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How to clean your car interior

Want to to impress friends and family with your clean car? This pro auto detailer shares the best ways to clean window, cup holder, car mat and more!
Cleaning interior of car, vacuum car
Those crushed up Cheerios from six months ago have really got to go.Shutterstock
/ Source: TODAY

If we were to tell you there's a room where people spend hours each day — and even eat in — you'd probably assume it gets cleaned often. But when it comes to the interiors of our cars, that's not always the case.

TODAY Home asked Christian Newman, a professional auto detailer and owner of C&J Automotive Detailing in Slidell, Louisiana, how to clean like a pro. He’s got some great tips for keeping vehicles looking like new, no matter what you put them through.

How often should you clean the interior of your car?

Newman suggests going through the steps below about once a month, or as needed. If you have school pickups, carpools and sports practices on the horizon, you may want to step that up to twice a month.

Michael Dickson, president of the International Detailing Association, recommends a professional detailing about twice a year.

What to use to clean your car interior

There are many different tools that you'll need to clean the car, and not every vehicle will need to have the same issues addressed. However, this list should serve as a good starting point:

How to clean your car interior:

1. Vacuum

Vacuum the carpet, floor mats and upholstery; use an attachment to vacuum out cup holders and any other compartments. A Petrock can be helpful when it comes to snagging unseen hair and fur from carpeted or upholstered areas.

2. Clean door jambs

Newman then recommends moving on to the door jambs since they are "one of the first parts of a car you see when you get in.” These hinges, nuts and bolts, which keep the door in place, may seem inconsequential, but they deserve a cleaning all the same!

Use a microfiber cloth that’s been dampened in a diluted mixture of all-purpose auto cleaner. Use only one section of the cloth at a time, and wipe the entire jamb — around the edges, under the door, around the hinges and where the door meets the body of the car. To avoid outbursts of mold and mildew, pay careful attention to the areas that can hold moisture.

Pro tip: Newman recommends wearing kitchen gloves while working with cleansers.

3. Clean hard vinyl

Follow up by wiping down all hard vinyl areas. Use another clean microfiber cloth, again dampened in an all-purpose cleaning solution. These areas include the dashboard, instrument panel, compartments, door handles, vinyl on doors, seat belt connections, glove box, side compartments in doors, shift and steering wheel.

To clean the crevice between the steering wheel and the steering column, slide a damp microfiber cloth between the two parts and work it to remove dust and dirt. Rinse cloth in clean water when it gets dirty and dampen it again with cleaning solution. Use a dry, 1-inch round parts brush to clean crevices that the microfiber can’t reach.

4. Coat hard vinyl

Follow up by using a protective coating to dress hard vinyl surfaces. Dampen another microfiber cloth with a satin-finish vinyl dressing (like Car Brite Special Protect All or ArmorAll). This allows you to control where the product goes. Wipe all hard vinyl surfaces but avoid the steering wheel since it makes the wheel too slick to hold grasp.

5. Clean cup holders

Spray cup holders with a cleaning solution of your choice, and use a brush to scrub the inside. Finish by wiping the cup holder with a damp microfiber cloth.

6. Clean windows and mirrors

Keeping your windows and mirrors clean is about more than just aesthetics; it's also a safety issue! To make sure the glass stays clear, use a microfiber cloth that's specially made for glass. Fold the cloth in fourths and spray the window with auto window cleaner (yes, it's different than Windex!).

Pro tip: To prevent streaks on the glass, wipe the window horizontally as you clean, and then polish with a dry cleaning of the cloth, wiping in a vertical direction. If it's easier, you can use one cloth for cleaning and another for polishing!

7. Clean upholstery

You'll want to be sure what material your upholstery is made of — the most common options being leather, vinyl or cloth.

Leather upholstery should only be cleaned with a lotion-based cleaner that's made for leather.

“Leather is a hide and, just like our skin, it needs moisturizing; so use cleaners that are lotion-based,” Newman advised. “Never use water or watery cleansers on leather. These can cause the leather to split, crack and dry out.”

Vinyl upholstery can use either a leather cleaner or vinyl cleaner.

Cloth upholstery can be spot-cleaned using a solution of Tide Plus Bleach Alternative and water. (Add just a splash of the solution; enough to make the water soapy.) Dampen a microfiber cloth in the solution, wring out and blot the spot. For stubborn spots, lightly work the stain using a scrub brush and a bit of soapy solution. Suction away cleaning solution using a wet/dry vac. To rinse, lightly spray spot with clean water then suction immediately with a wet/dry vac. Allow to air-dry before using car.

8. Clean floor mats

Remove floor mats from the car and wash them with a soapy solution, using a scrub brush to clean difficult areas. Rinse and allow to dry before replacing in the car.

9. Clean car carpet

While the floor mats are removed, spot clean the car carpet as needed with an auto carpet cleaner. If your carpet needs to be deep cleaned, you're out of luck — it's recommended that a deep cleaning be left to professionals.

“Thoroughly clean carpet once a year but let a pro do it,” said Newman. “Too often, DIY-ers overly wet the carpet, soak the pad and end up with mold and mildew problems.”

It's going to take some time and effort, but once you're done, your car will be sparkling like it just came home from the dealership!

This article was originally published on Aug. 28, 2017.