How to Detail Car Interior

interior car detailing vacuum


Introduction – Interior Car Detailing

Regular cleaning, dusting and vacuuming of your car’s interior is one of the best ways to keep it looking as good as the day you got it. Interior maintenance is a simple and easy thing to learn and will make a huge difference in the appearance of your car overall. However, surface cleaning isn’t enough by itself.  A few times annually, you will need to deep clean the upholstery and carpets to keep them looking best.

Warning: Before using any product on your car’s fabric upholstery, carpet, leather or vinyl, test for color fading by cleaning a small, inconspicuous area. Do not use the product if it adversely changes your fabric’s color or texture.

Proper Interior Detailing

With the variety of materials used inside the modern automotive interior, knowing what to detail and how to do it is not always  a straightforward matter.  This section is divided into specific materials and areas of interior detailing.  Read the areas that apply to your vehicle.  Plug in your music to your stereo using your aux cable, get the music pumping and get to cleaning!

How to Vacuum a Car

There’s no secret sauce when it comes to car vacuuming.  You first need to acquire a good vacuum, a few key attachments, a flashlight, and 15-20 minutes to get in there and get the job done.

The two most important attachments are the crevice attachment and the dust brush attachment.  Attachments should be made of heavy duty plastic rather than metal as metal can very easily damage the finishes of the interior as well as rip or tear the upholstery.

The crevice tool is the long skinny attachment, usually with an angled tip, that is used to reach between and under seats, into tight seams, nooks and crannies, and around seats.  It directs all of the suction power of the vacuum into a single small point which can provide a great performance boost for those tough to clean areas.

The round brush attachment is small and round with bristles like a broom.  This is especially useful for cleaning air conditioner vents, console buttons, and hard surfaces in the vehicle as it allows you to sweep up the dirt and dust while the vacuum is sucking it up.

how to vacuum a car

How to use a Car Vacuum

Start your vacuuming job by pulling out the floor mats and shaking to remove any loose dirt.  Use an upholstery attachment or the bare hose end to vigorously vacuum the mats. The more you’re able to agitate the carpet, the more dirt you will extract and the cleaner it will look.

Work on the rear upholstery and carpet by pushing the front seats all the way forward and leaning them up. Use the crevice tool to vacuum the cracks of the seats, and between the seats and carpeted areas. If the seat upholstery is fabric, switch to an upholstery attachment or no attachment at all and vacuum the rear seat.  Don’t worry about the deck under the rear window but make sure to vacuum the rear carpet. Use the crevice attachment to vacuum around the seat tracks and under the front seats. Use the brush attachment to vacuum the door panels and any vents you may have.

Push the front seats all the way back and lean them back to work on the front floors and upholstery.  Use the crevice attachment to vacuum the cracks of the seats, between the seats and carpeted areas, and around the gas and brake pedals.  Now switch to the upholstery tool to vacuum the carpet in the foot wells and the seats (unless seats are leather).  Use the brush attachment to vacuum the console, vents and door panels.

Tip: When vacuuming carpet, a rubber glove on your free hand can easily pull up pet hair and tough embedded dirt just perform circular rubbing with your hand while holding your vacuum hose or tool nearby.  As you rub the carpet, dirt and hair that is embedded deep into the carpet will come loose for vacuuming.

Cleaning the Dashboard and Console

The dashboard and console get more exposure than any other area of our car’s interior.  It makes sense that we should give it some extra attention.  The dash takes the brunt of damage from sun exposure so, in order to keep your dash from cracking and fading, regular treatment is necessary.

Caring for the dash and console is very simple.  Just wipe them down with a damp towel each time you wash your car, and treat them with a vinyl protectant once a month.  To reduce the effects of the sun’s UV rays, use UV Protectant sprays or wipes which contain protective UV sunscreens. These protectants can either create a perfect satin finish or a nice shiny reflective finish.

The easiest way to treat the dash and console is to use a standard microfiber towel. Spray your vinyl protectant directly on the towel rather than the dash or console, and wipe it in thoroughly. This will reduce overspray on your windows and upholstery. Make sure you protect the steering wheel, steering column levers and the shifter. Allow the vinyl protectant to soak in for 1-2 minutes, and then buff the dash and console dry with a separate clean microfiber towel.

For a complete interior detail, you should also dust and clean out the vents and all the little nooks and crannies around the buttons and creases. There are a variety of tools that work in vents and grilles. Compressed air can be very helpful for dislodging dust particles. If you don’t have compressed air, you can use the blow side on your wet/dry vacuum. Heavily soiled areas may require the use of an All-Purpose Cleaner and vigorous agitation with a carpet brush.

