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The Ultimate Interior Car Cleaning Guide -
16 min read Monday 23 November 2020

The Ultimate Interior Car Cleaning Guide

Everything you need to know about what's on the inside:

If you love driving your car, which we think it's safe to say that we all do, it stands to reason that you'll be spending most of your time inside. Of course, we realise that the vast majority of other people never see your cockpit, but that doesn't mean that cleansing your interior isn't an important part of a full detail, it's also something that often gets overlooked during routine maintenance. Perhaps it's simply because, arguably at least, there's much more to think about when it comes to interiors. We're not entirely sure.

Anyway, this is exactly where we're here to help, so here's a simple rundown of the challenges you're likely to face in your quest for the ultimate interior detail. Along with the products to use to get your cabin fighting fresh. Why all this? Well, because sometimes it really is what's on the inside that counts…

Why is interior cleaning so important?

Apart from the obvious fact that it makes your cockpit a nicer place to be, effective interior detailing is about so much more. The truth is that deep-down sanitising is just as important as cleaning here because, essentially, interior detailing is not just about looking good, it's about ridding your vehicle of all the little nasties… some being significant nastier than others.

Aside from the dirt you've just dragged in on your shoes, the crumbs, spills or the stray McDonalds chip down the side of the passenger seat, it's the unseen contaminants that can prove to be the most harmful to your health… or at the very least, the most stomach-churning.

Then there's the question of dust, a large proportion of which is made up of dead skin. Do you really want to be breathing that in? Left to build up over time dust can ingrain itself into many interior materials and even become abrasive, scratching the more sensitive parts. Effective eradication of dust can range from light dusting around trim and switches with an Interior Detailing Brush (or FeatherTip Brush on the more sensitive parts), to agitating a dedicated interior cleaner like Total into surfaces to deep clean, lifting away dust and grime at the same time.

There are other nasties of course, organic waste that's left to fester can cause mould and fungus problems. These will need to be cleaned and sanitised, purely to make the surfaces safe… and less disgusting. The inside of your windscreen can also end up coated in a light film of coughs, sneezes, cigarette smoke and other sticky residues - the very reason why using a strong alcohol-based glass cleaner like Crystal, is arguably even more important on the inside than it is the exterior.

Add all this to general aesthetics for the detailing enthusiast, and the fact that your interior will take quite the battering through normal regular use, and all these reasons come together to show that a regular interior detailing regime is not only preferable, it's pretty damn essential.

Why is interior cleaning so important?

Apart from the obvious fact that it makes your cockpit a nicer place to be, effective interior detailing is about so much more. The truth is that deep-down sanitising is just as important as cleaning here because, essentially, interior detailing is not just about looking good, it's about ridding your vehicle of all the little nasties… some being significant nastier than others.

Aside from the dirt you've just dragged in on your shoes, the crumbs, spills or the stray McDonalds chip down the side of the passenger seat, it's the unseen contaminants that can prove to be the most harmful to your health… or at the very least, the most stomach-churning.


On the plus side, due to the traffic they see in day to day use, carpets (which includes car mats) are designed to be hard-wearing and resistant to heavy abrasion. The bad news is that, they're most likely the dirtiest part of your whole car; because everything you drop, spill, or drag in on your feet will usually end up ingrained into the carpet. And, because the vast majority are made from synthetic material with a relatively deep pile, just like your microfibre cloth, they can trap dirt and grime, locking it away from the surface.

Half the battle with carpet material is pulling out the dirt from underneath the surface, which can only be achieved with a combination of agitation with an Upholstery Brush (to help lift up debris) and a vacuum cleaner to whisk the heavy dirt away. For stains, spills, and general sanitising you'll also need to use Total Interior Cleaner, or a 1:10 dilution of Verso All Purpose Cleaner to break down grime and allow it to be lifted out of the fibres. It's an easy task on matts that can be removed of course, but a little more challenging on what's left in the car - the very reason we have car matts on the most heavy contacted areas in the first place. Due to a combination of having to remove deeply ingrained contaminants, and the limited access, very often carpets can be the most difficult part of a vehicle to clean effectively.

Admittedly it's not entirely practical on every maintenance detail, but if you're deep cleaning a vehicle, removing the front seats so you can get to the whole carpet will always help - you'll be surprised at what you can find underneath, and not just grime either.


Both cloth and leather seats are most commonly stained by one thing… and that's you! Dirt, dust and skin oils are the most typical contaminates you'll find here, and while the products you'll use may be slightly different on leather and cloth, the methods are essentially the same. The only real difference is that leather requires nourishment after cleaning. So, it's essential to use a product like Hide Leather Conditioner, to prevent fading and cracking over time. Whereas it's only preferable to protect fabric seats from spills and stains in the future. Our Caramics Interior Protection kits does a great job of quickly and easily installing a ceramic coating to create a barrier from contaminants on fabrics, but you don't have to use it - you can always just let them get dirty again, right?

When it comes to the actual cleaning, agitating Hide Leather Cleanser with an Upholstery Brush is as effective on leather as agitating Total on fabrics. The idea is to lift the stains that have ingrained themselves into surfaces, allowing them to be quickly and simply wiped away.

