Skip to main content

Car Interiors 101, Part 2

Workspaces & Tools  /   /  By Chad Tyson

After all that work to restore your car’s interior to pristine condition, you’re going to want to keep it in good shape. Sure, you could shell out a couple hundred dollars for a professional detailing shop to make your interior spic and span, but if you can spare a few hours on the weekend, you can get the job done, save some money, and spend time with your car.

Let’s start the cleaning from the top, that way we won’t need to re-vacuum the carpet at the end. Cloth headliners won’t last long with heavy scrubbing—you’ll rip a hole in the fabric faster than you can blink. Don’t use too much water either, as the glue holding the cloth to the foam backing will break down. In general, don’t use a vacuum, instead use mild soap with a small amount of water on a cloth or sponge and rub gently. Wipe the soap off in the same fashion. Vinyl headliners will stand up to more rigorous cleaning.

Seats should be vacuumed first to remove the loose dirt, and then sprayed with an appropriate fabric cleaner. Scrubbing the seats with a brush manually is fine; just go easy as you don’t want to lift the fibers from cloth seats. For particularly dirty cloth, try shampooing the fabric. Leather seats need a different cleaner than their cloth counterparts. Regular soaps can dry out the leather, so use an oil-based cleaner. And don’t forget to recondition the leather to keep that healthy glow. For vinyl seats, avoid oil-based soaps as they can cause the vinyl to harden. Mild detergent and water will work just fine.

2012 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance vintage interior

When wiping down the dash and gauges, use care not to scratch any of the clear plastic surfaces. A mild, non-abrasive cleaner and soft cloth should do the trick, perhaps even some disposable wipes. Don’t forget the door and other interior panels can be cleaned at the same time, but I wouldn’t hesitate to break out some elbow grease for those spots where hands or feet usually touch.

Glass can make or break the detailing job. A smudge or two left behind might make it look like you didn’t even bother cleaning your car. Our favorite products are the foaming spray cleaners. For removal of stickers, bird droppings, sap, etc. using a razor blade is probably the best bet.

Now we’re down to the carpet, where all the trash and crumbs and dirt finally settle. Maybe there are some clean spots shaped exactly like the floor mats resting on top of them. Using a stiff-bristled brush, loosen the ground-in debris tracked in since the last time you vacuumed. Try to sweep it all to one area in each of the foot wells for quicker vacuuming. If you discover any stains at this point, spray it down with a carpet cleaner and brush again.


Remember to test cleaners first on a small, out-of-sight section for color steadfastness and other concerns. You don’t need to spend a lot of money to maintain a great-looking interior. Some detailing kits can retail for $1,000, but less than $20 can buy you all the material you need for an enjoyable afternoon with your car. A clean interior is an inviting interior.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? To lessen the need for cleaning your car frequently, try adopting a few policies to keep the cars clean. Shake or knock off debris from your shoes before you get in. And eating inside your car is a surefire way to dirty things up quickly. Kids, dogs, friends and partners may not follow your plan for new found car cleanliness, but at least it’s a start.


Missed part 1? Click the link to start at the beginning: Car Interiors 101, Part 1

About the Author

Related Posts

Car-mounted cameras can produce a record of a traffic accident or create a vacation travelogue.

The Ford Restoration Parts program authorizes parts for vehicles ranging from a 1908 Model T to a...

Digital tools are invaluable for diagnosing many engine problems, but not all of them.

Comment Using Facebook


Leave a Reply