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How to Clean a Car Interior

You could save $160+ by cleaning your car at home. Follow these steps for a pro-level car interior detailing finish – without the pro expense.

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Detailing the inside of a car might seem like an overwhelming task, but if you follow this spring cleaning checklist for how to clean a car interior, you’ll have the job finished from top to bottom in no time.

Spring has sprung. Now’s the time when most people tend to give their homes a much-needed deep clean and declutter, but you shouldn’t forget to give the same treatment to your vehicle. To help with that, here’s a helpful checklist for how to clean a car interior. One pro tip in cleaning a car’s interior is that you want to work from the top down so start at the headliner and clean your way down to the carpet. Before long, you’ll have an interior that looks great.

How to Clean Your Car’s Interior Roof

A good car interior cleaning starts with one of the most overlooked areas: the headliner. A car’s headliner is the fabric material that lines the inside of the roof, and this area gets especially dirty if you have kids, pets, or if you’re a smoker. Today’s headliners are made from a variety of materials, and most can still be wiped off with a microfiber towel or even a vacuum cleaner. For light stains, you can spot clean by applying a fabric cleaner to a cloth and rubbing with the grain of the fabric, while tougher stains might require scrubbing with a stiff-bristle brush.

How to Clean Your Car’s Windows

A clean car is a safer car, and that’s especially true with the windows. Streaked, dirty, or hazy windows can be a hazard while driving at night or in the rain, but fortunately, this is also the easiest part of a car to clean. A quick spray with some window cleaner and paper towel is all it takes to clean up your car’s windows. If your car has aftermarket tint on the windows, though, be sure to use an ammonia-free cleaner to avoid damaging or discoloring the tint.

How to Clean Your Car’s Interior Fabric

Cleaning the fabric materials inside your car might seem like a daunting task, but taking your time and using the proper products will make this a simple task. Even though your car’s seats get more wear than any other area of the vehicle interior, proper care will ensure they look good for years to come whether they’re covered with leather, cloth, or vinyl. 

For quick clean ups, an all-purpose cleaner works great for all car interior cleaning needs, but deeper stains could require specialty products. Likewise, cleaning the carpet should usually require just a vacuum, while deeper dirt might take a stain remover and possibly even a steam cleaner to remove. Applying a protectant will help to repel stains and dirt for all of your car’s interior fabric.

How to Clean Your Car’s Harder Interior Surfaces

As hard as it is to get the fabric clean inside your car, detailing the touch points can prove to be a greater challenge. When it comes to detailing surfaces like the dash, door panels, steering wheel, and center console, the good news is that there are all shapes and sizes of detailing brushes to help make the job easier. For extremely heavy dirt and grime, sometimes a steam cleaner works best to get into every nook and cranny, but most cleaning can be done with mild soap or an all-purpose cleaner.

Don’t Forget the Cargo Area

Once you finish cleaning up the passenger space, don’t forget about the cargo area. Whether you own a hatchback, SUV, or sedan, this often-neglected space probably needs to be tidied up a bit. Like your house, it’s a good idea to limit clutter by removing anything you don’t use regularly with the exception of tool kits, emergency equipment, and the like. The carpet in the trunk or cargo area is usually different from the carpet in the rest of the car, but you can clean them the same way.

Breathe Easy

Most newer vehicles are equipped with a cabin air filter designed to limit the contaminants from entering the car. Think of these like an air filter for the interior of your car. Just like your engine’s air filter, cabin filters should be replaced at regular intervals or when dirty. A clogged or dirty cabin air filter could affect the performance of your car’s air conditioning system and cause smells to linger inside your car. Replacing the filter is easy and affordable; check your car’s owner’s manual for the filter location. For stronger smells that won’t go away, you may need to try an odor neutralizer that can be sprayed into the HVAC vents.

Clean Up Those Warning Lights

The whole point of cleaning the interior is to make your car look good, and that should include cleaning up any warning lights in the gauge cluster. That’s where the FIXD car scanner and app comes into play. If you have a check engine light (CEL) on, FIXD  easily shows what’s triggering the fault code and you can get information showing what repairs are needed. The CEL may have come on if you were pumping gas with the engine running, or it might be something more serious. Either way, use FIXD to make sure your car runs as good as it looks!

What’s the Worst Thing You’ve Ever Cleaned Out of Your Car Interior?

We hope you found this spring cleaning checklist helpful. Let us know in the comments the worst thing you’ve ever had to clean out of your car interior and share your favorite cleaning hacks!

Jeffrey N. Ross

Lifelong automotive enthusiast with a soft spot for offroading. Wrencher turned writer, but I still love to tinker on just about anything with an engine. Dream car: tie between a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda and a ’91 GMC Syclone. #GirlDad #SaveTheManuals

We’re here to help you simplify car care and save, so this post may contain affiliate links to help you do just that. If you click on a link and take action, we may earn a commission. However, the analysis and opinions expressed are our own.

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About the Author

Jeffrey N. Ross

Jeffrey N. Ross

Lifelong automotive enthusiast with a soft spot for offroading. Wrencher turned writer, but I still love to tinker on just about anything with an engine. Dream car: tie between a ‘71 Hemi ‘Cuda and a '91 GMC Syclone. #GirlDad #SaveTheManuals

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