Your Car's Interior
With so many different steps in the overall cleaning and protection of your car interior, we will break the care of your interior into sections. If you are familiar with a section, just skip ahead. This is meant to be informative for everyone. We will cover Carpet and Upholstery cleaning, Leather and Vinyl cleaning, Leather Protection, Dash and Door Cleaning, Speedo Cluster and Electrical Component Precautions and Headliner Care.
How to Shampoo Your Carpet, Fabric and Upholstery
First off, this section DOES NOT apply to the headliner, so don't try any of this on it. Alright, now with that out of the way, here we go. Cleaning the carpeting of your vehicle is easy and does not take very much time at all. The reward of peace and cleanliness that a clean car interior provides is far greater than the little time it takes to carry out this simple task.
Organize your vehicle's interior. Pick up any items that are lying on your vehicle's carpeting. Put away any loose objects you may have floating around your car. There are plenty of specially made car-organizer products available, but many vehicles now have their own built-in organizational compartments which are equally as handy. Take out as much stuff as possible. Including all Floor Mats.
Vacuum your vehicle thoroughly. Reach under the pedals, seats and crevices around the car to vac up all remaining dirt, crumbs and trash from the floor of your vehicle.
Use carpet spotter or carpet shampoo and a good brush or Hot Water Extractor. to clean your car's carpets and floor mats, spray spotter on any stains. For any bio related stains, use an enzyme cleaner. Use a mildly firm brush or Orbital Brush pad to scrub the carpet (or mats) of stains or stuck on stuff. Next, shampoo with a Hot Water Extractor per instructions of the unit you are using. Alternately, spray Carpet Shampoo on the carpet and fabric. Let Shampoo set up on carpet for 5-10 minutes. Dip the same brush in a bucket of clean water. Shake off excess. Scrub carpet and fabric front to back and left to right in a cross-hatch pattern. Towel dry.
Let your car dry out. This is important, as you don't want moisture to fester and not evaporate. Open all the doors to your car, and let it sit out in the sun. You should probably wait at least a few hours. Go back and feel your carpets. If they are still damp, give them another hour or so. If not, your job is all done.
How to Clean and Condition Leather and Vinyl in Your Car
Do you have Coated or Uncoated Leather?
Most leather upholstery in American and Asian made cars are plastic coated, with a surface layer made of vinyl. This is a way of protecting and coloring to match interior scheme. If your car is European, on the other hand, it might have “naked” leather, in which case the surface would be that of the original hide with no protective finish.
Not sure which kind of leather is in your car? Find an inconspicuous area where you can apply a tiny droplet of water. If it leaves a spot, the upholstery in your car is not coated.
How to care for uncoated leather
While naked leather “breathes” and easily absorbs conditioners, it doesn’t repel liquids the way vinyl-topped upholstery does. For this reason, you’ll need to use a quality leather conditioner in addition to a cleaner. Look for products that are PH-balanced and safe to use on uncoated leather, to ensure you’ll restore your leather’s natural beauty and smells without removing color.
Spray some of the leather & vinyl cleaner on the spot that needs cleaning. Agitate cleaner with the leather upholstery brush. Use a microfiber towel to wipe off all of the shampoo and dirt. After you’ve removed all of the moisture using the microfiber towel, it’s time to add a leather conditioner to re-soften the leather and put some UV protectant on it to protect it from cracking and fading.
Note*: Even though it says “Leather” Conditioner, you can still use it on your vinyl. You want to use the UV inhibitors to help protect anything from fading.
When you’re going to use the leather conditioner, you never want to spray it IN the vehicle, you want to spray it on the pad. That way you know exactly where the product is going. Work the conditioner on the pad into the leather on the spots you’ve cleaned. On vinyl, you can just wipe over it to get the benefit of the UV inhibitors.
How to care for vinyl-coated leather (Dyed Leather)
The protective, plastic surface of vinyl-coated leather makes it virtually care-free. There’s no need to use a leather conditioner since it won’t be absorbed.
Instead, maintain your car’s seats the same way you would any vinyl upholstery. The best way to do this? After cleaning, use a high-quality interior dressing with protectant or the same leather conditioner to prevent fading, cracking and stains.
Door Panels, Dash and Center Console
Door panels are primarily made of vinyl or plastic with some sections of cloth and, in higher-end cars, you may also find some leather. The vinyl, plastic and leather that is used on door panels is usually pigmented/painted and then protected with a clear coat. For this reason, you do not want to be overly harsh or use a harsh cleaning product on these surfaces.
You will need a microfiber towel and a small brush for most of the cleaning. I highly recommend that you spray the product on your towel as opposed to the door panel itself. Alternately, if you have access to a air compressor, a Tornador is a very handy tool for any detailer.
There will be occasions where the soiling on the panel is so much that you will have to spray it and let the cleaner dwell…but for the most part, spraying the product on the towel is recommended – this way you won’t get the cleaning product into areas that you don’t want it. Simply spray the towel and, starting at the top of the door panel, work your way down to the bottom using a mild brush (like a tooth brush) when and where needed to remove stubborn soiling. If the interior is light-colored then you will be able to better see your progress…if it is a black or dark interior then you will have to rely on the level of soiling that gets transferred to your towel to know if you are making progress. Once you have it clean, move on to the other panels.
The dash cluster is also made of vinyl or plastic and will also react poorly to overly harsh cleaning methods/products. Just like you did for the door panels, spray the cleaner on the microfiber towel and, starting at one end, clean the whole dash cluster. Be careful on the clear plastic over the gauges, it will scratch easily – there is no need to apply a lot of pressure on the clear plastic lenses. Whatever you do, DO NOT not use paper towels as they will scratch the plastic. The dash has a lot of crevices where dirt will reside – use a small brush such as a tooth brush to get into difficult areas or try to blow the dirt/dust out with compressed air.
Continue to clean the center console in the same way – cup holders are typically nasty and you may find that you will have to use multiple towels. Also, keep in mind that most center consoles have shiny surfaces, no need to apply a lot of pressure – be gentle or you will scratch these surfaces.
Cleaning Your Car's Headliner
Unlike carpet and floor mats, headliners have very short pile fabric that's extremely delicate and can't be over soaked or heavily scrubbed.
First spray fabric cleaner on a clean microfiber towel. Gently dab the stain with light to medium pressure. Do not scrub hard, push hard, or twist the towel. Too much pressure will stretch the headliner and eventually cause the headliner to sag over time or cheap fabric to ball up with loose fiber. If this was unsuccessful then spray fabric cleaner onto a soft bristle, clean interior brush. Gently agitate the headliner to create a small section of suds.
Immediately blot the suds with a dry microfiber towel to remove the lifted dirt. For stubborn grease stains apply a grease eating interior cleaner to a towel or brush. Dab on the affected area and lightly scrub. If you have access to a steam machine, they can be very helpful if used properly. To do this wrap the head of the nozzle in a microfiber towel. With the nozzle pressure on medium blot the headliner to kill bacteria and to lift most stains. The goal with any technique is to avoid over soaking or over heating the headliner glue which will create a split between the cushion and the roof, causing the headliner to sag over time. When cleaning headliners it's important to try a small test area first, especially if the vehicle is five or ten years old. In some cases, extremely brittle and saggy headliners can only be replaced and not cleaned.