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How To Clean Your Car’s Interior

by Neil Allen /

Often, car owners take much care and pride in the exterior of their vehicle using a good shampoo, polish and wax to keep it pristine, while paint chips or scratches can be taken care of using the excellent Chipex paint touchup system.

However, many either neglect the interior completely or only give the dash and centre console the occasional wipe-down, and hoover the carpets and seats even less frequently.

The thing is, you’re doing both yourself and your car a dis-service by only cleaning it sporadically.

So, why clean your car’s interior?

Unless you vacuum your car regularly, every time you jump in your car you’re pumping up dust from the seats and carpet. That dust can be made up of all sorts of nasty stuff: the carpets will have stuff like general grime from the street, or minute traces of dog dirt from the grass verge tramped in by your shoes, and all that dust them puffs up into the air, and lands on your dash, centre console and in the air vents, which is then blown around the cabin and you’ll be breathing it in.

car interior

The seats may have age-old crumbs of food down the back and in the crevices, which have turned into nasty bacteria, and the steering wheel, gear knob and switchgear are generally a haven for germs, unless you’re particularly hygienic. Skin follicles also come away, and gather in areas you touch regularly, like the window controls, steering wheel, gear shifter surround etc.

car cleaner

University studies show that the average vehicle houses is way dirtier than a house, having 1700 times more bacteria! Testes showed there was 283 different types of bacteria per square centimetre, the gearstick holds approximately 356 different germs, the boot has around 850 types of bacteria, and the cup holders generally has 228% more bacteria than the average toilet seat! Gross, and dangerous too if you’re breathing that in regularly.

Your car’s interior trim will also suffer from a lack of regular cleaning and using protective products, as it is exposed to the sun regularly, which has damaging UV rays that can crack and dis-colour any part exposed to it.

Thankfully, following this quick and easy guide to cleaning your interior should help you combat the germs and bacteria effectively!

Products you will need

The products below are all easily available at most auto stores, or at an online detailing store.

  • Microfibre cloths.
  • A soft interior dash brush. Hard-bristle brushes can scratch shiny finishes, so be wary of those.
  • Car interior trim cleaner. If you have leather seats and trim, you will likely need a separate cleaner for those.
  • Interior dressing. Avoid the cheap ones that leaves a deep shine as this will reflect in your car’s windscreen, and it also comes off on hands and clothes. Try to buy one that has UV protectants in it.
  • A pack of car interior wipes to make maintaining the finish easy.
  • A pack of anti-bacterial wipes. Make sure they do not contain bleach as this will dis-colour and damage the finish.
  • An odour-killing spray.
  • A vacuum with wet and dry capability, or the money to have it wet-vacuumed.

Vacuuming your car

Here are a few step to quickly vacuuming your car. Always vacuum first as dust will naturally kick up and settle on the trim, which you’ll be cleaning next anyway. If needed, have the carpets and seats wet-vacuumed by a professional who will use upholstery shampoo to deep-clean and rid it of more bacteria and germs.

  • Remove all old rubbish such as food wrappers and drinks containers from the carpets, door pockets, centre armrest, cup holders, and the boot.
  • Remove all the car mats – and the boot floor if possible – to allow easy access to vacuum them
  • Vacuum all areas including any upholstery on the doors. Pay particular attention to areas rarely touched, such as down the sides and backs of the seats, the rear parcel shelf, and underneath the front seats.
  • Use the soft bristle brush vacuum accessory and vacuum out all the air vents in the front and rear of the car, including the ones under the seats which can harbour lots of dust. Do this with the ventilation on to get as much out as possible.

Cleaning the dash and centre console

car interior

This looks in-depth, but it’s actually a very quick process.

  • Firstly, use a damp microfibre cloth to mop up the worst of the dust. This stops it from kicking up and spreading further.
  • Use a soft dash brush to remove any crumbs and dust from areas like the window winder controls, steering wheel and its control sticks (wipers, lights etc), the gear shifter surround. You get the idea.
  • Use a ‘friendly’ non-harsh interior cleaner that’ll work on multiple types of surfaces: rubber, plastic, carbon fibre, wood, metal etc. Always use a soft microfibre cloth in other to minimise scratches.
  • Make sure areas that hold food and drink are especially well-cleaned: cup holders, door pockets, the storage are under the centre arm rest.
  • Next, use an interior dressing on the dash and interior trim. Again, make sure you get the correct one for the correct surfaces, as one may be suitable for plastic and rubber but not for leather or metal.

sports car seats

If needed, use a leather balm to keep the leather supple and protect it from cracking and the colour fading.


  • You can now buy odour-killing products, some of which will also kill bacteria and germs. Use one occasionally to rid your car of the above nasty stuff. They vary in type, and always make sure to adhere to the instructions when using them.
  • Keep a good quality microfibre cloth in your car’s door pocket or glove box and use it to regularly wipe down the dash, centre console and doors to keep them free of dust.
  • You can also buy car interior wipes to do the same job, which also add a shine and protect the tim. Here are independent reviews of a selection of them.
  • It’s also good to keep anti-bacterial wipes in your car, especially in winter when there’s a lot of cold and flu viruses about. Use these to wipe down areas that are touched regularly: steering wheel, door handles (inside and out), controls, and a touch screen or separate sat nav if you have one.
  • If you mainly use the air ventilation, every so often whilst driving wind down all the windows and open the sunroof (if you have one), to allow the stale air out and clean, fresh air to blast around the cabin and rid it of dust in the air.
  • Finally: sit back, admire your freshly-cleaned interior!

tan lexus interior

Chris Davies is an award-winning motoring journalist writing for CarProductsTested.com

Photo Credits:

Dirty interior: Michael Theis

Staphylococcus xylosus – Petri dish: Amanda

Legacy GT interior – Clean car interior: Rich Moffitt

Clean leather seats: Bryn Pinzgauer

Really clean car interior – 2012 Lexus RX270 interior: NRMA Motoring and Services


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