Hands-On Review: We Tried All the Big-Name Car Interior Cleaners to Find the Best
Sprays, wipes, and more — we tested the top contenders.
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The car community is one of the most complex and diverse groups out there. While outsiders might lump us all into the same basket, those within car culture understand the distinctions. That’s why you’ll often catch us arguing over what seem to be insignificant details. But if there’s anything we can agree on, it’s the pride and satisfaction of a freshly cleaned interior. Even if the thing is smoking, backfiring, and beat-up on the outside, a clean cabin allows us to escape into the mystique of any car or truck.
There’s no shortage of products to help you clean your interior. The hardest part is sorting through all of the options. Now, we don’t know if you’re running leather or cloth seats, but we do know you’ve got a dashboard, a steering wheel, and plenty of other hard surfaces for dust and dirt to collect on. So, we set out to find out exactly what product is the best for cleaning your car’s interior.
Mothers Speed Interior Detailer
- Competitive price point
- Cleans and repels dust well
- Light layer of protection provides “new car” appearance
- Offers no UV protection, warranting the use of additional product
303 All Surface Interior Cleaner
- Very affordable pricing
- Outperformed more expensive products
- Light layer of protection is virtually undetectable
- Does not offer UV protection; should be paired with additional product
Chemical Guys Hydro Interior Ceramic Quick Detailer
- Ceramic coating offers superior defense
- Thick layer of protection offers a premium sheen, reflective of a new car
- The hefty price tag reflects a premium product; it’s nearly double the cost of any other product on our list
How We Tested
Testing cleaners seems pretty straightforward. Clean, then compare. That's how I started. However, the dash test I initially decided to perform wouldn’t work, and, it would only tell us so much about how the product performs. So, I opted to perform three basic tests. This way, I could display the effectiveness of each cleaner to the best of my ability.
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With eight products to test, dashboard space was tight. Instead, we opted to use the rear hatch of a Honda Crosstour of all things. The surface test is pretty standard. I used a large area with a typical buildup layer, taped off a section for each of the cleaners, and compared the results side by side. This provided an overall look at how the products performed as a cleaning agent and a look at the finish each left behind.
Some of the differences were just too close to call, and I immediately knew further testing was necessary.
Steering Wheel Test
Every product we're testing talks about how it's perfect for use on the parts you interact with regularly. To me, the dashboard doesn't fit that mold. So, I used these cleaners on the steering wheel of my project Charger. That way, I could determine how they impacted its feel to a notable degree.
Dust Resistance Test
To test each product's ability to repel dust, I decided to apply a layer to an old, beat-down center console sitting in my parts pile for some time. I essentially replicated the dash test by taping off sections for each of the cleaners and applying them accordingly.
Since it’s difficult to accumulate dust in short order, I decided to shake off a shop broom above each section. Then I gave the console a good shake. A quick swipe of tissue would reveal how much dust remained on the surface after each cleaner was applied.
With our large surface, steering wheel, and dust-resistance tests in mind, we put our contenders through the wringer. All performed admirably. Some did just what they were meant to do, while others went above and beyond our expectations.
There are a few reasons I considered Mothers Speed to be the best of the bunch. Most importantly, it did well in all the tests we threw at it — it had some of the best dust-repelling properties we found — and it’s right in the middle of the road in terms of pricing.
Something I will note is that Speed did leave behind the second-least noticeable layer of protection. Some will say that makes it an inferior product; others will prefer the cleaner finish. I’d argue that less residue makes it more versatile.
Speed is something I’d feel comfortable using on various surfaces throughout the vehicle. If extra protection is necessary, following it with the appropriate protection product is always an option. After all, it’s easier to add layers of product than to remove them.
Awarding any product with the title of Best Value can lead one to infer that the product is cheap, or the lesser of the bunch. That certainly isn’t the case for this cleaner from 303. In all honesty, this option cleaned just as well as all of the other cleaners — even better in some cases. Something that really impressed me is that, based on the crude test I performed, this product seemed to repel dust better than any of the others.
Another reason I consider this product the best value in our car interior cleaner test is its versatility. It’s safe for use on glass, screens, leather, vinyl, or virtually any other surface you find in the typical vehicle.
What helps this product to excel where it does is simple: it’s doing less. It doesn’t offer UV protection, nor does it provide some sort of “preferred” finish. It simply cleans and cleans well, leaving a light, almost undetectable layer of protection to repel dirt and dust.
The lack of other properties is surely why others would decide to reach for another interior cleaner or product. Look elsewhere at your own peril. If it’s clean you want, with 303 All Surface Cleaner it’s clean you’ll get. That makes it a fantastic value in my book.
