CAR’s ultimate interior cleaning guide

We can help you deal with bad odours, stains and grime.

Someone vacuums the rear seat of a car

by Ryan Gilmore |

If when you settle down into your car you're greeted with unpleasant smells, sticky bits and peculiar stains maybe it's time to give your interior a good cleanout. This is where you spend most of your time so expect all the mess inside to be from humans.

Think, muddy boot marks, flakes of crisps and spilt coffee. The interior of a car is fairly simple to clean once you know what you're doing, nice to hear if you've just spent an hour plus following our car cleaning guide.

Essential equipment for cleaning your interior:

A vacuum cleaner will find itself useful when cleaning out the interior and boot of your car. It's a good idea to invest in a smaller, handheld vacuum cleaner for ease of use, even if it means spending some more.

Gtech Multi MK2 Handheld Vacuum Cleaner

The best car vacuum cleaner
Gtech Multi MK2 Handheld Vacuum Cleaner
Amazon

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Gtech offers some excellent vacuum cleaners and this handheld option is great (if a bit on the pricy side) for vacuuming your car's interior. It's well-made, lightweight (only 1.5kg) and has a powerful motor for excellent suction. The runtime of 20 minutes should be enough for most cars and you can even buy one designed for pet hair if you own a malty dog.

View our top car vacuum cleaners here

Detailing brushes are ideal for cleaning hard-to-reach areas so it's worth investing in some for your interior. We recommend buying options with softer bristles because they'll be less abrasive on fabrics while still being effective on dirt.

26JPN Ultra-Soft Detail Brushes

The best detailing brush
26JPN Ultra-Soft Detail Brushes
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The perfect option for cleaning an interior, these brushes use boar hair for the bristles which makes them incredibly soft and ideal for cleaning delicate upholstery as well as buttons and dials. They're of excellent quality too and contain no metal which may cause scratches.

Read more about detailing brushes here

There is nothing better than a good selection of drying towels and they're crucial for getting a good finish to your interior. Not only good for buffing, they can also be used to remove excess product.

Kent Car Care Microfibre Drying Towel

The best drying towel
Kent Car Care GKEQ6100 Microfibre Drying Towel
Amazon

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Offering a generous five square feet of drying, this simple drying towel from Kent Car Care is ideal for cleaning your car properly. Be sure to buy a couple for better results.

Read more about drying towels here

How to clean your interior:

A man wiping a wooden steering wheel with a drying cloth
©Photo: Getty Images
  1. Remove all the rubbish that has built up in your car by decluttering the car. We recommend taking everything out and filter out what you don't need/forgot you'd left in the glove box eight months ago. Don't forget the clean out the boot too.
  1. Take this chance to remove the floor matts and place them in a dry location.
  1. Set to work using an interior spray and drying towel to clean the top of the dashboard, infotainment system, dials, buttons instrument binnacle. Use a soft detailing brush to really get into those nooks and keep the inside clean.
  1. Time to pull the vacuum cleaner out. Start by cleaning the floor mats you removed earlier and leave them somewhere clean. Then it's time to clean the interior with the vacuum. Start with the car's headlining (be cautious on older cars as the vacuum may cause it to sag) and work your way down, being sure to use a crevice tool for the seats. Also, take the time to vacuum the boot.
  1. Clean your upholstery using an appropriate spray. For fabric seats use a fabric spray and for leather use a leather cleaner. Follow the instructions on the product.
  1. Tackle the other fabric/leather parts of your car (like the door cards or centre console) using an appropriate product. Use a drying towel to remove excess product and buff.
  1. Finally, tackle any stains using a stain remover. If you're feeling fancy you can buy spot cleaners to get the job done easier.

The best products for cleaning your car's interior

Autoglym Interior Shampoo

The best car shampoo
Autoglym Interior Shampoo
Amazon

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Incredibly effective on synthetic fabrics, this spray from Autoglym will remove most stains with a single application. The shampoo contains deodorising agents too to remove any nasty smells that may be present. For cleaning stains and removing bad odours from a fabric interior nothing can beat this. It is also effective for stains on carpets, Alcantara and vinyl, but not leather.

Read more about upholstery cleaner here

Dr. Beckmann Carpet Stain Remover

Best stain remover for your car
Dr. Beckmann Carpet Stain Remover
Amazon

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Carpet stains are no match for this simple product from Dr. Beckmann. Featuring a tough brush it can agitate surfaces and an excellent formula that removes both stains and nasty odours, this is an excellent carpet cleaner for your car.

Read more about stain removers right here

Meguiar's Gold Class Rich Leather 3in1 Cleaner, Conditioner & Protectant

Best product for a leather interior
Meguiar's Gold Class Rich Leather 3in1 Cleaner, Conditioner & Protectant
Amazon

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Perfect for leather upholstery, this three-in-one option from Meguiar's offers not only excellent cleaning properties but will ensure that the leather is protected from UV rays and condition the leather too. It'll remove stains and is infused with aloe to retain the soft, supple feeling of leather. It's perfect for seats, door cards and leather dashboards.

Read our leather seat care guide here

Greased Lightning Crystal Clear 1L

Best glass cleaner
Greased Lightning Crystal Clear 1L
Amazon

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You want a glass cleaner that can be used on both sides of the glass and not streak. This does the trick. It'll turn your car's windows from public transport gross to showroom clear in a jiffy. We also like the large one litre bottle. It's good for use on plastic and acrylic windows too.

Read our full guide to car glass cleaner here

Little Trees Air Freshener Tree

Best air freshener
Little Trees Air Freshener Tree
Amazon

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Simple but effective, nothing will finish the job better than a small tree hanging from your rear-view mirror. Available in a whole array of scents from the traditional Black Ice and New Car Scent right down to the ridiculous. Cotton candy or pina colada car interior anyone?

Read our full guide to air fresheners here

Meguiar's Air Re-Fresher

The best aircon bomb
Meguiar's G201502EU Air Re-Fresher
Amazon

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The nuclear option for odour removal, this is basically a smoke bomb that leaves a nice smell. Set it off and leave it to fog your car up and then, once it's done, leave your car to air out. It will leave behind a sweet scent that will disappear after a while but more importantly, the awful odour won't return.

Read next:

Add style and protection with the best leather car seat covers

The best wheel sealants and protectors

The best car cleaning products

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