Floor mats (especially fabric ones) will probably be the dirtiest part of your car, with trodden-in dirt and all sorts of ignored mess building up over time. Luckily, they are removable and hard-wearing, so you can really put them through the ringer to get them clean. Take them out and give them a good rinse with a pressure washer or garden hose to loosen as much dirt as possible before soaping up.

If your mats are fabric, a power tool like a drill or rotary polisher would come in handy. Use a firm brush attachment to agitate your cleaning solution before rinsing again. Of course, you can also get the job done manually with a good stiff brush and a scrub. Make sure you air your mats out to dry before returning them to your car, so they don't start to smell musty or grow mould.

For rubber or silicone mats, it won't take as much effort to get them clean, so you may as well protect them while you're at it. Use a dedicated product like the Chemical Guys Mat ReNew Rubber Vinyl Floor Clean & Protect spray, which has anti-slip properties - important for the driver's seat mat.


Step 3: Remove stains

Sometimes soap and elbow grease isn't enough to get rid of those deep-seated stains, especially on seats and carpets. Proper chemicals and tools will take the hard work out of cleaning without causing damage or wear and tear to fabric and leather. Use a stain extractor or concentrated fabric cleaner and interior brush to agitate the affected area then wipe off with a dry microfibre cloth.


Step 4: Clean glass surfaces

From a dusty windshield to oily fingerprints on the backseat windows, mucky glass is something you notice. Use a glass cleaner or an ammonia-free window cleaner (ammonia can damage the surrounding plastics) and a large microfibre cloth. A "waffle weave" cloth is the best thing to use here, as the grooves pick up residual dirt without scratching glass and make the cloth super absorbent.

Remember to include all the glass parts of your car's interior. Windows and mirrors are a must, but don't forget your navigation panel and sunroof if you have them.


Step 5: Clean and protect dash and trim

There are an array of cleaners, protectants, and combinations of them both to choose from when it comes to the hard surfaces in your car. The only thing that is vital is that you use a soft microfibre cloth for any cleaning, drying and buffing, just like with glass surfaces, so you avoid leaving streaks and marks.

For a quick and easy detail, use a spray-on all-purpose cleaner to cover all the surfaces you want to clean (not forgetting door panels), leave for a few minutes, and wipe off with a microfibre towel. If some spots need a bit of scrubbing, use a soft interior cleaning brush or microfibre cloth. Some car interior cleaners are protectants as well, so you get the added bonus of less dirt build-up and a fresher feel in a simple spray-on, wipe-off bottle.

If you want to pay more attention to the hard dash and trim surfaces in your car, and want to restore a shiny finish, you can split the job into clean and protect stages. Clean as directed above, then make sure the surfaces are dry before applying a protectant or dressing made for the right material (usually plastics, but sometimes leather). Use a soft microfibre or sponge applicator to work in a small amount of product then buff off with a microfibre towel.


Step 6: Clean the centre console

It's time to get into all the nooks and crannies on the inside of your car. The best thing to use here is an all-purpose cleaner, a microfibre cloth, and interior cleaning brushes. Our favourite tool for getting into air vents and other tight spaces is this pack of ValetPRO Foam Detailing Brushes. Spray on a cleaner of your choice, and get to scrubbing, wiping up excess moisture as you go. Most products will be safe to use on all the different parts of your console - rubber buttons, plastic screens, metal trim etc.


Step 7: Clean the steering wheel

Your car's steering wheel is the most touched surface in your car, so it will become dirty faster than the rest of the interior. Oils, dirt, sweat, lotion, hand sanitiser and germs build up, making the steering wheel shiny and sticky to the touch. If your steering wheel is made of leather, another sign that it needs some attention is fading and cracks caused by UV damage. In this case, you might want to take extra care to seal and protect your wheel from further damage after cleaning.

You have two options here. If you're going for a more thorough detail job, treat the steering wheel according to it's material type (usually plastic or leather) alongside the other parts of your car, using a specific cleaner and protectant. See our detailed guide on how to clean all types of steering wheels here. If you just need to get rid of that sticky feeling, use a disinfectant wipe or all-purpose cleaner and a microfibre cloth. Just make sure whatever you're using won't make the wheel slippery and reduce your grip while driving! Do a patch test on a part of the wheel you don't need to grip first if you're unsure.


Step 8: Clean soft surfaces - carpet, fabric, and leather

The dirt we can't see is just as bad as the dust and debris we can. It's important to sanitise, especially when it comes to fabric, as it can become a breeding ground for all sorts of nasty stuff over time. Some fabric cleaners come as a simple spray, and some come in a thicker, shampoo-like consistency. Most are concentrated so you can use them directly or dilute them depending on how dirty a particular area is. Use an upholstery brush with a good grip to really work the product into the material.

