Car Cleaning Tips From The Experts

The Ultimate Guide to Car Deep Cleaning

As you sit in your car, it becomes hard to ignore the result of a neglected cleaning routine. A wasteland of fast-food packaging, empty cans and crunched receipts almost reminds you of the opening of a Mad Max film. Peaks of used, untraceable napkins in the cup holders contrast against valleys of muddy floormats below and you finally say to yourself – Enough!

This Ultimate Guide to Car Deep Cleaning is your saving grace, a manual on how to send that funky smell back into the abyss. Join us as we take you through the only tips, tricks, and recommendations you’ll ever need that could turn your dashboard into a dinner plate! (Although we wouldn’t recommend it…)

Tips and Tricks​

1. Anoint Yourself with a Microfiber Cloth and a Brush

The first thing you will need to tackle is that monument of litter lying around. Grab a bin bag and don’t hold back. Everything loose should come out for the oncoming deep clean; rubbish into the bin while detachable things like floormats and seat covers should be placed outside                    

Now that you have stripped the inside to its bare bones, you should find yourself a microfibre cloth. Sponges are great, but never use them on a car because if enough dirt gets inside, they begin to scratch surfaces rather than wipe. You are going to want to wipe the dust and dirt off the dashboard, console, steering wheel and the inside of the doors.

Got some tricky places to reach? If you are a detail fanatic, a cotton bud will be handy, and if you want to get into the trim lines, all you need is a screwdriver and a microfiber cloth. Simply wrap the cloth around the end of the screwdriver and run it along the seams, nooks and crannies for the best result. You could even spray the cloth with some all-purpose cleaner too.

Extra – a whiteboard eraser is a great way to pick up persistent dirt and grime and works well on almost every surface!

Extra 2.0 – don’t forget to clean the area under your spare tyre!

man cleaning gearbox with cloth

2. A Vacuum and Steamer Makes Things Cleaner!

Now for the dirt located in the hard-to-reach places of your car. Grab a vacuum without the head attachment and run it along every edge and surface. You can even use a scrub to loosen dirt in one hand while using a vacuum in the other, like a janitorial ninja.

A steamer is a gem in situations like these. After you have vacuumed everything, unleash the steamer on the footwell and seats. The steam dissolves deep-set stains, so that ambiguous mark on the back seat should no longer trouble you after a good steaming.

3. Take a Breath of Fresh Air with Clean Vents

If you haven’t already, you should use the brush-vacuum technique on your air vents. We’d recommend a paintbrush for a good reach, or if you are a little wilder, a can of air spray will certainly do the job. You could even use the spray can on the buttons of your dashboard and the crevasses on either side of the seat along with the vacuum.

If you are still finding a question mark over your head regarding the location of that dreadful smell, most likely it is coming from the inner workings of your car. The steamer will come in handy here if you direct it down the vents, or, you can just spray something nice down there and hope for the best.

dirty car air vents

4. Dinner Plate Dashboard

Dashboard cleaning is simple. By now you would have given it a general wipe-over and possibly vacuumed and brushed around the edges and crevasses. The next thing to do is to wipe it over with a microfiber cloth and an interior dashboard cleaner. If you are looking for a more natural solution, a rag and a small amount of olive oil would do the trick. This brings up a nice shine and polish to the dashboard.

Extra – Always remember that olive oil can stain if it drips on other materials. To avoid the risk, go for an interior cleaner bottle instead.

Extra 2.0 – to truly make the dashboard as clean as a dinner plate, give it a quick spray and wipe it with sanitiser.

5. No More Chocolate Stains on your Jeans 

It is not uncommon to find an obscure stain on your car seat, only to look down and find it lovingly imprinted on your jeans. Let’s solve this pickle before it happens again! One of the best tools for removing seat stains is a trusty toothbrush (please use an old one and not yours!). Toothbrushes are perfect for scrubbing the folds of a car seat due to their shape. All you need is some bicarbonate of soda and some water, and those stains will be gone in no time.

