How to Clean Every Part of Your Car's Interior

From the steering wheel to carpet and the best products to use, here's everything you need to know about cleaning your car's interior.

We all want a clean car interior. Between driving kids around, commuting to work, and running errands, it may seem like you're in your car more than in your living room. But, like any living space, your car accumulates the same clutter and dirt that invades your home.

A clean car has several advantages: It increases its resale value, improves your car's air quality, helps keep your clothes from picking up lint and crushed cereal from the upholstery, and reduces germs and bacteria on surfaces.

Take a good look at your car the next time you climb in. If you can write your name on the dashboard, see traces of yesterday’s coffee in the cup holder, or can’t remember the color of the carpet because it’s covered in trash, it’s time to deep clean your car’s interior. Here's how.

How Often to Clean Your Car's Interior

Just like your home, how often you should clean a car’s interior depends on how you and your passengers use and care for (or abuse) it.

  • As quickly as possible, clean spills from carpets and upholstery.
  • After every trip, remove trash, especially any debris on the driver’s floorboard or dash that could interfere with safety.
  • Daily, give the steering wheel—along with frequently touched handles and controls—a quick cleaning with a disinfecting wipe to remove bacteria.
  • At least monthly, clean the windows to ensure you can see traffic clearly.
  • Twice a year, clean the carpets and upholstery to keep them in good shape. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Vacuum with a hose and crevice tool attachments or shop-vac
  • Soft-bristled scrub brush
  • Bucket
  • Electrostatic duster
  • Spray bottle (optional)
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Cotton swabs
  • Old toothbrush


  • Trash bag
  • Dashboard conditioner/protectant
  • Ammonia-free window cleaner or distilled white vinegar
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Water
  • Baking soda
  • Oxygen-based bleach (optional)
  • Upholstery cleaner
  • Leather cleaner or saddle soap
  • Leather conditioner
  • Carpet cleaner (optional)


How to Clean Your Steering Wheel and Dashboard

  1. Use a Disinfecting Wipe

    Everything your hands touch lands on your steering wheel and controls, so clean them daily with a disinfecting wipe. Let the surface stay wet for at least 5 minutes before drying with a lint-free microfiber towel.

  2. Remove Dust

    An electrostatic disposable duster works well to remove dust from the dashboard. For tight areas in vents, use cotton swabs to capture trapped lint and dust.

  3. Wipe Away Smudges

    To remove fingerprints and smudges, dampen a microfiber cloth with water and wipe down the dashboard.

  4. Condition and Protect

    When everything is clean, condition the dashboard with a protectant to prevent cracking and fading.

How to Clean the Center Console

  1. Remove the Cupholder

    If possible, remove the cupholder components and place them in a small bucket or bowl filled with warm water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Let them soak while you clean the rest of the console. After soaking, wipe with a dishcloth, rinse, and then dry with a microfiber cloth before reassembling.

  2. Wipe With a Microfiber Cloth

    Dampen a microfiber cloth (it should not be dripping, which allows moisture to enter the mechanics of the console) and then use it to wipe down the gearstick and other controls.

  3. Clean Crevices

    Use an old toothbrush or damp cotton swab to clean tight corners and crevices, and then wipe with a microfiber cloth or vacuum debris with the vacuum’s crevice tool.

How to Clean Car Windows

  1. Choose a Window Cleaner

    If using a commercial window cleaner, choose one without ammonia (because it can damage interior finishes) and check the label to be sure the product is safe to use on tinted windows. Alternatively, make a homemade window cleaner by mixing distilled white vinegar and water in a 1:1 solution in a spray bottle.

  2. Lower the Window

    Lower the window slightly so you can get the top edge clean. Starting at the top, spray the glass lightly and then wipe away grime and smudges with a lint-free microfiber cloth.

  3. Avoid Streaks

    To help avoid streaks when cleaning windows, work in a shaded location so the cleaner doesn’t dry too quickly:

    • Keep moving to a clean area of the cloth as you work.
    • Clean the outside of the windows in a vertical motion and the inside with a horizontal motion so you can quickly identify problems and remove streaks.

How to Clean Leather Car Seats

  1. Vacuum First

    Always begin by using the crevice tool of a vacuum to remove dust and crumbs from the seams and the area where the back and bottom of the seats join.

  2. Use the Right Type of Cleaner

     Use a commercial leather cleaner (or saddle soap) and a damp cloth to clean the seats.

  3. Start at the Top

    Following your leather cleaner's directions, start at the top of the seat and work your way down to avoid leaving dirty drips on clean areas.

