How To Clean Car Upholstery: Step-by-step Guide

It is pretty crazy how dirty the inside of your car can get.

From the kids making a mess to you putting off cleaning it for another month. Before you know it your car can start to get a little ripe and really dirty!

It can get to a point where the thought of giving it a good clean is really overwhelming. The truth is when it comes to cleaning car upholstery is does not have to be that hard or complex.

Today I am sharing with you my strategies, solutions, and tips for keeping the inside of your car nice and clean.

Break It Down Into Fabric And Plastic

Not all cars are the same, but for me, the best way to go about cleaning the car interior is to break it down into two sections.

Some people may break it down into even more than this, but I feel that is not needed and just makes things more complex.

You have your fabric and your plastic! Clean one and then clean the other. It makes things much easier and more manageable for you. I suggest that you start with the plastic.

Clear Out The Clutter From Floors

Clear Out The Clutter From Floors

Before we even start with cleaning the car upholstery, you need to clean out the clutter.

This means the empty juice bottles tossed in the back, the leftover cookies that the kids have hidden under the seat and the million little things crammed in the door.

Getting rid of the rubbish is the first place you need to start. Grab a rubbish bag and just start filling it with all the junk you can find.

There is no point vacuuming the car seats if five minutes later you are picking up cookies from under the seat that will get crumbs over your freshly vacuumed leather seats.

Cleaning The Dashboard And Doors

polishing by rag black car door

No matter if the interior of your car is mainly made of plastic or vinyl, cleaning it is not as hard as many people will have you believe.

In extreme cases, you may need to purchase and use a stain remover from the shop.

However in my experience and I am talking here as a person who is messy and also who has two kids that are messy, baby wipes are the answer!

I prefer the cheaper baby wipes as I like them to be fragrance-free, but go for whatever floats your boat. I always have a set of baby wipes in the car.

When it comes to cleaning the dashboard, the trays on the back of the car seats, the steering wheel and anything else that is not made of fabric, baby wipes get the job done and they get it done fast.

A quick going over is usually all it takes to get rid of dust and smaller stains. Sometimes you need a little elbow grease, but that is not a big deal at all.

So before you go and spend a fortune on different kinds of special car cleaners, try using baby wipes. I personally do and it cleans the car better than anything else I have tried so far.

Cleaning The Fabric: Seats And Floor

washing the fabric

When people talk about cleaning car upholstery it is usually the fabric parts of the car that they are talking about.

Things like mats are nice and easy as they can be removed, but what about the floor and of course the seats?

The issue here is that cars come in different designs.

We had a Nissan Note that was a nightmare to keep clean as the seats had this weird mesh type design to them and stuff would get stuck all the time!

The point I am making is that while I have some general tips for you, you need to find what works best for your car.

Vacuum The Car Seats And Floor First

vacuum the car seats and floors

The first thing to do when it comes to cleaning car upholstery is to use a vacuum cleaner. If you do not have a cordless one, get an extension cable and do it that way.

Most vacuum cleaners that are specifically made for cars will have a wide range of accessories and tools to make the job easier.

I like to use the upholstery tool that my vacuum has and I get in real deep and give the seats a proper good scrubbing. 

I find that this tends to be enough to get rid of major messes and after a good vacuuming my car upholstery is nice and clean.

However, as I said I have kids and they are no strangers to getting chocolate on the back seat or even worse sick!

In these cases, the trusty vacuum cleaner is not enough and I will go to the store and buy one of the ten million products that are designed with keeping the car clean in mind.

In my experience no one product is better than the other, go for one that you like the smell of and try that.

In some extreme cases, you may also want to look into car shampoo, but in all honesty, I have found that this takes an age to dry.

What About The Old Car Smell?

cigarette smell in car

Cars start to smell it is a simple fact of life. Of course, you have your car air freshener which can help, but after a while, things can get really ripe in there.

You can use a store bought car air freshener if you like. What I do though if I feel things are getting a little “smelly” is I use my old buddy white vinegar.

I use a cheap bottle of white vinegar from the store (sometimes two) I fill two bowls with it. I place one on the front seat and one of the back seat and I leave them there overnight.

The idea here is that these will absorb in all those yucky smells. I would advise that you take out your car air freshener when you do this as having it in there with the white vinegar is kind of defeating the purpose.

The next day, take out the bowls and leave the windows open to help the white vinegar smell leave the car.

I find that baby wipes and a vacuuming once or twice a month is usually enough to keep my car clean and that is with two kids making a mess of it.

Some people will have you believe that in order to clean car upholstery you need about ten different cleaning products to do so.

This is not the case at all and if you try and keep on top of it, your car will never get in such a dirty state that you would rather buy a new one than clean it!