Best Products to Clean Inside A Car: Household and Professional Options


Cleaning the interior of a vehicle is no easy feat, but it does look great when it’s looking spotless and fresh again. Many car owners are unsure which household products are safe to use on the inside of their car, and which get the best results quickly. In this article, I’ll breakdown each type of surface in the car, and which products are best to clean them with.

The Quick Answer

Most surfaces inside a car can be cleaned with a mild all-purpose-cleaner which is safe for hard-surfaces and textiles, a microfiber cloth and a soft brush. For best results, use a dedicated fabric and leather cleaner, and avoid using a glass cleaner which contains ammonia as it will damage window tints.

Now let’s look at each interior surface in a bit more detail, and talk about the best products to use, and the ones you should avoid.

Interior Plastics

Interior plastics such as the dashboard, door cards and centre console, are best cleaned with an all-purpose-cleaner. A soft brush (detailing or paintwork) and microfiber towel can be used to work in the product and wipe it away. Use a damp microfiber towel afterwards to remove any remaining residue.

Best Household Products to Clean Dashboard and Interior Plastics:

  • All-purpose cleaner (APC) (diluted to an appropriate concentration)
  • Microfiber towel (these do not leave lint like most cotton towels)
  • Soft detailing or paint brush
  • Damp microfiber towel

Best Professional Products:

  • Interior cleaner with antimicrobial properties
  • APC designed specifically for car surfaces which can be diluted to offer better value for money
  • Detailing brushes
  • Microfiber towels
  • Interior detail spray or sealant to protect against UV damage

Avoid These Products:

  • Bleach (this will cause staining)
  • Bathroom or kitchen cleaners (very aggressive and can cause staining)
  • Dish washing liquid (will leave a greasy residue which is hard to remove)
  • Stiff brushes (can cause scratches on delicate plastics)

Quick Tip: if you’re using a paintbrush to clean difficult-to-reach areas such as the vents, put some masking tape around the ferrule (metal part that secures the bristles) to avoid accidentally snagging and causing scratches.

Fabric Seats

The best product to clean fabric car seats with, is a foaming upholstery cleaner worked in with a brush and microfiber towel. All purpose cleaners can also work well on seats but will not have a foaming action and may require more product to remove difficult stains.

Best Household Products to Clean Fabric Car Seats:

  • All-purpose-cleaner (one that is safe for textiles) to clean the majority of the seats
  • Baking soda can be used very sparingly to remove spot-stains (sprinkle onto lightly-damp seats)
  • Medium-stiffness brush to work the product into any stains
  • Microfiber towel to mop up excess

Best Professional Products:

  • Foaming fabric and upholstery cleaner
  • Wet-vac
  • Microfiber towels and medium-stiffness brush

Products to Avoid:

  • Vinegar – this cleans well but can stain and leaves a strong odour behind
  • Laundry detergent – this can be hard to remove and leaves a sticky residue

Quick Tip: leave the doors open for a while after cleaning if you can, to make sure the seats dry as quickly as possible.

Carpets and Mats

Carpets and car mats are best cleaned with a foaming upholstery cleaner or an all-purpose-cleaner which is suitable for textiles. A vacuum should be used first to remove loose debris, followed by the cleaner worked in with a stiff brush. Wipe the area with a damp microfiber towel to remove excess chemicals.

Best Household Products to Clean Car Interior Carpets and Mats:

  • Foaming upholstery cleaner
  • All-purpose cleaner (one which is suitable for textiles)
  • Baking soda can be used very sparingly to remove spot-stains (sprinkle onto lightly-damp surface)
  • Stiff brush to work the product into any stains
  • Microfiber towel to wipe up excess

Best Professional Products:

  • Wet-vac
  • Foaming-upholstery cleaner
  • Fabric sealant to prevent stains in the future by repelling liquids

Products to Avoid:

  • Vinegar – can clean well but can stain and leaves a strong odour behind
  • Laundry detergent – this can be hard to remove and leaves a sticky residue

Quick Tip: spray the mats with air freshener when they’re dry and before putting them back into the car to finish everything off.

Leather

Modern car interior leather has a protective coating over the top to maximise its lifespan. This protective coating usually lasts around 3 years on a brand new car before it can start to break-down. Even if you have brand new leather, it should be treated carefully to preserve its condition and prevent cracking.

Car interior leather should be cleaned using a dedicated leather cleaner and microfiber towel or leather brush. A sealant can then be applied to protect the finish. Avoid using strong all-purpose-cleaners and magic erasers which can quickly degrade the leather and promote cracking.

Best Products to Clean Car Interior Leather:

  • Dedicated leather cleaner
  • Leather-care brush
  • Microfiber towel
  • Leather sealant

Products to Avoid:

  • All-purpose cleaners (promote drying and cracking)
  • Stiff brushes (can cause scratches)
  • Magic erasers (these wear away the protective coating very quickly)

Here is my complete guide to cleaning and caring for car leather, check it out for some top tips!

Quick Tip: newer cars (less than 3 years old) do not benefit from using conditioners on the leather, as these will sit on top of the protective coating and attract dirt and dust. Instead, use a sealant, which will preserve the finish of the protective coating and the leather itself.

Steering Wheel

Rubber steering wheels be be cleaned using an all-purpose-cleaner, however if you are cleaning a leather steering wheel, use a dedicated leather cleaner. Work the product in using a microfiber towel, and soft brush if necessary. Wipe with a damp microfiber towel afterwards to remove any residue.

This is often the dirtiest part of a car’s interior, so make sure you clean it regularly. The finish, whether it is a rubber or leather wheel, should be matte and not shiny. If it has a sheen to it, then this is due to a build-up of oils and sweat!

Windows

Car windows and glass can be cleaned with most household glass cleaners, as long as they do not contain ammonia which will damage the window tint. White vinegar mixed with water (equal parts) makes a good household alternative. Use a waffle-weave or fish-scale microfiber cloth to avoid leaving any lint.

Best Household Products for Cleaning Car Windows and Glass:

  • Glass-cleaners which do not contain ammonia
  • Vinegar and water mix (1 part each)
  • Isopropyl alcohol (4 parts of water to 1 part of alcohol)
  • Waffle-weave or fish-scale microfiber cloth

Products to Avoid;

  • Glass cleaners which contain ammonia
  • Abrasive pads or glass cleaners

Quick Tip: always spray the glass cleaner directly onto the microfiber cloth and not onto the glass, and then spread the product. This avoids any overspray onto the dashboard.

Infotainment Screen

Car infotainment screens should be cleaned with a mild glass cleaner which does not contain any ammonia and a plush microfiber towel to avoid inflicting any scratches. Avoid using brushes or any abrasive pads which can cause damage, and do not use strong all-purpose-cleaners.

Quick Tip: if you notice any fibres from the cloth left on the screen after cleaning, use a short-pile microfiber towel, or a fish-scale cloth to wipe them away.

Door Jambs/ Shuts

Door jambs can be cleaned with a weak all-purpose-cleaner and a microfiber towel, however for best results, a quick detailer spray should be used. This will offer more lubrication to prevent scratches, and leave a protective finish to reduce dirt and dust build up and help prevent water spots.

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Heather

I first became interested in car detailing around 3 years ago and learnt all the main techniques on my very first car. I spend a lot of time detailing my current car, and trying to keep my family's cars looking presentable too!

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