A new entry from Chemical Guys, this product brings ceramic protection to your car's interior. I couldn’t wait to give it a try. In fact, it was the first one I sprayed — and I wasn’t disappointed. It does an excellent job at cleaning and leaves behind a protective matte finish. It also held up very well when I was attempting to test its dust-repellent properties.
On top of that, I decided I’d go ahead and see whether or not the ceramic coating offers hydrophobic (water-repelling) properties, as it does on exterior paint. It certainly appears that is the case.
The only that holds this product back is the price point. It costs about twice as much as the second-most expensive product we tested. But what do you expect from a premium, high-tech ceramic cleaner? This stuff works great. Whether or not it’s worth the extra coin to you comes down to personal preference.
Honestly, Meguiar's almost took the top spot on our list. It smells great, it cleans well, it's priced just right, and it offers UV protection. Something that helps it stand out among the others is that you can buff it with a cotton cloth for a higher shine, or microfiber for more of a matte finish. That level of flexibility helps this product capture more people's attention than many of the others.
I should also note that buffing it with the microfiber towel produced a very similar sheen to our list's premier product. There was a noticeable difference, and it truly does offer that classy, contemporary matte finish everyone loves these days.
This product ultimately left the thickest finish and was far easier to see and feel than the competition. By no means is it greasy, but it is noticeably slick.
It didn't rank among the best with repelling dust, though. You may find yourself giving your dash a dry wipe-down more often than with some of these other products.
This is the newest product on this list. No doubt it did a great job at cleaning. It’s compatible with virtually any interior surface, and the finish left behind is just right. However, what puts this product in a league of its own is the unique Flairosol spray bottle.
Flairosol isn’t exactly new technology, but it’s odd we don’t see it more often in this product category. It’s ideal for cleaners because it really does provide a level of control over distribution that makes a significant difference in cleaning throughout the vehicle.
The Turtle Wax’s dust-repellent properties aren’t the best. While all products performed decently, this landed on the lower end of the spectrum in that test.
[Ed. Note—This product is not yet available for retail sale at press time.]
Chemical Guys Inner Clean is another all-around good interior car cleaner. It does an excellent job at removing dirt and dust, it’s versatile, and it leaves behind a layer of UV protection.
But the most noticeable benefit to using this product is the scent. Of all the cleaners, I found its smell to be the most pleasant by far. The pineapple-ish scent isn’t overpowering like some pineapple-shaped air freshener, nor so faint that you can’t tell if it’s working. You’re using a solid cleaning compound; it just happens to smell nice.
We don’t mean to sound superficial! But all things being equal—it works well and cleans superbly—the scent puts it over the top. This will be the ideal choice for many.
Where this product seemed to lack in comparison to the others is with repelling dust. I’ll admit that there wasn’t much of a science to my procedure, but it still seemed to retain one of the thickest layers of dust of all products tested.
Not miraculous, but Miracle Wipes are genuinely impressive. Out of the gate, we should state that this isn’t precisely an interior cleaner; it’s an all-purpose Automotive cleaner that can be used for interior cleaning. It can also be used to clean greasy parts under the hood, remove bugs and tar from your paint and grille, and even deal with some of the brake dust on your wheels.
It seemed to strip away the most dirt and grime from all surfaces I tried it on. Unfortunately, the dark color of the disposable wipes makes it hard to see the dirt it’s picking up. That makes it tough to appreciate how much cleaning it’s doing; indeed, it even made it hard for me to compare it to the other products.
But rest assured, Miracle Wipes Auto is clearly intended to deal with filthy surfaces, which does factor into its drawbacks. It cleans so well that it leaves no protective layer at all and therefore does not repel dust or treat surfaces with UV protection.
You kind of have to follow these wipes with a damp cloth, just to clean up the residue they leave behind. That doesn’t mean Miracle Wipes are necessarily a bad car interior cleaner; those factors are simply the cost of its ability to deal with heavy buildups.
Even though this is a clear contender for the Best Value award, I opted instead to crown the Armor All wipes with the title of being the most convenient car interior cleaner.
I’ve long been a fan of Armor All and have always kept a container of these wipes in my car. They do a decent job at cleaning, leave no residue behind, stash away easily, and pulling them from the tube is a breeze. For dealing with a mess on the fly, I’ve always felt that Armor All Wipes can’t be beaten.
So I was excited to discover that even after our test, that reputation is intact. It also doesn’t leave surfaces feeling slick or tacky. Seeing as they’re also the most affordable product we’ve tested, you’ll never wince at having to replace them.
