Cleaning the interior of your car often seems a tiresome and long process. Well, that is because it usually is but if you are methodical about it the whole detailing can take you no more than an hour. A lot of people constantly ask us what is the best way to clean a car’s interior and honestly, there are far more than just one answer to this question.
Here we will go through what we think is the most logical approach to entirely cleaning up your car’s interior and making it shine. Every car detailer has his own process and order of steps but if you are just now starting it is best to stick to the basics. So, what are they? Let’s find out!
Interior Cleaning Steps
Once you go through our steps for the first time you will see why we set them in that specific order. Everything follows a simple logic – remove all the stuff from your car that will get in your way, clean it, and get it back to how you like it. Take a look:
- Removing all the unnecessary items and trash from the car
- Cleaning the central console
- Cleaning all the trim pieces, plastic and rubber covers
- Cleaning the inside of all the windows
- Cleaning the seats and upholstery
- Finishing up (airing up the car)
Now, let’s go through all of these steps one by one and see what little details there might be which you can miss or not pay attention to…
Removing all the unnecessary items and trash from the car
One thing that a lot of people skip or do wrong is cleaning all the unnecessary trash and items from the car. If there is one thing that can make it seem like you’ve done nothing after you are finished, that is dust and dirt behind items you didn’t move before the cleaning process.
Remove everything that doesn’t belong to the car (including the floor mats). Any sorts of air fresheners, things hanging from your rearview mirror, things attached to the air vents, cups, items in the storage compartments, etc.
After all that is gone your car’s interior is already 50% cleaned and better looking. Now it’s time to start the actual cleaning.
Cleaning the central console
Customers often ask us which is the first part that we start cleaning. The answer really depends on the car and the person who is detailing it. Despite all the factors that come into play, usually, we start from the dashboard (central console) since it is the part of the car’s interior you look at the most and deserves the most attention. It is also the place which you touch the most so it has to be the cleanest.
The dashboard accumulates a lot of fingerprints, dust, and dirt over time, especially the area right beneath the windshield which everyone forgets for some reason.
It also is the most electrostatic part of the whole interior meaning it will naturally attract the most dust particles from the air inside.
The best way to clean this area is with a moist rag or cleaning wipes. Start from what you think are the cleanest areas and end with the dirtiest ones. Any grime you encounter can be cleaned with a little cotton bud.
Pro Tip: Don’t forget areas that are covered such as the armrest, cup holders, or other places on your dash that have a lid or some sort of cover over them.
For the hard places (around the radio or climate control buttons) you can use a detailing brush or an old soft toothbrush.
Cleaning all the trim pieces, plastic and rubber covers
These usually require something else than a wet rag since they easily get all covered in lines when dried up. There are a number of products which are good for the job and are great to clean all your metal, plastic, or rubber surfaces. Make sure that they aren’t exposed to sun at the moment or after the cleaning since that can be damaging to the materials when combined with the cleaner.
Pro Tip: You can use a trim cleaner/restorer combo that will both clean and make your trim pieces shine like new. The TriNova Plastic & Trim Restorer is our top pick for that purpose.
Cleaning the inside of all the windows
That step is pretty straight forward but it is yet another one that people miss doing. Windows get dirty from the inside almost as fast as they do on the outside but get rarely cleaned. Your car’s ventilation has blowers right beneath the windshield which often blow tiny dust particles onto the inside part of the windshield. Those, combined with moisture in the winter or from a broken AC can create a layer of hard-to-clean mess that will need a lot of Windex. Speaking of that, yes – Windex is perfect for cleaning the inside of your windows (it also works well for plastic surfaces).
Cleaning the seats and upholstery
We won’t go into too much detail here, as we have done a separate detailed article on the topic of getting stains out of your car seats.
If you are looking for some of the best vacuums for car detailing, you can check our full buyer’s guide as well.
As a whole, this process requires a good inspection of your interior and seeing what needs cleaning and what doesn’t. It is good to vacuum all the seats and creases between them, as those tend to accumulate a lot of dirt.
Don’t forget to take out the floor mats and clean them as well as clean the footwells in which they were. Usually the dirtiest part of the car is exactly below the floor mat.
Vacuuming should be one of your last steps, after you’ve cleaned everything else. You start from the ground up and make sure you use all the different attachments of your vacuum in order to get to the tight spaces around the car’s interior. Special points of interest are the footwells, the places below each seat and behind the driver’s gas and brake pedals.
If you want to clean the seats with the vacuum it is always a good idea to invest in a steam cleaner that can double as a normal vacuum cleaner. Our suggestion is the McCulloch MC1275 Heavy-Duty Auto Cleaner.
Finishing up (airing up the car)
The very last thing you need to do is just let the car “breathe” a bit by opening all of its doors and letting it ventilate. If you used a lot of products in your previous steps, chances are that the interior is now fully covered with chemicals that you should probably avoid breathing too much. Open up the car, let the air do its job and then finish up by moving all your things back into the car.
Now is also a good time to change up your air freshener!
Using leather conditioners or any other type of protection for your seats, upholstery, or trim pieces is always a good idea since it will keep your car fresh and clean for longer.
And remember, keeping a car clean is far easier than not cleaning it for long periods and then trying to fully detail it on the inside. Cleaning a car on the outside can easily be done even after months of negligence but the interior can permanently obtain certain smells and stains if you don’t keep it in a good condition all the time.
So now if someone asks you what is the best way to clean a car’s interior you can proudly answer him that you know all the steps, or… at least the steps that we usually go through. Once you get accustomed to the process, feel free to change that routine up however you see fit. All in all, if you do this once a month, you should be able to enjoy a clean car all the time and will also protect and preserve your car’s interior for a longer duration, ultimately maintaining its value.