What you need to be careful with is high-end upholstery. Cleaning leather car seats usually require their unique tools of the trade to ensure they are protected or else you may make them age, crack and fade. There are plenty of leather seat cleaning kits floating about, but if you would like to make one yourself, scroll down a bit further to the DIY section. The same goes for suede and Alcantara materials - these require their unique cleaning kits to protect the material.

vector image of dirty jeans and cleaned seat

6. Step onto Floormats Cleaner than a Whistle!

Those floormats have been waiting on the side-lines but at some point, you will need to call them into play. You are first going to want to shake the easy-to-remove dirt off them and then smite the remaining stubborn pieces with a vacuum cleaner. A steamer would be a great choice next, as it can prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. If you don’t have one, a simple stain remover would work too. If you don’t have these, then some bicarbonate soda, a scrub, and some elbow grease would work.

You can also throw your floormats into a washing machine – you’d be surprised how good they will come out. With rubber mats you should just wash them off with water – a pressure washer will do the trick even better. Whichever avenue you take, just make sure they are dry before placing them back inside.

7. Find Your Reflection in Your Alloys!

Tyres can be dirty creatures and if you just start scrubbing away, you could do more harm than good. Dirt particles scratch. Make sure to spray the dirt off the tyres and alloys with clean water first before you start finding your reflection. Car wheel cleaning is simply a matter of rubbing soapy water on the alloys with a cloth and scrubbing the remaining dirt off the rubber. Throw a bucket of water over it at the end to wash it all off. Rinse and repeat if you must. For the ultimate shine, you can wax and dress your alloys.

Extra – Are you feeling a bit lazy on this one? A car wash can do much of the work here and will handle any exterior deep cleaning too.

Extra 2.0 – While you are outside your car, you can clean the door locks, so they are running smoother than clockwork. Put a little graphite lubricant (dry graphite powder) in each lock and do yourself a favour!

shiny Vauxhall Corsa alloys

8. Become the Bane of Bacteria

No deep cleaning exists without good sanitising. Without this step, the critters that manage to avoid your efforts will simply come back later with a vengeance. While a ‘the-more-the-merrier’ mindset on cleaning products is valiant, you don’t want to swamp your car with chemical smells. It’s not ideal when your car’s cleanliness looks all so inviting yet it smells like an over-chlorinated swimming pool! Some sanitiser spray in moderation or a steamer is a great way to remove bacteria.

9. No More Squinting Through a Murky Windscreen

We have left this step for the end of your cathartic deep cleaning experience since doing it earlier will just mean you will need to re-clean it! The outside windscreen can be handled with some simple glass cleaner, but the elusive culprit to their state might be the wipers. Double-check that the rubber seam isn’t cracked or missing sections. If they look fine but still smear, try to put some rubbing alcohol on them, but be careful as any spillages will erode some paints/lacquers. If that doesn’t do the trick… well, you might need to replace them!

As for the inside, you will want to remove any dirt, grease and general stains with a microfiber cloth. After that nasty business is over, spray with a glass cleaner and wipe (but not in a circular motion as that just makes more streaks and smudges). To finish, dry off with a microfiber towel.

Extra – Put a little shaving foam on a cloth and wipe the inside of the windscreen. This creates a protective film that stops the windows from fogging up in the morning!

Extra 2.0 – Don’t forget about the top edge of your side windows! Roll them down and give them a good wipe. 

A cleaned rear window

10. Reward Your Crusade with a Nice Smell

Take a second to let all your hard work sink in. You may find yourself asking wonderful questions like - Is that really the same car? Why was that easier than expected? Why did I try to eat dinner off the dashboard? These moments of joy can be consummated by putting a lovely smelly thing inside. A car diffuser is a great little gadget because you can customise it with your favourite smells and essential oils. If you aren’t a fan of lingering tobacco smells, then a tobacco neutraliser would be a valuable purchase too.

Chemicals to avoid

As part of the dos and don’ts, certain chemicals may be found in cleaning products that you should avoid using when liberating your car from its grubbiness. While a clean car means a healthier lifestyle, keep note of the following trace chemicals and what they could do.

