top of page


Cleaning Your Car's Interior


Most of the following information is from  Scott Roush is editor of a collision repair magazine and has covered the auto industry for the past seven years. He resides in Detroit and still likes Tiger Stadium more than the new ballpark. 


In many parts of the country, warmer weather is slowly arriving; a sure sign that spring will be here soon. With warmer temperatures comes the urge to go outside and work on projects, after spending several months stuck inside waiting for winter to pass. 

Besides sweeping out the garage, putting in the screen doors and washing windows, one of the annual rites of spring for many people is cleaning out the car. After exposure to snow, grime and salt for months, you need to take time to give your vehicle a thorough cleaning inside and out. 

The interior, in particular, can get dirty quickly not just from the elements but also from dirty shoes and clothes, spilt drinks or food, and a number of other causes. Over time, your car may begin to smell; the leather or vinyl may dry out and become brittle; stains become eyesores; and the color of the upholstery may fade. All of these problems will impact the resale value of your car or truck. 

You should clean your car's interior about every month to prevent dirt and grime from settling into materials. Wipe up stains as soon as they happen. The longer you wait, it will be harder to remove a stain. Always use a clean sponge or cloth when cleaning. 

Here are some tips for how to clean various materials in your car. 

Carpeting and Fabric 

Cleaning carpeting and fabric can do a lot to improve the overall look of the interior. Matted-down, dirty carpeting or stained fabric make a vehicle look old. While there is not much you can do for worn-out carpeting, you can make dirty carpeting look almost as good as new. 

Be aware, a common mistake people do when cleaning carpet or fabric is using too much water. Extra moisture takes a long time to dry and can stay in the carpet or fabric, which may lead to mildew and a musty smell, which will leave these materials worse off then when you started. 

The first step is to vacuum everything thoroughly. You can either use a house-hold vacuum with a hose attachment or go to a car wash that has coin-operated vacuums. Make sure to get all the way under the seats. Also vacuum floor mats, under the floor mats and the trunk. 

Once you vacuumed once, pound your seats with something large like a baseball bat. Watch all the dirt that likely will come flying out. Now vacuum again. Remember, the more you vacuum the less chance your carpet will be permanently matted by ground-in sand or soil. 

You next want to tackle any stains with a good stain remover. Ask an Ultimate Wash® attendant for the most-effective stain remover for your type of stain. Stubborn stains may require a multipurpose degreaser, although you may want to experiment on an unseen location before using it. You don't want to use a product that will discolor your carpeting or fabric. 

When cleaning the entire carpet and fabric, use a stiff scrub brush and a foaming carpet shampoo that doesn't leave a lot of moisture. Afterwards, wipe down the carpet with a dry cloth. While cleaning these materials, it's a good idea to leave the doors and windows open to let it dry out. 

Once the carpeting and fabric are completely dry, treating it with a protectant such as Scotchguard can help it resist future stains. 


When it comes to selling your vehicle, well-maintained leather is a significant plus. On the other hand, leather that looks old and worn could negatively impact the resale value of your car. 

Fortunately, leather is one of the easiest materials to maintain. It's important to care for leather regularly, about every six to eight weeks. There are number of quality leather products on the market. Don't use saddle soap because of its high alkaline content. 

When cleaning your vehicle's leather, work on one section at a time (like a seatback, cushion or door panel). Make sure to clean along the stitched lines, since dirt can wear into the upholstery thread over time. Scrub soiled areas with a stiff brush. Once done with a section, wipe off the cleaner with a clean cloth. 

If a stain remains, you can use a diluted general-purpose grease remover. Again, just as with carpeting, make sure to test it in a hidden area to be sure it doesn't discolor the leather. 

Once the cleaning is done, you want to treat the leather with a conditioner designed to replenish its oils and maintain its suppleness. Apply the conditioner with a slightly damp cloth. Use it sparingly and go over all the leather at one time. Let the conditioner sit for 20 to 30 minutes and then use a clean, dry cloth to remove any excess conditioner. 


This material is subject to the harsh effects of sunlight and pollution, especially at the top of the dash. Treatment of this material is easy, but it should be done on a regular basis. 

Dirty vinyl can be cleaned with a vinyl upholstery cleaner and a scrub brush. Be careful how much cleaner you use on the dashboard. You don't want the moisture from the cleaner to get into the electronic controls and instruments. When cleaning the dash, use cotton swabs to clean around the vents. Once done cleaning, apply a vinyl protectant to keep the material pliable. 


Whether your vehicle has real or imitation wood, never use a harsh cleaner on it. Fake wood often has a polyurethane coating that's easily scratched. Wipe the wood with a damp, clean cloth. Apply a small amount of wax to give the wood new luster. 

When using cleaners on your car, make sure you follow the application instructions on the product's label. Afterall, you don't want to go through all the trouble of cleaning the car and then end up using the product wrong. 

Although you may think cleaning your car's interior is a lot of work, you will be happy with the results. Once you start cleaning your car's interior on a regular basis, the more routine it will become.  Or better yet, bring it to one of Ultimate Wash's ® detailing centers and we'll clean it for you!


Disclaimer:  Ultimate Wash is providing this information to you as a customer service.  We are not responsible for any damage that may occur as a result of you using any of these tips.  For guaranteed results, visit one of our Ultimate Wash locations.

bottom of page