How to Clean a Car Interior in 10 Steps

using a red towel to clean a car steering wheel

Many car owners pay so much attention to the exterior of their rides while turning a blind eye to the interior. After all, the exterior is what most people will see, and it’s relatively easier to clean. It also doesn’t help that the interior is prone to discolorations, food stains, and dirt, especially for a family car.

But the truth is that cleaning the interior of a car is not as difficult as it seems, especially if you have a plan or checklist in place. This article will give you a step-by-step plan on how to clean a car interior. Keep reading.

Preparing to Clean the Interior of a Car

You might want to implement a few safety measures and prepare the necessary materials before you start cleaning your car.

Car Interior Cleaning Safety

Here are some tips to protect yourself from getting hurt and infected while cleaning:

  • Make sure there is good airflow while working. This includes rolling down the windows or opening the doors where necessary.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection (safety glasses, goggles, face shields) while using disinfectant wipes and conditioning sprays to prevent them from contacting the skin and eyes.
  • Reach under your seats and any other obscure areas carefully. There could be numerous sharp objects capable of giving you a nasty cut.
  • Avoid cleaning your car in a busy lot or a jammed street. Instead, move to a place where you can freely and safely work.

Car Interior Cleaning Tool List

There are many tools you can utilize in cleaning your car. But not all of them are necessary. Even for the necessary ones, there are often alternatives, even though these might take slightly longer. Here’s an idea of the things you can use:

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Microfiber towel
  • Car wash soap
  • Bucket of water
  • Brushes
  • Trash bags
  • All-purpose auto cleaner (optional)
  • Window cleaner (optional)
  • Leather conditioner (optional)
  • Carpet cleaner (optional)

These items are a good starting point if you want to clean your car interior like an ace. They don’t cost much, and you should already have most of them.

Cleaning the Interior of a Car: A Step by Step guide

Before we get into the detailed guide, here’s a simple infographic summarizing the process. (Open image in a new tab to enlarge.)

An infographic showing 10 easy steps to clean your car's interior without missing anything

Share this Image On Your Site

Here’s how you clean your car interior, one step at a time:

3–6 hours, depending on the state and size of the car

Step One: Declutter the Interior

Broom on a "clutter" sign

The first step in cleaning your car is to bring out all removable items from the car so they don’t become a hindrance when working later. Inspect the glove box, seat pockets, center storage, beneath the seats, floor carpets, and basically every inch of your car for dirt, food crumbs, pillows, misplaced accessories, and other stuff that should not be there.

Segregate the rubbish from useful stuff like pillows, chargers, cords, etc. After cleaning, you’ll need to put those valuable components back into your car. Once you’re done, pull out the mats with care, ensuring smaller dirt particles like sand and food grain don’t fall on the carpet below.

Step Two: Clean the Mats

Washing car mats with pressure washer

If you have fabric mats, vacuum and scrub them properly with a mild solution of your auto cleaner or car wash soap. For rubber mats, rinse them with running water and apply the auto cleaner. Then, scrub the mat with a brush and re-rinse it with water. A car wash soap will also do the trick.

Whatever mat you have, wipe them with a microfiber cloth after the scrubbing or hang them to run out and dry. Just be careful not to expose them to direct sunlight for extended periods, as they may fade.

Step Three: Vacuum the Floor and Seats

Vacuuming car floor

Slowly and meticulously vacuum every bit of the floor while moving your seats as far back and forth as possible to reach those areas that are usually out of sight. Do the same with the chairs, making sure to get the folds between the seats and backrests to remove as much dirt as possible.

Step Four: Dust Other Parts of the Car

Brushing car air vents

Aside from the floor and car seats, you will likely find dust particles on your dashboard, steering wheel, side pockets, door handles, air vents, radio, cup holders, and center storage. A damp microfiber towel is sufficient to clean places like the dashboard and door handles. But for storage locations and cup holders, get ahold of a brush and sweep them while vacuuming. This will help to loosen the dirt so the vacuum can suck them in easily.

Step Five: Wash the Door Jambs and Sills

Dirty car door jamb

Your next step is to wash the door sills and trunk. Most detailers use steam cleaners to clean door frames and thresholds before wiping them with a dry microfiber cloth. Your all-purpose auto cleaner or car wash soap are good alternatives. Simply spray it and wipe the area you sprayed with a microfiber towel.

Step Six: Clean the Headlining

Car roof shown from the inside

After cleaning the bottom, move to the top. Spray your auto cleaner on a soft-bristled brush, spread it gently over an area of the roof lining of your car, and wipe with a dry microfiber cloth. Repeat this process till you cover the whole area.

Neither spray chemicals directly onto the headlining nor wipe it with a heavily soaked microfiber cloth. This should preserve the integrity of the glue that bonds the lining material to the car roof.

Step Seven: Clean and Protect the Seats

Brushing a car seat

Spray the all-purpose auto cleaner on your car seat (for fabric seats) and spread it carefully with an upholstery cleaning brush. This can also be done with a nylon brush—just ensure the bristles are not too stiff. For leather seats, apply your leather cleaner to your brush or microfiber cloth and spread gently on the surface. For both types of seats, after the brushing, wipe them clean with a dry microfiber cloth to eradicate excess detergent.

