You wouldn’t go weeks or months without cleaning inside your house, so why neglect your car? So often, car interiors are overlooked when it comes to cleaning – and they become repositories for grime, grease, empty crisp packets, mouldy gym kit and more.
Touch-points such as the steering wheel and switches are breeding grounds for bacteria, too. In this era of heightened alertness about disease, keeping them clean feels doubly important.
You’ll need a free afternoon, plus the following products: a vacuum cleaner (with the appropriate nozzles), quality microfibre cloths (ideally 300g/m), an all-purpose cleaner spray, plastic brushes, window cleaning fluid and plastic cleaning liquid. If your car has leather seats, a pH-neutral leather cleaner and leather feed will also help.
Read on for our seven-step guide, produced with help from Skoda and Karel Bubela of Car Detailer Garage.
Step 1: Remove your rubbish
First, you need to take everything out of the car. That includes those old parking tickets in the door bins, the half-eaten kebab in the glove box and the labrador in the boot. Karel also sprays on all-purpose cleaner to loosen dirt and grease, and uses compressed air to blast out grit from hard-to-reach places (e.g. between the front seats).
Step 2: Wipe away dust
The next stage is to loosen and wipe off dust using a microfibre cloth or soft brush. You’ll be surprised how much has accumulated in places such as the air vents – which a vacuum cleaner will find hard to reach. You should also remove the floor mats and beat them to remove excess dust.
Step 3: Vacuum the interior
Now it’s time to vacuum the entire car, starting with the roof lining (yes, really) and working downwards. “You need a powerful vacuum cleaner, various extension adapters and a number of detailing brushes to dislodge dust particles,” explains Karel. “This is the part I find toughest.”
Step 4: Use a damp cloth on the dashboard
Next, use a damp (not wet!) microfibre cloth to wipe down the dashboard and other plastic surfaces. This should remove any residual dirt before treating/protecting the plastic with cleaning liquid. Microfibre cloths won’t leave behind hairs or fluff, either.
Step 5: Treat surfaces with the right products
“Plastic lasts a long time,” says Karel, “but it’s very sensitive to UV radiation – meaning that its colour is prone to fade. Technology is advancing all the time, of course, and plastics’ colourfastness is getting better and better, but it’s still necessary to impregnate plastic surfaces and strengthen their protective coating. Use a special plastics coating liquid that both protects the surfaces and leaves them with a nice velvety matt finish. Because the surface isn’t greasy, dust won’t stick to it, unlike when you use cockpit sprays.”
Many fabrics can be cleaned with all-purpose cleaner, but not if your car has leather seats. To quote Karel again: “The ideal leather cleaning products are ones that are acidic but are neutralised after application, with an impregnation product applied afterwards. That will make the leather brighter and softer. You can also use various abrasion-resistant nano-coatings. It’s important to impregnate the leather regularly, roughly once every four to six months.”
Step 6: Wipe away for a flawless finish
Wipe away the plastic cleaning liquid and all-purpose cleaner using dry microfibre cloths. Never use damp tissues or kitchen roll. You’ll be able to source more cloths and the right cleaning products at a car spares shop, but probably not a supermarket or petrol station.
Step 7: Clean the windows
The final job is to clean the insides of the windows. You don’t need a dedicated glass spray – the all-purpose cleaner will do the same job. Wipe it off afterwards with dry microfibre cloths and you’re done. Oh, and Karel says: “Don’t wash micro-fibre cloths with fabric softener. It’s best to launder them at low temperature in a washing machine with a natural, gentle detergent, and then dry them in a spin dryer. Spin drying will soften them and get rid of hairs.”
Finally, here are Karel’s top tips for getting rid of three notoriously stubborn stains:
Use a freezer spray, wait for a moment and then use a blunt knife to dislodge the hardened gum. White wine vinegar will also do the job.
With a plastic scraper, gently work the chocolate in one direction. Then apply a damp sponge and repeat. Finally, put cleaning foam on a soft brush and scrub away the remainder.
Soak this up as quickly as possible with a kitchen towel or cotton cloth. You can also use dishwasher powder or cat litter if needed. Let the car air-dry afterwards or it will smell of rancid milk – not pleasant!