How to Detail a Car Interior Step by Step

Having a clean car interior just simply makes driving more fun.

It also extends the life of interior parts like leather seats and dashboards.  Which in turn, helps maintain resale and trade in value.

DIY detailing will save you money and definitely provides a sense of accomplishment.

Let’s get started on how to detail a car interior step by step.

How to Detail a Car Interior Step by Step

Get Your Materials Ready Before You Start

In terms of detailing materials, we break it down into “must haves” and “nice to haves.”

Must have materials:

  • Microfiber cloths
  • A car vacuum cleaner
  • Soft bristled brush
  • All purpose, no residue cleaner (e.g., Chemical Guys)
  • Glass cleaner.

 

Mr Pink Car SoapMicrofiber Car Wash Mitts

Chemical Guys Microfiber Towel

Nice to have materials:

  • Car freshener and / or Febreze dryer sheets
  • Specialized car cleaning soap for deep stains (e.g., foaming fabric cleaner)
  • Wet/dry vacuum cleaner
  • Compressed air can for impossible to reach places.

Remove Any Trash or Other Debris

If experience is any guide, 99.99% of drivers have papers, coins, plastic bottles or many other forms of “debris” that cannot be vacuumed.

Check under the seats and floor mats in addition to consoles and side panels.  I’m always amazed at how much I find.

While debris like this won’t harm your vacuum cleaner, it will slow you down.  It’s better to just start with this step.

Vacuum Up Loose Dirt

Cars accumulate dirt in the interior.  Even cars that look “optically” clean on the inside usually have a lot of accumulated dust.

Dedicated car vacuums work best, mainly because they have strong suction and all the necessary attachments to clean crevices and other hard to reach places inside a car.

Also, they are designed specifically for cars. Any included nozzles or attachments will not harm even soft surfaces like fabric carpets and seats.

Follow these steps:

  1. Remove the floor mats
  2. Move the vacuum attachment back and forth across the carpet to loosen any dirt and get more of a “deep clean”
  3. Vacuum any other places dust accumulates using the proper attachments.  Key areas are all seats, under the seats, consoles and the head liner
  4. For any places that cannot be reached by the vacuum (e.g., inside air conditioner vents or where the windshield and dash meet), a soft bristled brush or can of compressed air will do the trick.

If your floor mats are cloth, vacuum them outside of the car to prevent creating more dust.

Clean the Seats, Consoles and Dashboard

Car interiors have many different surfaces – cloth, leather, vinyl, hard plastic, leatherette – just to name a few.

Cleaning them used to be a much bigger pain.  Today, there are many “super cleaners” that don’t require water and leave no residue.  Adams, Meguiars, Shine Society and TriNova are all great.

My go to all around cleaner is Chemical Guys Premium Super Cleaner. It works on leather, carpet, plastic, vinyl, rubber and even finished wood trim.

Car Guys Premium Super Cleaner before and after

If the surface is only mildly soiled (e.g., dusty dashboard), spray the cleaner on a microfiber cloth and rub in with a circular motion.

Once that is done, simply use the other side of the towel to buff dry.

If carpets or cloth seats are really dirty, then a special foaming fabric cleaner will be needed.  These are simple to use and provide a deeper clean.

  1. Spray directly on the cloth surface that needs cleaning
  2. Agitate very gently with a brush
  3. Dab the area with a clean microfiber cloth
  4. Vacuum for a deep clean. 

Pro tip: Many car cleaners are multi-purpose. Some of the best tire shine products are dry to the touch and smell great. They absolutely can be used on interior plastics and vinyl. Chemical Guys Silk Shine is an example.

Remove Any Lingering Smells

If your car has mild-to-moderate smells that drive your passengers craxy, say from pets or smoking, a nice DIY hack is to use Febreze dryer sheets.

Simply rub the surface area that smells with a dryer sheet.  If it’s the whole car – seats, dash, floor – that’s fine.  You will just need to use a handful of sheets.

Once you are done, place one clean dryer sheet under each seat.  This approach should provide 6 to 8 weeks of odor protection.

Clean Windows

Cleaning the windows is always the last step.  This includes the side windows too.

All you need is a good quality glass cleaner, several microfiber cloths and possibly a degreaser.

A pro tip is to spray the glass cleaner directly onto the cloth.  If you spray the windshield directly, glass cleaner will drip and spot the dashboard that you just worked so diligently to clean.

The inside of your windshield may have a filmy cover that you notice at night. This comes from the “off gassing” that plastic interior parts emit.

All cars do this, and we include a step below to address this problem.

Here is all you need to do for crystal clear windows.

  1. Wipe the window first with a dry microfiber cloth
  2. If there is a filmy residue, use alcohol or an appropriate cleaner to remove the film
  3. Once the window is clean, spray the glass cleaner directly one the microfiber cloth
  4. Use both up and down and side to side motions
  5. Take a separate cloth and keep drying until the window is clean and there are no visible streaks.

Repeat for the side windows.  Since these windows roll down, remember to clean the window edges as well.

Here’s a nice video that walks through the steps.

Conclusion

Some people get intimidated by the word “detailing” and never get started.  Detailing is just another way to say “getting your interior really clean.”

Because most people are likely only focused one or two cars, they have the time to do an even a better job than many professional detailers.  It will certainly cost less.

If you are open to the DIY approach, just follow our guide on how to detail a car interior step by step.

It’s fun, rewarding and will save you money.

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