The only reason I didn’t award this product with our Best Value medal is that it leaves behind no protective layer. Dust still clings to the surface. And if you’re lucky enough to live in a sunny, arid climate you’ll want to put something else on your dash after wiping, to protect against premature aging due to harsh UV rays.
We stand behind Mother’s Speed Interior Detailer as our top car interior cleaner, and 303 All Surface Interior Cleaner as the one that’s the best value for the dollar. While all of these are good cleaners, these two products are both attached to decent price tags—always a plus.
Types of Interior Cleaner
Spray cleaners dominate the market, and for good reason. This method of delivery gives you better control over the distribution of the product, and you’ll typically find more powerful cleaners in this category. It’s important to note that not all sprays are cleaners; some protectants come in this form. We should also note that even the method of application can vary, as some are intended for application with a towel while others are sprayed directly onto the surface.
Wipes are an excellent option for many situations such as quick spruce-ups. They’re convenient, as you don’t need to carry around cleaners and cloths. Like sprays, you’ll also find that interior wipes can be dedicated cleaners or protectants, and that’s something to pay close attention to. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to procure any wipes for our testing, so we can’t say for certain how they stack up against spray cleaners. But there are some fantastic and affordable options on the market that get great user reviews.
Every product comes with its own set of features you should know. Here are those for car interior cleaners.
Interior cleaners come with all sorts of material designations, and you want to make sure the product you are using is compatible with, and safe to use on, the surface you’re cleaning.
They don’t just simply clean and almost always leave behind some sort of protective layer. That protective layer might offer a wide range of benefits, or it may simply repel dust.
The sheen a product leaves behind might be something best left to personal preference, but it should always be a significant concern. You really want to keep an eye out for products that don’t leave behind a greasy feel. The slippery texture not only attracts more dirt and dust, but it isn’t ideal for parts you interact with while driving, such as pedals, steering wheels, and shifter levers.
Tips and Tricks
You know we have garage hacks. Here are our favorites for cleaning your car’s interior.
- Get good microfiber towels. Almost every product on our list recommends using a clean microfiber cloth for application. I only subscribed to the use of microfibers a few years ago, but I've never looked back. They genuinely offer superior cleaning, buffing, and drying over regular cotton cloths.
- A little goes a long way. Cleaners are expensive, and they go fast if you're liberal with your application. It's better to apply small amounts to the same area for a few passes. Soaking the area only wastes product, and you generally don't need much to effectively clean your car's interior.
- Work through tough stains with a gradual approach. If you have a particularly stubborn buildup or stain to knock down, several separate cleans are more effective than one fell scrub. Gradually working through problem areas will save product — and reduce the chances of damaging the surface you’re cleaning.
- Invest in different cleaners. While most of the products we tested are versatile, they aren't the best choice for running through your entire interior. I would suggest using products like these solely for hard surfaces, and dedicated cleaners for glass, upholstery, and leather to achieve the best results. Setting up a cleaning product arsenal requires more money upfront, but will ultimately help you get the most out of each product.
FAQs about Car Interior Cleaners
You’ve got questions. The Drive has answers.
Q: Should I use the product full strength or have it diluted?
You shouldn’t have to dilute the product. In fact, none of the products we tested required cutting to any degree. Those with a thicker finish may say going back over the product with a damp cloth can help with streaking, but we didn’t find that to be a common issue.
Q: Do car interior detailers work on scratch marks?
Not exactly. A detailer is simply a cleaner that leaves behind some form of protection; it doesn’t exactly work to mask scratches or finish imperfections. For that, you might want to look into polishing interior components that deal with light scratches.
Q: Can I clean glass with car interior detailers?
Depends on the product. Among the products we tested, some allow for use on glass while others do not. I’d recommend using dedicated glass cleaners simply because the less a product is trying to achieve, the more it excels in the areas it does perform in. Even if an interior cleaner works on glass, glass cleaner will work better.
Q: How often should I use cleaner on the interior of my car?
How often does your car get dirty? Some recommend cleaning your car’s interior once a month. However, you really never know when you’ll spill your coffee, get mud on your kick panels, or sneeze all over the dash. Cleaners won’t harm the surface, nor will they pose much of a threat to anything else. So, it ultimately comes down to how much of a mess you can tolerate and how much money you’re willing to spend on cleaning products.
Q: How much do cleaners cost?
You’ll typically find basic cleaners between $5 and $10, though these products offer minimal protective properties but are generally fine for removing dirt and buildup. Some professional-grade and premium products can be found at prices above $20.
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