Direct Line magazine

How to properly clean inside your car

Updated on: 17 August 2021

a man cleans the inside of a car

It doesn’t matter how clean your car is outside, you’re not going to appreciate it if you’re sitting in a stinking mess.

Considering how much time we spend in our cars, it’s hardly surprising they suffer from smells, smears, spillages and frequently much worse (for anyone with children). These then form bacteria, which start to smell, and before you know it your car’s more like a dustbin than the second most valuable thing you own.

Follow these simple tips to prevent germs building up and restore a car’s interior to its showroom glory.

Clear out the clutter

First thing to do is to get rid of that festering sandwich crust from inside the door pocket along with the rotting banana skin from under the front seat and any other rubbish that you’ve abandoned.

Then remove the stale gym kit that’s been in the boot since last January when your New Year’s Resolution was still holding strong. This will also save you money: car makers spend millions shaving weight from their cars because a lighter car is a more economical one.

Get your mats out

It’s a hard, thankless life being a car mat. But they’re designed to be trampled all over so a bit of soap and water shouldn’t hurt. Check your car’s handbook just in case, but the majority can be washed. Spray on an interior cleaner, wash it off with a hose pipe, then hang them out and they could well be dry by the time you’ve finished doing the rest of the car.

Cleaning the car’s ventilation system

Close off all the air vents. Turn the ignition on, turn the heater blower up to full speed and open the vents, one at a time. This will blast dust out of the system. Once done, give it 10 minutes for everything to settle then start vacuuming up the dirt that’s been dislodged. Use the brush attachment for the seats and carpets, and remember to slide the front seats backward and forward so you can get right under them.

Car interior being cleaned with hoover

Treat it like an antique

Now you can start dusting. Use a soft cloth, as if you were dusting valuable antique furniture in the house. This has the double benefit of not scratching glossy materials yet also trapping dust.

Rather than using household polish, which isn’t designed for the plastic and leather used in modern cars, there’s an abundance of bespoke cleaning products. In a recent interior trim cleaner test, Auto Express rated Comma Interior Cleaner the best ‘one-stop solution for a cleaner cabin’.

Tip: If you’re using a cleaning product, spray it onto the cloth rather than directly onto the dashboard. This will stop overspray on the windscreen. And don’t use any product on the steering wheel or pedals: it will make them slippery.

Switch on to being careful

Although they might look and feel robust, the switches in a car can conceal quite delicate electrics so don’t get any moisture in them. Equally, the clear plastic that covers the instrument dials can be very prone to scratching so be very careful.

Tip: Use either the softest paintbrush you can buy or a new make-up brush to clean fiddly areas such as around the vents.

Neat seats

Now it’s time to clean the seats. If they’re leather, use a bespoke leather cleaner. Gliptone Liquid Leather Cleaner is highly rated by drivers who’ve used it on If the seats are fabric, use a bespoke fabric cleaner. Most importantly, test the cleaner on an out-of-sight area: the idea is to spruce up the seats, not fade them.

Assuming the test is OK, clean the seats by working the cleaner in with a damp cloth. Auto Express recommends Halfords Upholstery Cleaner.

Tip: The seats will be left a little damp so leave the windows open until everything is dry.

I can see clearly now…

To finish off, use a bespoke car glass cleaning product for windows. These are designed to both clean the build-up of grease inside and repel water outside which they do by causing droplets to bead and blow away.

Tip: Work left to right on one side of the window; top to bottom on the other. Then if a smear is left behind you’ll be able to tell which side it’s on.

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