Car interior cleaning

"It's an inside job."

The interior of the car is where you spend most of your time and it is probably the most obvious place to start when doing a car valet.

Rather than endorsing lots of magic lotions and potions and cleaning fluids we are going to go back to basics and look at cleaning methods using only basic tools/cleaning products.


First off you generally have a lot of plastic surfaces in a car. These get grease from hands and layers of dust building up on them. The basic principle of car cleaning, start high and work lower also applies to the interior.

1) Wife off all plastic surfaces with a moist (not damp) cloth. This should pick up most of the grime and grease.

2) Apply a very mild detergent to some water, washing up liquid is fine but the key here is a very mild detergent mix. Then rub the cloth moistened with mild detergent solution on any hard to shift stains and marks.

Special surfaces.

Some cars have special surfaces in them with trim made from carbon fibre, wood and brushed metal.

Always be very careful on these areas, most will clean up just fine with some detergent and a good micro fibre cloth. A good furniture polish can work wonders on real wood trim but spray it on a cloth first so it doesn't cover the plastics in the car.

Brushed metal is harder to clean. Kitchen shops will sell a metal cleaner designed for stainless steel sinks and this is usually ideal but YOU MUST TEST IT ON A SMALL AREA FIRST. Some polishes when rubbed too hard with remove the brushed finish and create a shiny patch.

Do not use silicone sprays on the dash, it may look nice and shiny but leaves a sticky residue which attracts the dust and when this gets on the pedals it can be quite dangerous because it makes them extremely slippery. Using polishes on the dash are also a bad idea. Most drivers do this once, get blinded by the sun reflecting of it and vow never to do it  again.

Don't overlook the interior of your car when it comes to cleaning it. You spend more time looking at this than the outside.

Seats and upholstery

Cleaning the seats depends a lot on what they are made of. So we will divide these cleaning tips into sections.

Cloth seats

Use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment. Run this over the surface and be sure to fold the seat fully back so you can get right into the cracks and corners. Then beat the seat with your hand to bring up any loose particles and repeat the process. Avoid wet cleaning seats as this can cause unsightly patches to appear.

If you have stains on a cloth seat you will need to use a carpet cleaning spray.

We've found the foaming car upholstery cleaning products to work quite well.

Stubborn stains such as chocolate,  grease, Biro and blood will generally require other proprietary brands of stain removals.

Using water, especially warm water will set the stain in the fabric so research the stain and use the correct detergent/solvent mix to remove it.

Leather seats

These are cleaned much in the same way as the dashboard and plastics with a moist cloth. It is important not to get the seats wet and buff them dry as you go. A good leather balm will help condition the leather. The big problem with leather is that when it dries out it tends to crack and split so the aim is to avoid the leather from drying out.

Please note that using shoe polish on leather can cause staining on light colored clothing. You can buy leather dyes that dry out unlike the typical wax shoe polish so these are a much better bet but to get a colour match you may be committed to doing the whole seat.


Glass cleaning is something that eludes many.

Ignore all specialist glass cleaners out there. Most will leave a residue on the surface. A professional window cleaner recommended to me that a very slightly damp micro fibre cloth is one of the best ways to clean the glass inside your car. It leaves a streak free finish. If you are leaving damp patches on the glass then your cloth is too wet. You really only need to spray the cloth and work the mist into it for this to work well.

Cleaning car carpets

Cleaning the carpets in your car is a pain because of the seats.

It does help to move the seats fully forward whilst working on the back carpet and then slide them fully back to open up the front area.

This method will allow you to get right into the hard to reach corners under you seats and get every last spec of dust and dirt.

TorqueCars find that using a stabbing motion with the brush attachment works quite well on carpets.

If your car is fitted with mats then remove these and just run your vacuum cleaner over them as this is much easier than trying to clean them whilst inside the car.

NOTE: Your vacuum cleaner is very likely to overheat whilst cleaning a car so be sure to turn it off frequently and whilst you relocate to a different area.

Carpet stains can be dealt with in a similar way to the method described for cleaning fabric seats.

When you have finished cleaning your car you want to keep it that way. We strongly recommend the use of a fabric protection. It is generally sprayed on to dampen the carpet and then it is left to dry creating a waterproof barrier on the fibres it protects. This way any stains or marks will not fully penetrate the fabric and will just lift off.

To discuss car cleaning in more detail please join our friendly forum where we cover all aspects of car ownership, diy maintenance and general tuning tips.

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