Dashboards & Consoles

Dashboards, with regards to how they're designed, are the interior "showpiece' the bit you're looking at when driving your car. First and foremost, this means that manufacturers - especially the more high-end brands - tend to use as many premium materials as their budget allows - things like soft touch plastics, delicate "piano black' inserts and leather trim. Of course, some vehicles are more utilitarian with harder wearing plastics, but even these will be far more sensitive than those used in many home furnishings. This means that you need to use cleaning products specifically formulated for cars, so as not to mark or strip the finish. This is where a safe-for-all-surfaces, all-purpose interior cleaner like Total really comes into its own, both for "spray on and wipe' application, or when agitated with an Interior Detailing Brush for hardier deep cleaning.

One other key problem with dashboards, centre consoles and other interior trim is that the plastics and vinyl used in their construction can create a static charge which attracts dust. This is the reason why your dash will often the dustiest place in the whole car. Removing this dry dust and debris is a simple affair which includes dusting more intricate areas, like around switches, inserts and vents with a Detailing Brush before wiping away and sanitising with a product like Total or Wipeout. Keeping the dust away for longer though, requires a finishing product like Spritz Interior Detailer, this is packed with anti-static agents which will help to repel dust and light contaminants.

The last thing to consider is protection. Dashboards and trim are particularly susceptible to the cracking and fading associated with prolonged exposure to UV radiation. That's why a final finishing product like Spritz or Dressle - both of which contain special UV inhibitors - is essential not just for giving your trim and all-round fresh and finished look (whether that's the natural matte finish of Spritz or the deep, rich finish of Dressle), but for adding the sort of protection that will preserve the life of your parts, too.

Doorcards & other plastic trim

The only real difference between doorcards and dashboards is the amount contact they tend to see. Very often you'll find that the switches, handles and the doorcards in general will be subject to greasy marks and skin oils. For this reason, you may find that a thorough deep clean - by agitation of Total with an Interior Brush - may be needed far more often. Other than that cleaning solely depends on the materials used and the amount of grime.

For other plastic and rubber trim, like the items you're likely to find used around the footwells, kickplates, and even the pedals, will often be made of the hardiest materials of all. These see a great deal of abrasion over the life of the car, but that doesn't mean that they can't be effectively detailed. Using Total or an even more potent dilution of Verso All Purpose Cleaner here, can be useful for chemically removing the most ground in dirt.

These kind of plastics will also benefit from finishing with Dressle which will leave them with a deep, rich look. The great thing about this versatile, water-based formula is that it soaks into the plastic pores to revitalise trim. It can be sprayed onto a microfibre cloth and wiped over surfaces, or the worst faded trim can be simply removed and be given a good soaking. Once cured simply wipe away any excess and you're done.


Like many seats the headlining of your vehicle will usually be trimmed in a fabric material. Unlike seats and carpets however, they can't be completely soaked for stain removal because they're often backed by cardboard or compressed fibre board that could be damaged. Where many professional detailers will use hot steam to clean and sanitise headlining, it can be just as effective to spray Total onto a brush or microfibre cloth and perform some light agitation. Generally speaking, headlinings don't get anywhere near as dirty as other parts of the interior anyway, so a quick wipe over is often more than enough.


Again, interior glass can pick up all sorts of smudges, smears and fingerprints that will need to be removed for the perfect finish. Unlike exterior glass though, ceramic coatings aren't recommended for interiors because there's no need for protection from the elements, or the desire for water beading, either. This means that products like our Caramics Glass Cleaner, which actively tops up Si02 coatings, may be mighty effective on the exterior, but a bit of a waste inside.

The other consideration of course, is window tints. Tinting films are usually applied to the inside of the glass, meaning that glass cleaner that's safe enough to lightly clean sensitive films must be used to prevent damage. Handily we have Crystal Glass Cleaner, which is not only safe, but is as easy to use and as effective on the inside as it is the outside. Simply spritz a fine mist onto the glass, and wipe away any contaminates with a clean microfibre cloth. It doesn't get any easier than that, does it?

Door jambs

Finally, we have the all-too-often forgotten door jams, these areas will almost always pick up scratches and grime through contact with both the outside and the inside world. Abrasion from shoes and general dirt are the main issues here, but both are easily rectified. Grime can be quickly and easily wiped away with a 1:5 dilution of Verso All Purpose Cleaner. While Tripple All Purpose Polish and a Microfibre Pad is great for cleaning and polishing painted areas that may have picked up light defects.

Do it the Auto Finesse way...

There's many differing opinions flying around about exactly how you should clean your interior. Perhaps the best answer we can give to that question is simply; "exactly how you find it easiest to do'. That said, although there's no hard and fast rules except for being methodical, here's how we like to get the job done…

Step 1: Clear it out

First thing's first, you'll need to clear out any rubbish along with your car mats (which you can clean thoroughly now or leave until later). Then a quick assessment of the job in hand is always useful.

