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Feel like it's high time your car interior got some love? Ours too! This week's How to Adult is a checklist for cleaning the inside of your auto.
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 Intro (0:02-0:10)

Whether you feel like cleaning is a soothing ritual or a task best procrastinated, cleaning your stuff is part of adulting. So let's take a look at a simple but effective checklist for cleaning the interior of your car.

We should note that this guide is geared toward folks on a budget who own a car that maybe isn't in completely pristine condition and is not for folks who won a new car on the Price is Right. One day...

Okay, first up, let's gather our supplies! Here's a list of household cleaning materials with a few car specific cleaners if you want to go the extra mile. A bucket, soft cloth, laundry detergent, dish soap, a vacuum, and toothbrushes can go a long way by themselves.

But it's good to remember that dish and laundry soaps are designed to clean dishes and clothes and therefore aren't always the best choice to use on your car.

If you're unsure how a soap solution is going to affect the material you're applying it to, it's always a good idea to test it out on a small section of teh car first.

 Step 1: Clear Out Your Stuff (1:09)

Step 1: clear out all of your stuff. A car is a room on wheels, so it makes sense that you might have a few things in there that don't belong but have lingered nonetheless.

Grab some trash bags and sort your stuff into stuff that belongs in the car, stuff that belongs elsewhere, and stuff that goes in the trash that is too big to vacuum.

Here's looking at you, 4 year-old french fry.

 Step 2: Floor Mats (1:33)

Step 2: Floor Mats. If you have removable floor mats, remove them! Then whack them on the ground to get the smaller dusty particles out and vacuum to get rid of any big particles in the fibers or crevasses.

If you have rubber mats, you can use a hose or a bucket of water and some detergent to wash away any stains or remaining dust with the sponge or cloth. Then give them a rinse. Towel them off and hang them up to air dry while you go about the rest of your cleaning spree.

If you have cloth mats, you'll want a stiff bristle brush, a laundry detergent and water mix, and some degreaser if you have some particularly bad or greasy stains.

First, if you've got any obvious nasty spots, spray the degreaser on the cloth side and let it sit for about 15 minutes or so. Then take that stiff bristled brush from your detergent water mix and give the mat a good brush down in vertical strokes and then perpendicular-horizontal strokes.

After that, use an absorbent cloth and some elbow grease to absorb as much water and suspended dirt as you can. Hang it up to dry while you complete the rest of the car cleaning.

Make sure your mats are sahara-dry before putting them back in your car. The last thing you want from your cleaning session is to wind up with a musty or moldy floor.

 Step 3: Vacuum (2:49)

Step 3: Vacuum. Vacuum up all the loose debris in your car using an attachment without bristles. This requires getting up close and personal with the crumbs of past snacks, dog hair, and dirt.

Make sure to get under each seat and use the crevasse tool of your vacuum to get into every nook and cranny.

 Step 4: Floors (3:08)

Step 4: Floors. If you have a vinyl or rubber floor, just use mild dish soap, water, and a rag. Easy-peasy!

If you have a carpeted floor, cleaning it is a little tricky. You don't want to get anything too wet for too long or it will mildew and mold. If the carpet isn't too dirty, the safer play is probably to just vacuum. Better to look at a tiny coffee stain than spell putrid mold, I always say.

But if you have a few stains that are driving you bananas, dilute some laundry detergent with water and put it in a spray bottle. Or use products specifically designed for car carpeting. Spritz her a few times then grab your brush and get busy.

Dab the spot with the damp rag to remove the soap and dirt, but again don't let your carpet get too wet. Make sure those spots are dry before closing all your doors and windows.

If you're on a time crunch and you still got wet spots, you can bust out a hairdryer and extension cord to finish the job quickly. Bonus points for pointing the hairdryer at yourself and pretending you're in a shampoo commercial.

 Step 5: Seats (4:10)

Step 5: Seats. For fabric-upholstered seats, fill two buckets with water, one hot and one cold. Then put a small amount of laundry detergent in the hot water bucket.

Lightly dampen the brush or rag with the water from the hot bucket, then scrub your stain. Finally, use a cloth or towel dampened with the cold bucket and remove excess soap and dirt with it.

To get into those seams, try using a toothbrush.

Leather seats are a little trickier. Clean them with commercial leather cleaner, saddle-soap, or a very diluted solution of liquid dish-washing soap. Lightly damped the soft cloth with your soap solution and gently wipe the surfaces down. 

Be careful not to use too much water or it might stain your leather or seep into the cushions. Because leather is literally cow skin, you need a conditioner to keep it from drying out and cracking.

Apply some leather conditioner to a soft cloth and lightly massage it into the seat. You want to strike a balance on leather. Make sure your car's seat skin doesn't dry out, but don't get it super greasy either.

 Step 6: Interior Windshield (5:15)

Step 6: Interior Windshield. Cleaning the interior of your windshield requires some interesting and potentially difficult arm positioning, but trust me, it will be worth it.

For a deep clean, first grab a dry clean soft cloth and wipe the entire windshield. Next, put a few towels on the dashboard to prevent any spillage from glass to dash. Then apply some rubbing alcohol or some glass cleaner to a paper towel or cloth and get to wiping.

Another method is to use a crumpled up newspaper with a white vinegar and water mixture. Rub your windshield down in a circular pattern to eliminate spots and finish off with some vertical and horizontal strokes.

 Step 7: Dusting Surfaces (5:57)

Step 7: Dusting hard surfaces. For this step, you can buy some ArmerAll or some other brand, or use a bucket of hot water with some mild dish-washing soap and a rag.

You can use a soft toothbrush, q-tip, or soft paintbrush to get into those hard to reach places like the AC vents or around various knobs. Add the soap to the tool you're using instead of spraying directly on the surface. This will decrease the likelihood of staining that precious vinyl.

And finally, be careful not to apply vinyl or leather cleaner or any other slippery solution to your steering wheel or gear stink.

Even the most beautifully polished wheel or stick shift is not worth spending a night or month in the hospital.

And there you have it! Make sure to bask in the cleanliness of your car's interior while you can. But don't sweat it when the next french fry drops or your dog jumps in after running around in the mud.

Life is messy.

If you have any car interior cleaning tips or tricks, let us know in the comments. We love to hear from you and continue the conversation!

And if you want to learn more about adulting with Hank and me, subscribe to us at

We're hoping to have an episode for cleaning the exterior of your car in the future, so keep an eye out and happy cleaning!

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