Cleaning car interiors

"It's an inside job."

We often spend a great deal of time in our cars so the interior is a good place to start when doing a full car valet.

In this article we are going back to basics. We won't be urging you to buy a plethora of fancy cleaning products, instead we will look at cleaning methods that use only basic tools/cleaning products.

The usual principle of car cleaning, start high and work lower, also applies to the car interior.


Modern car interiors have a lot of plastic surfaces. The plastics pick up grease from our hands and dust builds up on them.

1) Wipe all plastic surfaces with a barely moist (not damp) soft cloth. A microfiber cloth is ideal. This will remove most of the grime and grease.

2) Add a small amount of mild detergent to some warm water - washing up liquid is fine. Then rub the cloth moistened with mild detergent solution on any hard to shift stains and marks.

Special surfaces

Some cars have trim made from carbon fiber, wood or brushed metal.

Take care on these areas, most will clean up just fine with some mild detergent and a good microfiber cloth.

A good furniture polish can work wonders on real wood trim. Remember to use it sparingly and spray it on a cloth first so it doesn't cover the plastics in the car.

Brushed metal can be harder to clean. Start with mild detergent solution and a microfiber cloth. Kitchen shops sell metal cleaner designed for stainless steel sinks and this is usually ideal but ALWAYS TEST IT ON A SMALL AREA FIRST. Beware of metal polishes which when rubbed too hard will remove the brushed finish and create a shiny patch.

Avoid using silicone sprays on the dash. Although it makes it look lovely and shiny when first done it leaves a sticky residue which attracts the dust. If silicone spray gets on the pedals it can be quite dangerous because it makes them very slippery. Using polishes on the dash is generally not a good idea. Most drivers do this once, get blinded by the sun reflecting off, it and vow never to do it  again.

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

Seats and upholstery

Cleaning car seats depends a lot on what they are made of, cloth or leather.

Cleaning Cloth Car Seats

Use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment or the upholstery attachment. Fold the seat fully back so you can get right into the cracks and crevices. Then beat the seat with your hand to bring up any loose particles and vacuum again. Avoid wet cleaning cloth car seats because this can cause unsightly patches.

If you have stains on a cloth seat can use a carpet cleaning spray. We have found the foaming car upholstery cleaning products work well.

Using water, especially warm water, will set the stain in the fabric.  It's best to research the stain and use the correct detergent/solvent mix to remove it. Remember to always test an inconspicuous area first.

Stubborn stains such as chocolate, grease, Biro and blood may require a specific stain removal product. Professional steam cleaning or hiring an upholstery steam cleaner is another option for serious stains.

Cleaning Leather Car Seats

Leather car seats can be cleaned with a barely moist cloth. It's important not to get the leather wet and to buff it dry as you go. A good leather balm will help condition the leather. The big problem with leather is that when it looses its natural oils it tends to crack and split so the aim is to keep the leather supple.

Warning: Using shoe polish on leather seats can stain 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 an even color you may have to do the whole seat.


Cleaning glass can be tricky. Ignore all specialist glass cleaners out there, most will leave a residue on the surface.

TorqueCars was advised by a professional window cleaner that a very slightly damp microfiber cloth is one of the best ways to clean the interior glass. It leaves a streak free finish without any residue. 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 the seats get in the way. It helps to move the seats fully forward whilst working on the rear carpet and then slide them fully back to work on the front carpet. This will allow you to get into the hard to reach corners under you seats and get every last spec of dust.

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 rather than trying to clean them inside the car. Briefly beating your mats against a wall before vacuuming will help to loosen the dirt.

NOTE: To avoid overheating your vacuum cleaner turn it off when not in use and when moving it to work on a different area.

Carpet stains can be dealt with in a similar way to cleaning fabric seats (see above).

Keeping Your Interior Clean

TorqueCars recommends the use of fabric protection. It is generally sprayed on, to dampen the carpet or upholstery, and then left to dry creating a waterproof barrier. Stains will not fully penetrate the fabric or carpet 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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