If you're planning on a full-on deep cleaning session - now's a great time to whip out the seats, along with any easily-removable trim.

Step 2: The easily forgotten bits

We find that cleaning these first helps prevents the grime from being dragged in as you clean the inside. A 1:5 dilution of Verso agitated with a detailing brush is ideal on painted areas in the jambs and around the actual doors. Don't forget the top of the doors and underneath. Any heaver marks can usually be polished out using Tripple.

It's also about this time we'd take a look at the headlining because, just like washing a car on the outside, starting at the top can pay dividends. It's true that this stage isn't one for every maintenance detail, but if it needs attention, now's the time. A little Total sprayed directly onto a cloth or an Upholstery Brush will allow you to clean your headlining effectively.

Step 3: Dusting & cleaning trim

Some prefer to break out the vacuum cleaner on the carpets first, but often that can lead to dust and debris being transferred back to the carpets later and then having to vacuum the car twice… and who's got time for all that, eh?

Instead we like rid the dashboard, console and trim of all traces of dust. The best way is to dry dust first using a microfibre work cloth, and an Interior Detail Brush for the more intricate areas, like switches, heater vents and around steering wheels and shifters. We also like to utilise a FeatherTip Brush for any of the more sensitive finishes, these are specifically designed not to scratch soft modern finishes, like piano black plastics. .

Only then can you get on to deeper cleaning and sanitising surfaces with Total and Wipe Out. A spray and a wipe is good here, but for getting that little bit deeper, we'd always recommend agitating your weapon of choice with a brush, before wiping away any grime lifted out of surfaces. This is safe to do on all the trim, including consoles and the doorcards, paying particular attention to the most heavily solid areas and those that see the most physical contact.

Step 4: Vacuuming

We don't have to tell you that a good vacuum cleaner is an essential bit of kit - but so is the method in which it's used. For the vast majority of jobs a plastic crevice tool is crucial. A good tip is to keep yours in tip-top condition, any chips (creating sharp edges) can end up scratching or ripping interior surfaces.

The first thing to do is to remove the majority of the heavy grime with a single pass - be thorough and be methodical here, completing the carpets and any recesses inside door cards and cup holders. And them make another pass to finish.

Although it's tempting to try and vacuum the dash, typically we'd avoid that to prevent inflicting any scratches.

When vacuuming seats it's also important to pull the bolsters apart as much as possible to pick up any hidden debris that could fester later.

Step 5: Carpet cleaning

As we said, half the battle with carpets is removing debris that's locked away in the fibres. Professionals will often use compressed air to lift particles out, allowing them to be quickly vacuumed away. A more user-friendly method is to use Total with an Upholstery Brush, some vigorous agitation should be enough to lift out stains and general grime, which can them be wiped away with a cloth or using your vacuum. For heavily stained areas, a Scrubi Spot Pad is also an extremely handy tool when combined with Total or a relatively weak dilution of Verso.

Step 6: Deep cleaning seats & trim

Seats are relatively simple to deep clean, all that's required is Total for fabrics or Hide Leather Cleanser. Using an Upholstery brush for light agitation will be enough for a general refresh and to remove most stains on both materials. Simply spray on, agitate and wipe off with a fresh work cloth.

One thing to bear in mind here is that fabrics will absorb cleaning products quickly, so to avoid any wet trousers, you'll want them to fully dry before your jump in to go driving. Leather dries much more quickly, although when you've finished cleaning your leather seats (along with any other leather parts on doorcards arm rests and dashboards) it's a good time to use Hide Leather Conditioner to nourish and protect.

Step 7: Dressing

One of the final, but equally important steps, is dressing and protecting dashboads, doorcards and all the other plastic trim. Depending on the look you're after, Spritz and Dressle are ideal finishing products for adding a fresh, clean look, but most importantly with plenty of anti-fade UV protection. Don't forget that Dressle, sprayed directly onto a microfibre cloth or applicator pad, is ideal for enhancing rubbers and weather seals, too.

Step 8: Finishing glass

After cleaning and reinstalling your mats, the last stage we like to complete is the glass - the ultimate finishing touch some may say. Buffing your windows to perfection is a simple process using Crystal Glass Cleaner, it's just important to be methodical, making sure you don't miss any or leave any smears along the way.

Unless you're opting for Caramics Interior protection (which, after all your hard work, you should be), you can clean mats in the same way your have cleaned your carpet, and get them reinstalled.

We like to complete the job with one of our collection of hanging air fresheners or a few spritzes of our favourite Aroma pump air freshener - there's certainly plenty of top scents to choose from, just have a little look through the range.

Step 9: Ceramic protection

Using our Caramics Interior Protection Kit makes safeguarding your fabrics and leather surfaces from stains and spills easier than ever. First of all, it's important to make sure that your fabrics are dry, the very reason we tend to leave this process until the very end. The good news is that applying a hardcore layer of ceramic protection is a simple case of spraying on our fabric coating and leaving it to cure.

Our Leather coating is just as simple - just spray onto the supplied applicator cloth, wipe across the surfaces, and that's it. Check out the full Caramics range.


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