How to Clean Your Car Interior: The Ultimate Car Upholstery Makeover Guide

How to Clean Your Car Interior: The Ultimate Car Upholstery Makeover Guide

The Ultimate Car Interior Makeover: The Best Products & Methods for Soft Surfaces

You know that feeling when your passengers look twice before sitting down in the car? That's right - it's time for a deep clean and protective treatment of your car interior. For us meticulous car enthusiasts, dirt, stains, smells or scuffs are never an option to accept – so let's get ourselves set up with the perfect solution! Let me show you how you can restore pride in your ride by giving its soft surfaces, furnishings and upholstery some extra love with this ultimate guide to cleaning those carpets, mats and seats inside out. It doesn't have be as intimidating as it sounds - stick around until the end of this blog post where I've got all advice outlined for getting back into shape and staying stylishly spotless forevermore.


Things to consider when cleaning your car's interior

The right products and a good plan will make the job quick and easy. The aim of a deep clean of your car's interior is to start again with fresh fabrics, and to slow the process of dirt build-up in the future so you don't have to clean up again too soon. Another thing to remember is to check what types of surfaces a product is meant for. This way you can be sure you won't damage any delicate leather or ruin the feel of your fabric seats.


Tasks to complete:

  • Removing stubborn stains
  • Getting rid of germs and bacteria
  • Eliminating odours
  • Preventing future dirt build-up
  • Protecting fabrics and leather


What you will need:

  • Wet and dry vacuum cleaner
  • Fabric and/or leather cleaner
  • Upholstery brush
  • Odour eliminator
  • Fabric and/or leather protectant


Different soft surfaces to clean:

  • Seats
  • Carpet
  • Mats


How to clean your car's soft interior surfaces using the best products and method

Step 1: Vacuum

Hoover up all the dust and debris from the floors and seats before you get to scrubbing. Be sure to get into all the nooks and crannies between seats and around stitching. After step 2, come back and use a wet and dry vacuum on soft surfaces as the water will help penetrate fabrics and lift dirt. This is an especially useful tool for pet owners, whose cars are probably covered in clingy hair from their furry friends!


Step 2: Treat stains

Sometimes soap and elbow grease isn't enough to get rid of those deep-seated stains. 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 3: Clean floor mats

Fabric floor mats 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 them up.

Here is where a power tool like a drill or rotary polisher will 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.


Step 4: Deep clean the seats and carpets

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 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, use a dedicated leather soap and a soft brush for the best dirt-lifting results. 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 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 can get the job done well enough.

Don't forget to take the opportunity to clear out your boot and give the carpet in there a good clean as well!


Step 5: Remove odours

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.


Step 6: Protect against dirt and stains

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.

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.


The most important part: Choosing a new smell

Once you've spent a few hours deep-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.


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

The tools you use will depend on what your seats are made of. For example, fabric brushes are generally stiffer than ones made for leather, as it is easier to damage leather by being too harsh. It also depends on how much you are willing to invest in equipment. Going the extra mile and using a wet and dry vacuum or a rotary tool (usually a polisher or drill) with a brush attachment will speed up the process, but you can achieve similar results the manual way.

When it comes to protectants (and some cleaners) the key feature to look out for is antistatic properties. The worst culprit for making any interior space feel stale is dust, so making your seats and floors resistant to it will make your vehicle look spotless for longer.

Here are our recommended interior cleaning products based on what material they are used for, as well as the best tools and equipment to make light work of cleaning your car's interior:


Fabric surfaces


Leather surfaces


General soft surface products


Our favourite interior cleaning tools



How do you vacuum car interiors?

Start by dry-vacuuming everywhere you can reach, using the crevice attachment on your vacuum cleaner. Get into seat seams, under the pedals, and around the centre console. Once you have started the washing process, use a wet and dry vacuum cleaner on fabric seats and carpets. Work in sections, making sure you create a good enough seal with the tool to suck up all the moisture.


What is the best protectant for car upholstery?

Our favourite is the Chemical Guys Fabric Guard Protector Shield. It's a sprayable sealant with hydrophobic technology that micro-bonds to fibres, increasing the surface tension of fabrics and creating a waterproof layer. Easy to use and effective against spills and stains.


How do you clean car mats?

The best way to clean car mats is to remove them, shake or hose out loose dirt, then give them a good scrub. Use a carpet or fabric cleaner with a stiff brush or drill attachment to lift embedded mud, dust, and grime. Rinse them out and leave to thoroughly dry before returning them to your car.


How do you remove stains from car interiors?

Use a dedicated stain remover, or a non-diluted fabric cleaner before the main cleaning job. Simply apply it to the affected area agitate with a soft brush and wipe off with a dry microfibre cloth. It's best practice to apply a protectant after cleaning to prevent stains from occurring in the future.

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