  4. Condition the Leather

    When the seats are clean and dry, use a commercial leather conditioner to keep the seats supple and soft. Buff dry with a soft cloth.

How to Clean Cloth Car Seats

  1. Vacuum the Fabric

    Use the upholstery and crevice vacuum tools to remove loose dust and dirt from the fabric. Be sure to clean carefully between the back and bottom cushions.

  2. Pretreat Stains

    Use a commercial upholstery cleaner (according to label directions) or a homemade cleaner to pretreat stains. To make your own, create a 1:1 mixture of oxygen bleach powder and water in a small bowl. Use a soft-bristled brush to apply the paste and work it into the stain. Let it work for one hour before vacuuming the dried powder and soil.

  3. Choose or Make a Cleaner

    If you use a commercial upholstery cleaner, follow the directions carefully. To make your own cleaner, add ½ cup distilled white vinegar, 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid, and 1 cup warm water to a spray bottle. Shake well to mix.

  4. Apply the Cleaner

    Starting at the top of the seat, lightly spray the cleaner and work it into the fabric with a soft-bristled brush. (Do not saturate the upholstery because it will take too long for the padding to dry, allowing mold and mildew to form.) Clean all surfaces, including the sides and backs of the seats where kids have left footprints, and don’t forget the seat belts.

  5. Rinse the Seats

    Remove loose soil and “rinse” the seats by wiping them down with a microfiber cloth dampened with clean water. Rinse and wring the cloth often, and change the water as it becomes dirty.

  6. Dry the Upholstery

    Leave windows open as the upholstery dries. To speed the process, set up a circulating fan nearby.

How to Clean Car Carpet

This might be the dirtiest area of your car! To clean your car's carpet, follow these simple steps.

  1. Remove and Clean the Floor Mats

    If you have floor mats, remove them to clean separately. Hose down rubber mats and, if they're carpeted, clean them following the same steps as the car’s carpet.

  2. Vacuum the Carpet

    Carpets are the last area of the car you should vacuum so you catch all the dust and debris that has fallen to the floor from the dashboard and seats. Use the crevice and upholstery brush to slowly cover each area of the carpet.

  3. Treat Stains

    Following the label directions, use a commercial carpet stain remover to treat oil, food, and dirt stains.

  4. Use a Carpet Cleaner

    To do an overall carpet cleaning, use a commercial carpet cleaning powder (dry or liquid) or use the same homemade solution recommended for cleaning upholstery (½ cup distilled white vinegar, 1 teaspoon dishwashing liquid, and 1 cup warm water).

  5. Air-Dry

    Open the windows and allow the carpet to air-dry. Add a circulating fan to speed up the process. Do not replace freshly cleaned car mats until the carpet is completely dry.

How to Remove Smells From a Car

If the first thought after you get in your car is, "It stinks in here," your second thought is probably, "How to I get rid of it?" Follow these tips for a different train of thought.

  • Clean the trunk. The odor may be coming from some lost produce or a stinky gym bag in the trunk. Empty the trunk, discard trash, use a car vacuum on the interior, and hose off the trunk mat (if you have one).
  • Use baking soda. When you have some time while the car is idle, sprinkle the seats and carpet with baking soda. Spritz with a light spray of water and work the powder into the fibers. Allow it to sit for at least eight hours before vacuuming away odor-causing soil.
  • Stash baking soda. If you don’t have eight hours, pour some baking soda into a resealable plastic food storage container. Cut some vents in the lid and stash the container under one of the front seats for the baking soda to absorb odors. Replace the baking soda each month.
  • Use a commercial fabric refresher. Spray the carpet and fabric upholstery with an odor-eliminating fabric refresher. Finish off by hanging a car air freshener to keep the good smells lasting longer.
  • Clean the carpets and upholstery. Freshly cleaned soft surfaces make the car smell much better.

Tips to Keep Your Car Clean for Longer

Now that you have a clean, odor-free car, follow these tips to keep it that way.

  • Keep a small trash bag handy and toss it at least weekly. 
  • Place a cup in the cupholder or door side pocket for straw wrappers and small bits of trash that accumulate. 
  • Line cupholders with silicone baking cups to catch drips, and occasionally toss them in the dishwasher for easy cleaning.
  • Keep an electrostatic duster, lint roller, and a microfiber cloth in the glove compartment or console for quick clean-ups while you’re waiting in the car.
  • Use washable seat covers when transporting pets and kids.
  • Treat spills and stains as soon as possible.
  • Wipe off shoes before stepping inside.
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