The Garage Car Care

Here’s How to Deep Clean Your Car Interior Because It’s Nastier Than You Think

Spring is here—time to refresh your ride, because no one wants to ride in a dirty car.

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If you’ve spent as much time browsing car forums as The Drive’s editors have, you’ve likely seen your fair share of dirty vehicles. If not, you’ve probably seen our coverage of some of the more dramatic before-and-after basket cases that bubble up. In some instances, it’s like the owners completely forgot that people actually need to be able to ride in a vehicle without catching a bacterial disease in the process. Garbage, old food, and mystery stains are common calls-to-duty, but even a mildly dirty car interior is reason to take action.

Thankfully, you don’t need special skills to clean your car’s interior. All it takes is time, patience, and some common cleaning products that can be found almost anywhere. Sure, you could pay someone to clean your car’s interior, but professional cleaning jobs can be quite expensive. That’s why The Drive’s editors are here to help you get started cleaning your car’s interior like a pro. Grab your vacuum cleaner, microfiber rags, and a large helping of patience.

Let’s get rolling.

Jonathon Klein

Everything You’ll Need To Clean Your Car’s Interior 

You probably have many items on the list, but even the ones you don’t won’t break the bank to buy.

Car Cleaning: Tools and Parts

Here’s How To Clean Your Car’s Interior

Let’s do this! 

Step 1: Find a Shaded or Cool Area With Good Lighting

Working in the sun is not only uncomfortable, it also makes the cleaning products less effective. Product might react to the heat if left on too long and could stain or damage the interior.

Step 2: Remove Trash and Clutter

  1. Grab your trash bags and a pair of gloves. 
  2. Start by grabbing all of the old french fry boxes, fast food bags, Big Gulps, and trash that you can find in your vehicle’s interior. Be sure to pay attention to the trunk as well.
    • If you have kids, check under seats and in the cracks between seats. They love to hide crayons, snack wrappers, and other trash in hard-to-reach places.
  3. Take out anything that isn’t vital to operating the vehicle that you’ve been carrying around. Take the time to finally donate that bag of clothes that have been rolling around in your trunk for six months and be sure to remove dirty clothes or shoes while you’re at it.
Jonathon Klein

Step 3: Clean Interior Surfaces

Because you’ll be vacuuming during this process, it’s best to get the dirt off of the higher surfaces before cleaning the lower ones. Just as you would start washing your car at the top, this will let debris fall to be scooped up later. 

  1. Starting with the dash, wipe away dust and dirt using a microfiber dust cloth, a cleaning/conditioning wipe, or a microfiber towel and a spray designed to remove dirt from automotive surfaces.
    • Wipe around the steering wheel, gauge cluster, gear shift, and other tight spaces. Hair, dust, and other dirt tend to congregate in these places, so you’ll want to pay close attention.
    • If you’re using wipes, change them out frequently to be sure you’re cleaning evenly throughout the interior. If you’re using a towel and spray, either flip the towel over or grab a new one to avoid spreading dirt around.
    • If you want to get really detailed with your cleaning, take a toothbrush to clean hair and other debris from around your climate control buttons and gear shift.
  2. Use glass cleaner spray and microfiber towels to clean the glass on the inside of your vehicle.
    • Try to steer clear of glass cleaners that contain ammonia. It can damage plastics and other surfaces inside the cabin.
    • If your car has tinted windows, read the cleaner’s warnings to be sure you’re using one that won’t kill your tint job.
    • It’s best to work in small areas to avoid having the cleaner dry out or cause streaks before you’re done.

Step 4: Bust Out the Vacuum

  1. Before vacuuming, remove the car’s floor mats, if there are any. This will allow you to isolate the dirty mats and shake off dirt outside of the vehicle. More on those later.
  2. Vacuum the seats before starting on the carpet. If you’ve got a slim-tip attachment for your vacuum cleaner, it’s best to use it to reach into cracks and crevices in the fabric or leather.
    • Take your hand and press down on the seat near large cracks between surfaces to better see crumbs and dirt that have fallen into the abyss.
    • If you notice melted crayons on the seat, you can chill them with an ice cube, which should make it easier to chip the wax away.
  3. Vacuum the air vents, at the top of the dash where it meets the windshield, and on the deck behind the back seats if your car has one.
  4. Move on to vacuuming the floor. Start under the seats and be sure to vacuum between the seats and interior bodywork, such as the center console or doors. Slide the seat fore and aft to get to all those crevices.
    • If your vacuum has a small brush attachment, it can help remove hair and other debris from the carpet. Specially designed pet hair brushes can also be useful.
  5. Before reinstalling the floor mats, vacuum them thoroughly. If your car is equipped with all-weather mats, it’s a good idea to spray them off with a hose and brush them down to remove mud and other debris. Let them dry before reinstalling.

To finish the job, replace the mats and any other pieces of the vehicle’s interior that you removed during the cleaning process. Check your work to be sure you didn’t miss anything big, and take note of stains or spots that weren’t able to be cleaned during cleaning. Stubborn stains, such as the ones left behind after a melted crayon is removed, may need professional help or additional attention with a special stain removal spray or tool. Now is also the time to install an air freshener, if that’s your thing.



Chris Teague


After working in the technology and software industry for several years, Chris Teague began writing as a way to help people outside of that world understand the sometimes very technical work that goes on behind the scenes. With a lifelong love of all things automotive, he turned his attention to writing new vehicle reviews, detailing industry trends, and breaking news. Along the way, he earned an MBA with a focus on data analysis that has helped him gain a strong understanding of why the auto industry’s biggest companies make the decisions they do.