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Cleaning Materials and Tools

If you have a decent vacuum cleaner and an assortment of cleaning products, you already have most of the needed items. Throw in a variety of towels, brushes, rags, and sponges, and you’re ready to proceed.

Vacuum Cleaner. A vacuum cleaner with an extension hose and hand-held attachments is ideal – you’ll need attachments to clean carpets and tight, hard-to-reach nooks. A steam cleaning machine can be helpful too.
Chemical Cleaning Products. It is likely that you already have the necessary products on hand to clean surfaces including vinyl, plastic, upholstery, and carpeting. Take a quick inventory your car’s surfaces and assemble a basket of your favorite cleaning products.
Wiping and Polishing Materials. For serious detailing work, you need a wide assortment of towels and rags – everything from terry cloth towels for scrubbing to lint-free, fine cloth rags for cleaning and polishing. For a beautiful shine on surfaces without the worry of scratches, you can’t beat a microfiber cloth. Before you start, make sure the cloths are free of any residual chemicals.
Brushes and Applicators. Different-sized brushes are a must for cleaning dust from air vents and other hard-to-reach places. Depending on the cleaner, you may need a stiff-bristled brush, sponge, or rag. See instructions on the label and be sure to use the proper applicator – it can make all the difference.

When using cleaning products on your car’s interior, be certain that they are meant for your car’s surfaces. If in doubt, test it on an inconspicuous area. If a blemish or stain results, it will be hidden from view.
Carpets and Floor Mats

This is a good place to start given carpets and floor mats tend to be the dirtiest. However, depending on how dirty the rest of the interior is, you may want to clean the carpet last – if the cleanup of the seats and dash creates a mess, you will not have to redo the carpet.

Before you begin, remove all coins, papers, junk food wrappers, and other objects that have accumulated. Slide seats forward and backward to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Floor Mats

Remove the floor mats and vigorously shake the dirt loose. Some mats have deep indentations to trap water and melting snow from your winter boots, and dirt can become caked between the grooves.

If a good shake is not enough, try loosening grime with a stiff brush. Clean between the grooves with your vacuum cleaner’s bare hose nozzle. Once all the mats are dirt-free, wash them out with a strong jet of water from your garden hose. Allow them to air-dry completely. If you wash mats with a detergent, make sure the cleaning product will not leave mats slippery and unsafe while driving.


The three main types of material used for car seats are leather, vinyl, and cloth upholstery, each requiring different cleaning methods. Give your seats (and the areas around and between them) a thorough vacuuming to get as much dirt off the seats before applying any cleaning compound.

Luxurious leather does have a drawback: keeping it clean and looking new can be difficult. As time goes by, dirt and grime become embedded into the surface, possibly changing lighter-colored leather to a dingy shade. Fortunately, a good leather-cleaning product can take care of that in no time.

Most leather-cleaning compounds must be sprayed or applied to the seat, worked into the material by rubbing with a towel. If using a towel, make sure to flip it often so that you are constantly using the clean side. Once the cleaning process is complete, dry the seats with a microfiber cloth.

Allow a couple hours for the leather to dry thoroughly. Then, apply a leather conditioner to keep the material supple. You can both wash and condition the leather if you use a two-in-one product, such as Weiman Leather Cleaner & Conditioner.


When cleaning cloth car seats, you must ask yourself a few questions. Are there any tough stains you have to take care of? Do the seats need a general cleaning or do you also have to get rid of nasty odors? These factors will dictate the type of product or method you use.

A multipurpose upholstery cleaner, such as Tuff Stuff ($3.47), can work well. But if you have problem stains, you may need a specialized stain remover, such as Scotchgard Carpet and Fabric Spot Remover ($11.61). You may also want to use a household odor elimination spray if the products used up to this point have not left your car smelling fresh. Try Febreze Free Nature Fabric Refresher ($8.89).

When dealing with a tough-to-clean cloth seat, use caution. The more liquid cleaning products you use, the more damp the seats become -fabrics that soak up too much moisture won’t dry completely, leaving your car smelling musty.

To minimize using harsh chemicals and run the risk of wet car seats, sprinkle some baking soda on the seats. After several hours, vacuum the baking soda and your car should smell nice and fresh. Just remember: the longer you let the baking soda sit, the more odor it absorbs.

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