Cleaning your seats is usually enough, but you can go the extra mile by protecting them. Depending on the seat cover, spread a dedicated upholstery or leather impregnation product over the entire seat surface using a microfiber cloth and leave it to dry. This will help maintain your seats’ integrity and protect them from UV rays, dirt, and mechanical damage.

Tip: If your steering wheel has a leather covering, include it in this step.

Step Eight: Clean and Protect the Interior Trim

Cleaning dashboard

This includes the door covering and their pockets, the gear selector area, and the dashboard. Dip a microfiber cloth in water and squeeze until it’s just damp. Use this to clean the relevant areas. Use soapy water for particularly dirty areas.

You can also use a cabin care product. Most are suitable for multiple surfaces, including plastics, dashboards, and lacquered surfaces. To use this product, spray it on a microfiber cloth, spread it on the relevant surface, and wipe any remnants with a clean towel.

Step Nine: Clean the Windows

Car window cleaning

If you’ve not already dedicated time to cleaning your car windows, include that in this routine. However, your focus will be on the inside instead of cleaning both sides. Again, microfiber cloth soaked in soapy water and wrung dry should be enough.

But if you want shiny windows without streaks, a dedicated glass cleaner is your best bet. They’re easy to use and do not leave any marks behind. If you have one, spray it on your microfiber cloth, rub the glass thoroughly, and polish it using the dry side of the cloth.

Windshields are a bit more challenging to clean due to their size and slanted orientation. While you can use a microfiber cloth, an extendable car wash brush is an easier alternative.

Tip: It’s easier to clean the inside of your windshield from the passenger seat as there’s no obstruction from the steering wheel.

Step Ten: Elevate the Fragrance

Car air freshner

The only thing better than a clean car interior is a clean interior that smells nice. A car air freshener or diffuser is a cheap way to achieve a uniform scent in your car and elevate the overall riding experience.

If the air freshener is in a spray can, sprinkle it on top of your mats. When you turn on your AC, the air circulation will do all the diffusion. This should also prevent direct contact with the rog underneath or splashing into vents.

How Often Should You Clean Your Car Interior?

You should clean your car interior thoroughly at least once a month. Of course, an everyday family car will likely need to be cleaned as early as two weeks or even weekly, thanks to the sheer busyness.

However, if you rarely carry passengers or use it, you’ll find that there’s only the odd carpet, seat, or even nothing to clean. In that case, you can leave the car for up to three months or even longer. Just pay attention to the dashboard and infotainment area, as they tend to accumulate dust.

Tips to Keep Your Car Interior Clean

Even if you have a set timeframe for washing your car—every two weeks, one month, etc.—you don’t have to neglect your interior in between. In fact, you can even prolong the intervals between washes by following these tips:

  • Provide a trash bin for your vehicle. This greatly reduces the litter in your car. For the best results, get a car trash container that has a lid, hangs from the front seat headrest, and is waterproof. A simple plastic bag can also do the trick. Just make sure to take out the trash when full.
  • Wipe cup holders whenever there’s a drink spillage or snack crumbs in them. You can easily do this with a microfiber towel (leave one in the car if you haven’t already).
  • Remove things you don’t need from your glove box and organize it using a purse, folder, or mini-expanding file.
  • Keep upholstery wipes in your glove box to mop up accidental spills. A microfiber towel can work too.
  • Endeavor to dust off as much dirt, mud, or snow as possible from your shoes before hopping into your car.
  • Make it a habit to take out and shake the dirt off your floor mats at least once a week. This reduces the amount of work you’ll do on your cleaning day.

Make Your Car Interior as Pristine as the Exterior

Now you know how to clean a car interior without missing any areas. Next time you’re washing, follow the checklist and tick things off as you go. Check out our simple-to-follow guides on washing and drying your car.


How Long Does It Take to Clean the Interior of Your Car?

If you want to clean your car interior expansively, it could take you about 4–6 hours. Of course, the amount of dirt and stains in the car and the date of the last cleaning play a significant factor in determining how long it would take you.

What Should You Not Clean the Inside of Your Car With?

Do not clean your car interior with common household disinfectants like bleach, hydrogen peroxide, benzene, thinners, or other harsh and abrasive cleaners. Cleaning your car interior with these things will damage its upholstery and interior surfaces.

What Is the Fastest Way To Clean the Inside of Your Car?

The fastest way to clean the inside of your car is to follow a checklist. We recommend starting by decluttering the interior before cleaning the mats, vacuuming the floor and seats, and dusting the dashboard, steering, door handles, cup holders, etc. Next, you should wash the door jambs and sills, clean the headlining, and clean and protect the seats, interior trim, and windows. Finally, you should elevate the fragrance with an air freshener or diffuser.

How Much Does It Cost To Clean the Inside of a Car?

Cleaning and detailing the inside of your car can set you back $50 to $300, depending on your location, vehicle size, and condition.

Haroun Adamu
Haroun Adamu is the founder of TorqueDial. He followed the automobile industry for several years before covering it officially for HotCars and Vehicle History. This experience would spark a chain of reactions, eventually leading him to create this site. However, the final push to launch TorqueDial was his first car purchase, and he’s not looked back since.

Comments are closed.

You may also like

More in:Detailing