If your vents are extra dirty, use a q-tip to clean out the dirt.  Vinyl cleaner and protectant works well on a q-tip to clean vents and speaker grilles.

interior car detailing

Cleaning Panels and Door Jambs

Door panels are often made of multiple materials, including leather, vinyl, carpet and fabric. Vinyl can be scrubbed to remove scuffs from shoes or other foreign objects. General-purpose cleaners, interior vinyl and plastic cleaners easily remove scuff marks from these areas as well.

Make sure to clean thoroughly around door pulls, window cranks and handles, using some interior cleaner and a soft detail brush. Clean and dry the speaker grilles and the wells of doors armrest pulls. If the door panels have storage pockets, use your microfiber towel to clean inside as they tend to collect a lot of dirt and debris. Next, use your microfiber towel and interior cleaner to clean all the way around the door frame and the doorsill. Finally, when finished, dry the door completely with a clean microfiber towel.

If your door panel is leather or vinyl, be sure to treat it with a leather or vinyl protectant.  Even if lightly soiled, it’s always a good idea to use an interior cleaner on fabric panels so that the panels are prepped for a protective coating.

You can use leather cleaners on vinyl, but do not use a vinyl specific cleaner on leather.

Vinyl and Plastic Detailing

Vinyl and plastic are very durable interior materials, but even they need frequent cleaning and protection. The surfaces of vinyl and plastic generate static electricity, which will attract dust particles. As a result, vinyl and plastic become soiled. Luckily, vinyl and plastic are the easiest surfaces to clean.

Regular household soap and water on your vinyl and plastic surfaces can damage them. Detergent will permanently remove the sheen from vinyl and plastic.

Use a cleaning solution specifically for interior surfaces that is safe on all interior surfaces. For more soiled panels, scrubbing may be required to loosen grime.

Steps to an ultra-clean and protected vinyl interior:

  • Spray vinyl, plastic and imitation leather surfaces with your favorite cleaner.
  • Work the cleaning solution into seat backs with a microfiber towel.  For stubborn dirt, use an upholstery brush to agitate the material.  If necessary, use an soft bristle brush to get into the hard-to-reach areas.
  • Dry the material with a clean, dry microfiber towel
  • Allow the vinyl and plastic some additional time to fully air dry, and then apply a vinyl dressing to restore protection and sheen.

Careful, because vinyl protectants not all the same. Choose a dressing that gives you the look you want (flat to shiny).  Some will create a more matte finish, whereas others will create an attractive satin finish.  Some even have the unique ability to take on the original surface finish. So, when applied to a matte finish, these products looks flat and applied to a glossy finish, like wood trim, they will take on a high gloss finish. Another thing to consider is protection from the sun. Check to make sure the product offers great UV light protection.

Cleaning Floor Mats and Carpets

Carpet cleaning is not fast or easy.  While most automotive carpets are very durable and will withstand repeated shampooing without damage or wear, it does take a long time so you may want to only do it when necessary.  You should expect to spend 1-2 hours shampooing the front and rear carpet and mats in a sedan or SUV, a little less time for a truck or coupe.

Thoroughly vacuum all carpets and mats before starting the shampooing. It may be necessary to remove the front seats to get a complete cleaning, which may require tools such as a socket wrench or allen wrench.


  • Spray stains and heavily soiled areas with a good spot remover treatment product.
  • Fill a bucket with 1 gallon of hot water.
  • Spray a small section of carpet with your carpet and upholstery cleaning solution. Use an upholstery brush or a rag in a circular motion to agitate the upholstery. Dip your brush in water to keep it wet, but try to use as little water as possible.
  • Wipe away the suds with a damp microfiber towel.
  • Empty and rinse out your bucket of soapy water and refill with clean, warm water.
  • Rinse your carpet with clean water by wiping with a damp terry cloth towel.  Rinse the soap from your towel often and wring it out.  Use as little water as possible, but rinse thoroughly.
  • Use a wet/dry vacuum to extract the remaining water.
  • Allow the carpet to dry overnight before using.  It helps to leave the windows down with fans blowing in to speed up the drying process.

Conclusion – Interior Car Detailing

We spend many hours per week in our cars, so it makes sense that we should keep them clean, protected, and looking good. Finding the time to detail the inside of the car is difficult with our busy schedules. At the very least, take a few minutes each time you wash your car to remove the trash, shake out the mats, and wipe down the dash, console and seats, you can stay on top of this. When it comes time for a full interior detail, the task will not seem quite so daunting.

Another tip: Each time you’re at the gas station filling your tank, gather all of the trash in your car while the pump is running and throw it in their cans.  It kills multiple birds giving you a cleaner car without taking any additional time and you don’t have to deal with the extra trash.

Take care of the exterior of your car as well by checking out our guides for the How to Wax a Car and How to Wash a Car