It may be a beloved classic you want to tidy up before car show season gets underway, or the daily driver that takes everything your life throws at it, but we all find our vehicle interiors getting dusty, dirty, and cluttered. Few automotive experiences are more pleasant than settling into a car or truck whose cabin looks, feels, and even smells showroom fresh. It’s one thing to pick up the scattered gas receipts and shake out the floormats, and another to remove built-up filth and discoloration from every part of the interior, and properly treat and protect individual surfaces like carpet, fabric, plastic, and leather.
Professional automotive detailers can charge serious rates because their work is time-consuming and physical, and they’ve mastered specialist techniques that bring the best outcome. And while garage shelves filled with pro-level cleaning supplies and dedicated tools are great to have, those are not the be-all and end-all: a few quality products and some typical household tools, used in a knowledgeable way, can achieve show-worthy results.
1. Before You Begin
When it comes to a serious deep clean of your vehicle’s interior, you may already have some of the most useful and effective cleaning implements and chemicals on hand, while others can easily be acquired through online sources. A shop vacuum–especially a wet/dry version–with brush and slender crevice attachments is great, but even a powerful regular vacuum with an extendable hose can be effective. Microfiber towels that can be washed (a reminder to avoid fabric softener and line dry) are inexpensive, as are various-sized soft-bristle brushes- yes, your old toothbrushes can be useful, so save them for car cleaning!
As to the products you’ll want at your disposal, a biodegradable or citrus-based general purpose, low-sudsing cleaner/degreaser, diluted with water and handled conscientiously, can be safe for use on most interior surfaces. When it comes to interior dressings/ultraviolet light (UV) protectants, detailing pros tend to be selective. Some of the most commonly available brands are silicone-based, which gives them the propensity to attract dust and–as they evaporate–to haze interior glass. Water-based dressings are generally preferred for those reasons, and tend to impart a desirably natural, low-gloss appearance.
2. Under Foot
A thorough vacuuming–including under the seats, in seat seams, the dash top, center console, and don’t forget the rear shelf, trunk, or cargo area, should remove built-up dirt and dust. A towel misted with all-purpose cleaner and rubbed on the carpet can lift dirt and greasy marks and, with repeated passes, treat many types of stains. If a vacuum and rag-applied cleaner aren’t doing the trick, Gil Monge of Gillin Auto Interiors suggests a household-type steam cleaner may work as a last resort: “The key is to not soak the carpet, because there’s padding underneath; if that gets wet, you could end up with mold growing.”
If your vehicle has carpeted floormats, you can give them the same vacuum/wiped cleaner application. Rubber or plastic mats needing attention will benefit from a different treatment, T44 Detailing principal Brian Skorski advises: “Like ugly brown ‘blooming’ oxidation on tires, all-season floor liners and mats can fade and discolor over time. Apply rubber cleaner or diluted all-purpose cleaner and agitate, rinsing thoroughly and following up with a dressing of your choice, but wipe mats before reinstalling to ensure surfaces aren’t slippery.”