Tips for Detailing a Car Interior

If you're prepping your car to sell or you just want to drive a cleaner car that you feel good about, you don't need to bring it to a professional for detailing. With the right tools and techniques, you can make your car's interior spotless.

Here are some tips for DIY detailing a car.

Tools For Detailing a Car Interior

Start With the Big Stuff

The first thing you'll want to do, of course, is take on the bigger, more obvious dirt. Vacuum the interior and carpets thoroughly with a crevice tool that can get under seats, around seat mounting brackets, and inside the foot wells of the interior thoroughly. Slide the seats forward, then all the way back, and vacuum under those areas (and be ready for whatever you might find).

Saturate the floorboard carpeting with a good-quality foaming carpet shampoo. Next, use your scrub brush to ensure the shampoo is worked thoroughly into the carpeting, eliminating any stains you might find. After that, take a microfiber cloth and twist it into the carpeting like you're opening a doorknob. Remember to rotate the cloth frequently so you're working with a clean section of fabric.

Use a similar approach to the upholstery, being careful not to soak the fabric so much that it takes forever to dry. If you have leather upholstery, use a good-quality leather cleaner and conditioner on the seats.

Next, the Glass

Put a few squirts of glass cleaner on the insides of the windows. Using a glass-specific microfiber cloth, wipe with back-and-forth horizontal strokes (not circles) and let dry in between applications. (You may need to repeat this several times to remove all spots or streaks from the glass.) Remember to take a microfiber cloth and run it along the top edge of the window that sits in the window frame—too often, this gets neglected.

Windshields can be difficult to clean, especially the section of glass that's closest to the dashboard. Use an extension tool with a pad at the end, which can make it easier to get it into this tight clearance. Since windshields tend to accumulate a film on the inside of the glass, you may need to repeat this a few times.

Pro Tip

Some of the mess in your vehicle can be avoided with floor mats or floor liners — and they can even increase the value of your vehicle

Then, the Surfaces

Use a good-quality vinyl cleaner and microfiber cloth on the dashboard and door panels for a first pass at cleaning. After the surfaces are spotless, you can start on the crevices and seams. You'll find that this is where your detail brush and cotton swabs will come in handy. For the really tight crevices, use a smallish screwdriver with a shop rag over the tip. For the A/C vents, you'll want to use a swab, but remember to pair that with the vacuum cleaner wand—you don't want to just stir up dust without getting rid of it at the same time.

Remember to address the steering wheel, shift lever, cupholders, steering column, buttons, and map pockets as part of this stage of the process.

Don't Forget to Deodorize

Air fresheners can be a big help in deodorizing the interior. Spray the headliner, carpeting, seats, and dashboard from a distance of 12 to 14 inches (don't saturate them). Locate the A/C system's intake and spray a generous amount of the aerosol into it, with the A/C on recirculate or max A/C setting. Let the vehicle idle for 10 to 15 minutes. After that, allow the car to sit for about an hour with the windows up.

There are certainly tips and tricks that detailers use for a much deeper clean than what we've suggested here, but these DIY detailing tips can give you a vehicle that's a lot cleaner and more pleasant to drive!

Last updated January 19, 2021