The easiest way to clean every surface in your car

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10 min read

When’s the last time you cleaned the inside of your car? If you’re still thinking about it, chances are this specific task is long overdue. Let’s be real, there are a lot of spaces, places, nooks and crannies within a car for dirt and dust to collect––and that’s before we begin to talk about the type of interior your car has. Ahead, we share a compilation of resources for each type of car interior, including products, car cleaning tips and techniques, plus how-to video tutorials. Simply: Look to us as your one stop shop for interior car cleaning…starting…now.

The first step is to open up those car doors and vacuum the seats to remove dirt, debris, food, or other particles from the cracks and crevices of the seat. Once complete, it’s time to diagnose the car for overall cleaning needs as well as specific stain maintenance.

how to clean a leather interior:

Leather is luxe…and also pricey. You want your seats to last a long time, so not taking care can be detrimental to the longevity of the seats and affect the car’s value. The takeaway with leather is to not use ammonia-based cleaners or bleach on them. The other tip is to not let water seep into the cushions, as it could stain the leather.

Mix ½ cup of olive oil with ¼ cup of vinegar to make your own leather-cleaning mixture. Shake and pour into a spray bottle to avoid separation. This product is best when sprayed lightly, all over. Wait five minutes, wipe clean, and let any remaining moisture air dry. Ta-da!

1. Products: Let’s take a look at different DIY products for different kinds of stain needs. Remember, only bleach and ammonia-free products for this material!

  • For scuffs: Use toothpaste to gently scrub the scuff stain away. Then wipe with a microfiber cloth and dry with a towel.
  • For oil and grease stains: Use baking soda and sprinkle on the soiled area. Rub with a damp cloth and let sit overnight––the baking soda will absorb the oil. The next morning, wipe the powder with a soft cloth and follow with a damp microfiber cloth to remove any remaining residue. Lastly, dry with a lint-free towel.
  • For spot stains: Use rubbing alcohol (sparingly!) and blot the stain. Then, you’ll want to clean the area with liquid dish soap or castile soap and warm water. Wipe with a clean, damp microfiber cloth to finish.

2. Tips + Techniques:

  • Try to clean your seats once a month, even if there are no significant stains to take care of.
  • Leather conditioner is your friend! It’s like a car wax for your seats by sealing in the moisture and protecting the longevity of the leather.
  • Work slowly and in small sections. You want to eliminate discoloring your seats, if that were to happen for any reason. The smaller of a section you scrub and rub, the quicker you’ll be able to notice and rectify the situation.

3. Tutorials:

  • Short on time? Here’s step-by-step instructions for advanced strategies to use when cleaning a leather interior, in less than 8 minutes.

how to clean an upholstery interior:

Otherwise known as cloth, upholstery is relatively easy to clean if you have one magic ingredient: a brush. Unlike leather(ette) where brushing can crack the material, upholstery needs its cleaning products brushed into it to pull stuck particles of dirt up.

Mix ½ cup of rubbing alcohol, ½ cup of white vinegar, and < 1 cup of water. Shake it up and pour (or spray) it on the upholstery. Let sit for two minutes and then use a microfiber cloth and scrub in a circular motion. Roll down the windows and let the upholstery air dry. Ahhh, nice.

1. Products: With cloth, it’s important to separate your car’s interior into two categories: the car’s fabric and the car’s floor mats. Let’s take a look at different DIY mixtures for both.

  • Car fabric: Mix dish soap, Borax– (sodium borate)–, and boiling water to create a great cleaner. Be sure to let the liquid cool to room temperature before applying.
  • Car floor mats: Mix ½ cup rubbing alcohol, ½ cup white vinegar, + 10 drops of essential oil (any fragrance) into a gas spray bottle (it will eat away at plastic) and use in tandem with a sponge to scrub the floor mats. Let air dry and repeat as necessary.

