DIY Car Cleaning Guide: How to Clean Your Car Interior + Exterior


Owning a car is a lifelong dream for many individuals. In fact, so many kids work part-time jobs while they’re still in high school to save up enough money to buy their very own set of wheels!

Regardless of when or how you got a car of your own, we can all agree that there is a certain level of attachment owners have towards their car which very few other material things can come between! This excessive love and admiration for one’s car lead owners to take every possible measure to maintain the vehicle’s working condition and, of course, its appearance! While many opt for a wash or car cleaning services offered by a professional, there are those who prefer to cut out this recurring expense by doing it themselves. So, if you’re looking for a DIY car cleaning guide that covers all the basics + commonly overlooked areas of a car, you’ve come to the right place! 

How to Clean Inside Your Car

Car cleaning can often be limited to making the outside of the car look good, however, for sanitary reasons, cleaning the interior is more important. Particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, disinfecting your car interior is a must in order to kill potential viruses.

Now, it should be noted that the interior of a car varies from model to model, generally consisting of different upholstery/fabrics, floor mats, vinyl dashboards, rubber window seals, carpets, etc. These add to the overall quality and aesthetic value of the car interior, and require extensive care and cleaning as they attract the most dirt, germs, and stains. So, let’s begin!

First Things First – Clear Out the Car

Before you start cleaning, you need to start ‘clearing’ out the car. Take out the floor mats, seat covers (if any), car accessories, miscellaneous items, trash, as well as items from the glove compartment and cup holders. All removable accessories that can be washed (such as floor mats and seat covers) should be cleaned using appropriate products and left to air dry. If you have car decorations in the form of stuffed animals, clean them along with your kids’ toys that are machine washable. 

Now, let’s move on to the rest of your interior car cleaning. 

Car Ceiling 

Grubby palm marks or fingerprints can stain the ceiling material, giving it a shabby appearance. This is particularly true when you’ve got kids bouncing around in the car! So, to get your ceiling all cleaned up, begin by wiping or vacuuming it depending on the finish of the material. Spot clean stains using a soft cloth and appropriate soap or shampoo as per the material/fabric (avoid saturating the ceiling). To ensure that germs/bacteria have been killed, use a disinfectant spray to dampen a clean towel and wipe over the ceiling.

Mirrors, Windows, and Windshield

All glasses tend to get hazy, stained, and dusty over time. The use of a microfibre cloth and glass cleaner is essential to clean these delicate surfaces without scratching them. For the windows, start by wiping the rubber seals with a damp cloth (use a soapy solution consisting of water and dish detergent if needed). Roll the windows down to clean off the grime that has formed at the tip of the panes before rolling them back up to clean the rest. The interior windshield and rearview mirror can be cleaned by removing dust first and finished off with glass cleaner and a soft cloth.

Dashboard and Door Panels

Dashboards and door panels are often customised as per the owner’s personal style and preference; hence, the material will also vary. General cleaning, however, should involve removing dust and debris first (with a dust cloth or cleaning brush), followed by a deep clean using a disinfectant spray and microfibre cloth. Dampen your cleaning tool with the product and gently wipe over the door panels and dashboard without missing any parts of these components such as the handles, armrests, and speakers (if any).

A/C Vents and Cup Holders

A/C vents and cup holders tend to collect a lot of dust and debris over time. The latter can get pretty sticky and stained due to hot or cold beverages spilling over while you’re driving. To remove grime from the cup holders, soak a clean, absorbent cloth in soapy water, wring it, and scrub the holders down. Rinse off the area with a damp cloth after the stains and grime have been removed. For the A/C vents, use a thin brush such as a paintbrush to remove dust.

Steering Wheel, Gauge, and Centre Console

The most commonly touched parts of a car are obviously the steering wheel and parts of the centre console (such as the music system and gear stick); this makes them the main hubs for bacteria and therefore, requires disinfection to ward off viruses and icky germs. This can be done using a microfibre cloth and an EPA registered disinfectant. For a thorough clean, use cotton swabs to clean between buttons on the car system and other narrow spaces. Remove dust and dirt from the gauge using a dust cloth, followed by a second wipe down with a damp microfibre cloth and glass cleaner.


Car upholstery can be found in various materials such as suede, leather, and vinyl. All types of car upholstery require specific vacuum heads to safely pick up dust and dirt from the surface, along with specially formulated cleaning products to remove stains. As a general tip when vacuuming car seats, pay attention to the stitching and crevices where dust often accumulates. The use of upholstery cleaning products and conditioners are typically advised to safely and efficiently remove dirt and stains from car seats while restoring their original lustre.


One of the last things to do is to clean the base carpeting by vacuum thoroughly with an appropriate attachment head. Any muddy stains can be tackled with a carpet cleaner by following the directions on the bottle.


After doing a thorough job with cleaning the inside of your car, you wouldn’t want to settle for any lingering foul smells. So, to get rid of bad odours in your car, sprinkle the seats and floor with baking soda and let it sit overnight. Vacuum up the powder in the morning and that should do the trick!

How to Clean Your Car Exterior

The exterior of a car is exposed to various outdoor elements that make even a brand new convertible look rather drab and shabby. From dust, dirt, and mud, to grease, oil, and weather conditions; all of these things affect the appearance and condition of your car’s exterior. 

What’s worse, if left unattended for too long, the debris can damage the paint, thereby increasing maintenance costs. So, it is in the best interest of your car (and wallet) to give the exterior a good wash every other weekend!

Here are a couple of steps to ensure that you are going about cleaning your car exterior the right way.


Picking the right location to wash your car is important as you wouldn’t want the contaminated water to flow down the street and/or get collected in an area for too long. It is advisable to choose a place with gravel or a driveway with proper drainage. Be sure to keep the contaminated water away from natural or man-made water sources for sanitary reasons.

Fill Up Two Buckets of Water

Ideally, two separate buckets of water will be needed:

      • One for the car soap and water mixture 
      • The other filled with plain water to rinse off the sponge while cleaning

If you don’t have a water hose nearby, you will require 4-5 buckets of water for a thorough DIY car wash.


Start by spraying the wheels with water to rinse off dirt and grime settled on the tyres, hub caps, and mud flaps. While the tyres can do with just a spray to wash off debris, the mud flaps and hub caps will require a thorough clean with your soap solution. 

TIP: Use warm water to remove muddy stains quickly and efficiently.

The Body

Before applying soap to the body, Use a garden hose or a power washer to rinse off all the dirt and grime settled on it. Next, apply the soap solution by dipping a clean sponge into the bucket and wiping over the exterior including the windshield. Start from the top so that all the dirt drips downward and you don’t have to re-do other parts of the car. To scrub away stubborn grime, use a car mitt, chamois, or microfibre cloth. Rinse the car with fresh water to take off all the dirt and soapiness. 


Leaving out the headlights will make your car shine brighter than the lights, but that’s not what we want to achieve here. For safer driving, you will want your lights to shine without any dulling effects caused by grime buildup on the covers. Headlights can be cleaned with toothpaste and a microfibre cloth simply by applying the paste and wiping it in circular motions until it vanishes. This quick and easy tip will leave your headlamps spotless and gleaming!

The next time you let your car go unwashed for a long period of time, don’t drive to the nearest car wash centre and waste your money when a DIY car cleaning requires a fraction of the cost! All you need to do is buy the cleaning products, spare an hour or two on your day off, and use this easy-to-follow guide for cleaning a car interior and exterior!

Karen Saunders


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