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How Often Should You Clean Your Car Interior?

Remember how your car looked and smelled when you first took it from the dealer? Those days could indeed feel like centuries ago for some car owners. Of course, that depends on the condition, proper care, and maintenance of the vehicle. Although it may look pristine on the outside, the inside is altogether another matter. When was the last time you cleaned the interior?

Even if you do wipe the dashboard, clean the upholstery, and vacuum the carpet, you are not getting back that “brand new” smell. If anything, getting rid of the trash, clutters, and organizing your stuff creates a fresh atmosphere, making for pleasant drives.

When Should You Clean Your Car Interior?

Yes, you clean your car or drive to a car wash – regularly or whenever needed. Often neglected is the interior. Some do wipe the dashboard, panels, and upholstery; vacuum and wash the carpet and mats – but not frequently enough.

Unfortunately, there is no set rule on how often you should clean the car interior.

Determining the frequency depends on several factors, including:

  • Driving conditions
  • Number of passengers
  • How often you drive

If you or someone else spill bits and pieces of food or beverage inside the car, the mess needs to be cleaned up as soon as possible. Dirt, mud, and other contaminants are introduced into the interior each time you and the passengers enter the vehicle.

All that, you can clean. However, if there is something we learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the unseen pathogens that can cause a great deal of harm.

Car interiors, as it turned out, can be – for the lack of a better word – unbelievably filthy even if they look clean.

Consider these:

Did you know that the steering wheel, for example, contains an average of 629 bacterias per square centimeter (colony-forming units or CFU)? Perhaps that number does not sound ominous. To put it in perspective, that is far dirtier than:

  • Mobile phone screen (100 CFU)
  • Public toilet seat (172 CFU)
  • Public elevator buttons (313 CFU)

Can you imagine your steering wheel being four times dirtier than toilet seats – for the public?

The two most common bacterias that you come in contact with inside the car are:

Staphylococcus. A gram-positive bacteria that can cause, among others, MRSA, food poisoning, and skin infection.

Propionibacterium. A gram-positive, anaerobic bacteria that cause inflammation and infection.

Some people recommend cleaning the car interior at least twice a year (deep cleaning). Others do it more frequently – once a month or week, or every two days.

If you are planning on doing it yourself, another thing you have to take into consideration is the time it takes. You may not be able to clean your vehicle as often as you like due to time limitations. In this regard, you do have the option of getting your interior detailed by professionals.

How Do You Clean Your Car Interior?

Car Interior cleaning

For sure, not everyone is up to cleaning the interior. One reason is that it is tedious if you are to be meticulous. You could, of course, keep your car relatively clean.

Equipment needed:

  • Cotton swab
  • Duster
  • Garden hose
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Scrub brush (soft-bristled)
  • Sponge
  • Toothbrush
  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Wet wipe (anti-microbial)

Materials needed:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Baking soda
  • Bleach (oxygen-based)
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Garbage bag
  • Leather cleaner
  • Leather conditioner
  • Paper towel
  • Upholstery cleaner
  • Window cleaner (ammonia-free)

Step 1. Remove debris and trash

You want to gather debris and trash from the door and seat pockets, cup holders, and the floorboards. They are the easiest to remove and dispose of or recycle. Furthermore, you should gather all items in the car and set aside in a clean place.

Step 2. Remove and clean the mattings

Remove and clean the mattings

Floor mats, as expected, are super dirty. Remove them while carefully avoiding spilling contaminants on the floorboard. Shake each piece (away from the car) to remove as much filth as possible. Alternatively, you can also use a vacuum before cleaning them.

  • Vinyl, rubber, and silicone floor mattings. Prepare a solution of warm water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid. Use a brush to scrub the mats and rinse with a garden hose. You can hang them to air dry.
  • Carpets. Use a carpet or upholstery cleaner, following the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 3. Clean the windows and mirror

Spray window cleaner solution and wipe with a microfiber cloth. Make sure that the formulation does not contain ammonia, which can damage plastic parts it comes in contact with).

Step 4. Clean the console and dashboard

Clean the console and dashboard

You would be using an assortment of tools to finish this task. For removable parts, you can soak them in a warm dishwashing liquid solution then rinsing with fresh water. As for the other parts, use a duster to remove dirt, then wipe and clean with a slightly damp microfiber cloth. In tight corners, try using a toothbrush, cotton swab, or paper towel.

Step 5. Clean the steering wheel

As mentioned, the steering wheel (and the gear shift knob) are among the dirtiest inside the car. Use an anti-microbial wet wipe to clean and dry with a microfiber cloth.

Step 6. Clean the car seats and seatbelts

For cloth car seats:

Generally, you should work on the heavily-stained areas first using an upholstery cleaner. Once done, scrub the rest of the car seats before wiping clean with a damp microfiber cloth. Do read the label to see if there are other instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Note: To remove dye-based stains, apply powdered oxygen-based bleach paste and let it sit for an hour, then use a vacuum to remove the residue.

For leather car seats:

The vacuum crevice tools come in handy as you use it to remove dust and grime from stitches. Once done, wipe the entire car seat with a leather cleaner. Finish by applying a leather conditioner.


These are far easier to clean than the car seats. You also use the upholstery cleaner on the fabric while wiping fasteners and clasps with a damp microfiber cloth.

Step 7. Clean the carpet

Unless there are stains in which you have to use a carpet cleaner, you can vacuum and suck away debris and grimes.

Step 8. Clean the doors

Clean the doors

Cleaning the interior car doors is easy. Use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe the vinyl or leather parts. For carpet material, you can use a vacuum.

Step 9. Remove odor from the car

After cleaning, allow sufficient time for damp areas to dry. If in case the car interior smells stale, try sprinkling some baking soda on the carpet and cloth seats. Leave overnight and vacuum the next day.

As an option, you can put some activated charcoal or baking soda in a secure container with tiny openings. Place it under the driver or passenger seat, changing the content every 60 days.

Should You Go to a Car Detailer for Interior Cleaning?

It depends on your primary concern – time or money. If you cannot spare extra time to clean the car interior, then let professional detailers do the cleaning. On the other hand, getting your car interior detailed does cost some money. In this case, you can clean the car yourself. Do remember that you may have to buy some equipment and tools.

As far as car enthusiasts and professionals are concerned, cars should be detailed 2 to 3 times each year. A ceramic coat may reduce the frequency. Inside the car, though, the accumulation rate of grimes and microbes should be the same – which means more frequent cleaning.

Remember that car detailers can do the job much more thoroughly. For the best value for both time and money, do consider companies that can provide home service. In north york and Toronto, for example, contact Car Detailing to learn more about their mobile services.


Related article: What is the Cost of Car Detailing for a Sedan?

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