For leather seats, you can use a dedicated leather soap and a soft brush for the best dirt-lifting results. Otherwise, a trusty all-purpose cleaner and microfibre cloth combo will do the trick. Scrub in gentle circular motions to get into the grain of the leather, and pay extra attention to seams and creases. Wipe down with a dry microfibre cloth afterwards to remove any moisture and stickiness.

When it comes to carpets, the process is similar to car mats. Work in small sections with your tool or brush, not applying too much pressure but working to loosen and lift trapped dirt. The main difference between removable mats and the permanent fixtures in your car is that you want to keep the interior surface as dry as possible so you don't have damp build-up. Here is where a wet and dry vacuum comes in handy, as it will suck up as much moisture as possible. Don't worry if you don't have one - a good microfibre drying towel and leaving the doors open for a while will get the job done well enough.


Step 9: Protect soft surfaces

As well as cleaning, there is the important step of protecting from future dirt build-up. Using a dedicated protectant will seal soft surfaces against stains, germs, and smells for months and years to come, so you can have peace of mind (and a cleaner ride) for longer.

Fabric sealants create a waterproof barrier against moisture and stains by coating fibres in water repellent. Simply spray on and wipe away any overspray that reaches other surfaces with a cloth. The great thing about these products is that you can use them in other areas of your life as well. Think children's car seats, sofas, chairs, carpets and more!

Leather is particularly vulnerable to cracking and fading from UV damage. Leather care solutions will condition the surface and keep it moisturised and healthy. Leather protectants leave a thin film to act as a barrier against dirt, dust, oils and stains. Apply a small amount of product using a microfibre applicator and work it into leather surfaces before buffing off with a microfibre cloth.


Step 10: Use an odour eliminator and replace the smell

When your car's interior has started to smell less than peachy, what you need is a thorough refresh. Clean up and start from scratch and you will discover that it's easier to maintain a fresh feeling for longer. Just using a good smelling soap isn't enough to really get rid of deep-seated odours, which often come from organic contaminants like food, pet accidents, or vomit. Odour eliminators break down the source of a smell rather than just cover it up, so you won't have to worry about it coming back.


Bonus car interior cleaning tips

Removing pet hair isn't as hard as it seems

Don't lose hope when the vacuum cleaner just won't pick up all your furry friend's hair. Use a rubber pet hair removal brush or even a rubber glove with enough friction to stick to and lift it up from seats, mats and carpets. Consider buying seat protectors to prevent future build-up of hair and any other pet-related mess or grubbiness that make your car feel less than fresh.


Don't forget the boot carpet and seatbelts

It's easy to forget about these parts, and they probably aren't as dirty as other surfaces in your car, but it's still worth giving them a clean. For your boot, clean it alongside whichever other part of your car is made of the same material, such as the carpets, or mats if you have a rubber liner. Sticky seatbelts will benefit from a wipe down with either a fabric cleaner or an all-purpose solution and a microfibre cloth.


The right tools are important

The key is microfibre cloths. They're soft and great for both cleaning and drying. They hold plenty of moisture so you can leave surfaces bone dry, and won't leave marks on glass or plastics. If you want to go further than a wipe-down of all the major surfaces, and especially when it comes to the centre console, investing in a good detailing brush will help the process along. You don't need to have any fancy equipment like a wet and dry vacuum or a carpet cleaning tool to achieve clean, fresh results to be proud of.


Finish the job with a new scent

Once you've put the effort into cleaning your car's interior, you deserve a nice smelling reward to top it all off and keep that clean feeling for as long as possible. There are so many scents to choose from, but the two main types of in-car smells are mirror hanging ones and sprays. Our favourite ranges include Jelly Belly, Yankee Candle, and the impressive Chemical Guys collection.


Our recommended car interior cleaning products

All-purpose products


Glass surfaces


Plastic and vinyl surfaces


Fabric surfaces


Leather surfaces


Tools and equipment


Scents and smells



What do professionals use to clean the inside of a car?

Professional car cleaning services will use dedicated products just like the ones we've suggested. They will also have a range of specialised tools and brushes, as well as more heavy-duty equipment, which are useful when it comes to a deep clean, but not necessary when you just want to refresh your car's interior at home.


What is the best way to remove stains from car upholstery?

A dedicated fabric stain remover is the best solution, especially one that comes in a concentrated formula. Apply the product and leave it for a while (always read the instructions on the bottle), agitate with a brush or cloth if necessary, and wipe away.


Is steam cleaning good for car interior?

The short answer is yes, as steam helps to lift dirt and kill bacteria on fabric surfaces. But you don't need to use heat to get your car clean. With the right products and a bit of elbow grease, there's no need to invest in a steam cleaner.


What is the best way to clean the interior of your car?

There is no right way when it comes to how you clean your car, whether it's a quick refresh and wipe down to a deep-clean of every nook and cranny. Our advice is to start with a thorough vacuum to pick up as much dirt and dust as possible, then work on each surface type in your car, considering leather, fabric, glass, and plastic.

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