The Garage Car Care

Here’s How To Clean Sand Out of Your Car

Who doesn't dig some outdoor activity that involves trampling through a little dirt and sand? Well, your car's interior doesn't, but luckily that's easy to remedy.
how to clean sand out of your car's interior the project in question
Peter Nelson

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Whether you’re spending a day at the beach, in the desert, or really any natural environment comprised of finely ground terra firma, there’s a good chance you drove your car to get there. Or, you live nearby and trample through the stuff on the regular. A day outside is rarely a waste of time, but it does come with an unintended consequence for your car: Sand can be difficult to clean out of its interior.

The thing about sand and other finely ground geographical materials is, because it’s so fine, it gets stuck down in the interior’s crevices and upholstery. Some cars—like the Land Rover Defender and Ford Bronco Sport—come with more hardcore matting that covers the majority of where normal interior carpeting usually is. Those owners are lucky. For everyone else, sand takes a bit more effort to clean out than just a little dirt and mud, but it’s an easy addition to any interior cleaning regimen. 

On average, this tacks on an additional 10-30 minutes, depending on the interior’s square footage. As far as what you’ll need to clean it out, a good shop vac comes in handy, as does a sturdy brush, a microfiber towel or two, a detailing brush, and some multi/all-purpose interior cleaning solution. Though, if that sand’s been left to really work its way into the upholstery, a steam cleaner might be needed.

Step 1: Remove the floor mats and hit those first

Quite literally: remove your floor mats and lightly beat them against something to shake the sand out. Don’t smack them against the car, though—you don’t want to lightly sandblast the clearcoat. Then, go over them nice n’ slowly with a vacuum. If they still look sandy, break out the interior cleaner and brush to agitate the sand out, then suck it up with the vacuum.

how to clean sand out of your car's interior using a vacuum

Step 2: Utilize a little elbow grease

First, turn on the vacuum and give the interior and upholstery a good once over. This will dislodge and suck up any sand that’s lightly sprinkled on hard plastics, Alcantara, and leather. Microfiber towels and cleaning solution are a quick and easy way to remove sand from hard surfaces. Though, any button crevices and cupholders might require a little finer attention with the detail brush. Save the upholstery for last, and give it a quick once-over.

how to clean sand out of your car's interior scrubbing

Step 3: Time to go deeper

There’s a good chance you didn’t get all the sand out with the first pass. That’s because it’s so fine and works its way deep into the carpeting rather quickly. If it’s been a few days or even weeks, it’s really in there.

So, it’s time to exfoliate. Grab the interior brush and scrub the carpeting, first in one direction, then in another—for example, laterally then longitudinally. Then grab the vacuum and remove what you just brushed up.

Continue doing this until it looks nice n’ clean. Spraying the upholstery with some interior cleaner and then brushing it also helps. In fact, it even takes care of other stubborn stuff that might be stuck in there (so, mummified french fry crumbs for the vast majority of us).

Step 4: If that doesn’t work

If you’re working with a vehicle that’s had sand in it for quite some time, all the aforementioned scrubbing and vacuuming might take a long time. In this case, a good handheld steam cleaner will pull it out. Or, heck, go for the steam cleaner right away during step 2, but not everyone has one of these in their interior detailing loadout.

Scrub it with a brush, go over it with the steam cleaner, follow up with the vacuum, and then repeat as necessary.

how to clean sand out of your car's interior cleaning supplies

Step 5: Finish Up

Finally, you might have to go over the non-upholstered surfaces that you previously cleaned. Scrubbing and vacuuming might’ve agitated the sand enough to blow up onto plastics and leather.

The quicker you clean out your interior post-sandy-environment visit, the better. The longer it stays in there, the harder it’ll be to get out. Not only that, but it’ll smell a bit geological, too, which might not be everyone’s favorite fragrance.

Garage Hack

Word to the wise: you can also use a portable massage gun or sander to essentially vibrate the sand out of upholstery. Or, place it against trim pieces to shake it loose, too. Just be careful not to damage any surfaces with the sander.