2. Tips + Techniques:

  • Baking soda for tough stains works wonders since it gets into the grease and grime. Simply add a couple drops of water into a ½ cup bowl of baking soda and stir.
  • More isn't better. If too much product is put onto the upholstery, it will seep in and create a stain darker than the original one.
  • Make sure to rinse your brush clean––often. Since the  brush is doing the majority of the work, it’s important to rinse, clean the water, and shake the brush to remove excess moisture often.

3. Tutorials:

  • For step-by-step instructions for more advanced strategies when approaching upholstery cleaning, videos like this one can come in handy.

how to clean a leatherette or vinyl interior:

Whether as a substitute for authentic leather, an older car model’s material of choice, or a lower-cost alternative, leatherette and vinyl car interiors deserve a deep cleaning, too! But being gentle with the material is key.

Mix two teaspoons of liquid dish soap with warm water. Spray the now-foamy liquid over the intended area and use cotton balls rub in a circular motion. Take a damp cloth––be sure it’s lint free––to remove any soap residue. Don’t forget to air dry. Looking good!

1. Products: Harsh products can dry, break, and tear leatherette and vinyl seats, similar to authentic leather. The best products? Mild dishwashing soap, mild hand soap, and baby hair shampoo.

  • Mild dishwashing soap: Mix 3 drops of mild dishwashing soap with boiling water. Let it cool down, then pour into a bottle and spray on your seats. Wipe down following.
  • Mild detergent: Mix ½ cup of mild detergent with a cup of water and mix well. Spray onto the seats and leave for two minutes. Then, use a dry, non-abrasive cloth and scrub in a circular motion.
  • Baby shampoo (leatherette only): A drop of baby shampoo mixed with warm water and applied to a damp (not soaking!) cloth will do the trick. No rinsing necessary.
  • Ammonia mixture (vinyl only): A tablespoon of ammonia, ¼ cup of hydrogen peroxide, and ¾ cup of water creates a mixture that will penetrate into the seats.

2. Tips + Techniques:

  • Consult the manufacturer’s car guide and maintenance guide. Vinyl seats differ and some cleaning methods might not work as well on certain vinyl car seats than others.
  • If going for baby shampoo, steer clear of any with potential stain-causing additives, such as phthalates, an artificial fragrance.
  • A soft bristle brush is key for both vinyl and leatherette to ensure nothing is scratched.

3. Tutorials:

  • Visual learner? No problem. For step-by-step instructions when cleaning your leatherette and/or vinyl interior, videos like this one can do the trick.

car vent cleaning 101:

Besides your car’s interior material, car air vents are a significant part of your four-wheel drive. The vents fill with dust and blow into your lungs every time you run the air conditioning…so if it’s been awhile, think about what has been going into your lungs––for awhile. Here’s some tips to help keep your vents clean in-between details and deep cleanings.

  • Can of compressed air: Ever clean your keyboard with one of these things? A can of compressed air will do you well for sucking dirt out of air duct surfaces. Spray into the exterior air intake vents first while running your car. Then turn the engine off and spray into the cabin air vents. Oh, and be sure to use an aerosol product safe for vent cleaning.
  • Strong vacuum: The powerful, mighty wet/dry vacuum is a wonderful tool for nabbing loose dirt out of vents. Run the hose and let it suck out extra bits of dirt.
  • Wipe vent slots: The best way to clean the vent slots is with a vent cleaner or slotted brush. Affordable and easy to use, grab one of these and keep it in your glove compartment for frequent use––you and other dust-sensitive riders will appreciate it.
  • Change air filter: This should be replaced every 15,000–25,000 miles. If you frequently run your HVAC or live somewhere with high air pollution levels (metropolitan areas, listen up!) the more often this filter should be changed.

Keeping up with your car takes time, effort, energy, and resources. It’s important to be mindful of what the interior of your car looks like and how long it’s been since you cleaned it. If you feel as if your interior is dirty beyond repair, then it doesn’t hurt to see how much money you can get for your car––Peddle might surprise you. An instant offer can take a dirty old car off your hands––and put a freshly written check in your hand. It’s almost like magic!