  • Formaldehyde (irritant)
  • Ammonia (irritant)
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulphate (irritant)
  • Naphthalene (carcinogenic)
  • Hydrofluoric acid (bad for the nervous system)
  • Perchloroethylene and Methylene Chloride (irritant)
  • Crystalline silica (carcinogenic)

While it will be hard to get by without some form of chemical products, it is best that you also use natural products when you can, like citrus acid, natural oils, vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.

Verboten vector

Homemade DIY products

Speaking of natural products, here are a few simple cleaning recipes made from everyday household items.

1. Clean leather materials with olive oil and vinegar

  • -1 part vinegar
  • -1 part olive oil
  • -A few drops of essential oil for the smell

2. Clean car windows with Lemon Juice and Vinegar

  • -2 parts lemon juice
  • -1 part vinegar
  • -Dilute in hot water

3. Clean headlights with non-gel toothpaste and microfibre cloth

4. Buff and clean your dashboard with Vinegar and mineral oil

  • -2 parts vinegar
  • -1 part mineral oil
  • -1 part dishwashing liquid
  • -Dilute in hot water
collection of DIY cleaning products

How to Prevent and Handle Future Messes​

Don’t Leave it Too Late!

While it’s entirely dependent on how often you use your car as a hotel room, a deep clean such as this one should occur once every four to six months. As you get into the habit of deep cleaning, you may develop smaller habits in addition which might make each deep cleaning easier and easier…

You may be asking yourself if it is worth the trouble and whether you should just get your car detailed professionally, but that kind of money starts to rack up. Plus, you become reliant on other people to sort out the mess and you will never end up building good habits!

Grab a Car Cleaning Kit

If you have gone all out and found yourself sitting on a leather or Alcantara seat, then it’s wise to buy a car cleaning kit specific to that material. It doesn’t stop just there either - car cleaning kits come in all shapes and sizes, including:

  • Car waxing kit
  • Exterior cleaning kit
  • Interior cleaning kit
  • Pressure washing kit
  • Detailing kit

The steps in the ultimate guide didn’t require a cleaning kit. You can get by without one, but they sure do help. If you are struggling to be a chemist by making DIY washing products or hate cleaning your windshields, then a kit for those jobs will be what you need.

Have a Bin in Your Car

Revolutionary, isn’t it? If you are on a budget, you can fill an empty cereal box with a plastic bag and shazam, you have a makeshift bin. This is a great way to get into the habit of throwing litter into something you can dispose of later anyway, rather than compacting it all into the glove box.

Keep Hand Wipes Handy!

Hand wipes are better than sliced bread… at least for cleaning up spills and stains in a car. Keep a few packs in the glove box and you’ll start to notice a big difference in how clean your car can get when you start using them. No more grabbing the steering wheel and door handle with fast food fingers! No more worrying about the next mess!

Line the Back Seats for Your Dog

There’s nothing worse than opening the boot to find it lined with your dog’s hair as if it were a large pillow. A boot liner works like a treat here as all you will need to do is remove it now and then to shake off the hairs. A lint remover could pick up any remaining hairs, but if you are still struggling, turn to your trusty vacuum.

Wax on- Wax off

To some, waxing your car might seem like a bit too much effort, but you will be surprised how well it works. You will only need to do it twice a year and dust and dirt will come off very easily in a wash. In essence, you’re turning your car into a non-stick pan!

Protect Your Cupholders Against Unplanned Spillages

We know how irritating it is to clean cup holders, so why not avoid it together? By simply placing a cupcake liner in your cupholders, you can take comfort in the fact that any leak is taken care of. Keep a stack in your glovebox and swap them out whenever they are expired (as in, when drenched in coffee).

Knock off your shoes

This seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but after a few months, the difference between a footrest with knocked shoes and un-knocked shoes will be astounding. Maybe you can put it into your routine, like doing one of those old-fashioned leprechaun heel kicks before you drive on your merry way!

So now that you have turned your car into a five-star hotel room, you will probably see the quality of your days get that much better. If your car is too far gone to be recovered, or you are simply looking for something a little more liveable, then check out our new and used car stock – we ensure that everything is in the best possible condition before you grab your keys.