Top 10 Car Interior Cleaning Tips

If you drive a lot for work or have kids and pets, you know how hard it can be to keep the inside of your car clean. Here are 10 cleaning tips and tricks to make your car's interior sparkle again.

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Messy Car Interior
Mark Leary/Getty Images

Clear Trash

The first step to efficient car interior cleaning is to gather the big stuff. Before you pull out the vacuum and cleaning supplies, clear out all the obvious trash. Check everywhere thoroughly. There will likely be trash on the floor, under the seats, and in the seat cracks. Toss out any wrappers, bottles, toys, and other objects that your vacuum can’t handle.

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Soap for cleaning car mats
Veronica Graham for Family Handyman

Remove and Clean Floor Mats

Pull the floor mats out of the vehicle and shake them out as much as possible. This will make vacuuming easier. Scrub them with soap and hot water or a foaming carpet cleaner and allow them to air dry completely before reinstalling them.

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vacuum car

Vacuum Interior Car Seats and Floors

Vacuum both front and back seats, the floor and, if necessary, the trunk. Then, vacuum every area of the vehicle where you can get the nozzle, including under the pedals and along the side door panels. This is a particularly satisfying step in the car interior cleaning process, as it gets a lot of the dirt and grime up quickly. Learn how to clean cloth car seats.

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cleaning car interior with a rag steering wheel

Wipe Away Grime and Dust

Now that the car is vacuumed, grab a soft cloth or cleaning wipes to wipe up all that dirt, sticky stuff, and dust. You can also spray a small amount of car-specific cleaner over the console, steering wheel and the area between the seats to restore that new-car look.

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clean cup holders in car
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Clean Cup Holders

Cup holders can harbor grime, spilled coffee, and dead hair and skin cells (yuck). Try using a cotton swab dipped in a little cleaning solution to reach those difficult areas as well as other crevices. In some vehicles, the entire cup holder is removable for easier cleaning.

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clean car windows

Clean Interior Windows

Spray a window cleaner solution on windows and wipe clean with a paper towel or microfiber cloth. You can also mix one cup of water, two tablespoons of vinegar, and one cup of rubbing alcohol for an effective homemade window cleaner.

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car seat stains

Remove Stains

If there are stains on the seats or on the carpet (and we guarantee there will be, especially if you have kids!) try this homemade solution. In a spray bottle mix two cups of water, one cup of vinegar and about a tablespoon of dish soap. Spray the solution on the stains and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then wipe clean with a wet cloth. If the stain persists, try a product like Spot Shot or Resolve. Spot-test in an inconspicuous area to make sure the upholstery fabric is colorfast.

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dog in car clean pet fur hair
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Remove Pet Hair

If you have a dog, you know the pain of dealing with pet hair in the car. If the vacuum doesn’t remove all the fur, try using a rubber-dipped glove. Simply brush the hair away with your hand, and it sticks to the glove-like magic! To protect your car’s interior from any future pet damage, try a waterproof seat protector like this one. Here are a few tips for repairing your pet-damaged furniture.

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shutterstock_2477262 paint stir sticks samples
Chad McDermott/Shutterstock

Get Into Crevices

Grab a paint stirrer or two next time at you’re at the hardware store. Wrap an end with a microfiber cloth and use the stick to get into those hard-to-reach areas between the seats and around the center console.

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car freshener
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Make a Homemade Car Freshener

Create a homemade car freshener with one cup of baking soda and five drops of your favorite essential oil. Place both the soda and oil in a sealable plastic bag or glass jar for 24 hours. Then shake it up, sprinkle on the car’s floor and let it sit for 20 minutes. When the time has passed, vacuum up the baking soda. The scent will linger, making your car smell fresh and clean!

Rachel Brougham
Rachel Brougham lived through a major home renovation in 2019, knows the ups and downs of home improvement, and loves sharing tips with readers. A veteran journalist of both print and television, she’s won several awards for her writing and has covered everything from the environment and education to health care, politics and food. She’s written for several publications beyond newspapers including Bob Vila, Taste of Home and Minnesota Parent, and she currently writes a weekly syndicated newspaper column. Her memoir, Widowland, about the sudden loss of her husband, was published in 2022. She specializes in everything from home decor and design to lawn and garden, product reviews and pet care. When she’s not writing, you can usually find her tending to her garden (both vegetables and native plants), playing with her dog, watching sports with her family or getting some exercise. A native of Michigan, she currently lives in Minneapolis. An avid user of Instagram, you can follow her @RachBrougham.