First Step - Cleaning Your Interior

Providing you have the spare time (4 to 8 hours), a lot of patience, and the right supplies, detailing your vehicle's interior can be a rewarding experience. For what it costs for a single visit to a professional detailer ($100 - $350) you can easily pay for most of the equipment and supplies you'll need. If your vehicle is especially dirty inside, or has never been detailed before, give yourself even more time.

Hardware You'll Need - You'll need a wet & dry vacuum cleaner with an extra long hose and a small-crevice tool attachment; lots of clean rags (some thin shop rags, some cotton terry cloth, and some microfiber); two different-sized cleaning brushes (large one for your carpets; small one for your seats and upholstery, hard to reach areas); a small natural-bristle pastry brush or detailing brush (about 3/4" diameter);a steal bristle brush, a small plastic knife (available free at any fast food outlet); a couple of old toothbrushes; and a couple of new empty spray bottles (used to mix solutions).

Where To Buy Your Cleaning Products - I strongly recommend that you not buy the cheapest chemicals and cleaning products you can find. I buy my detailing supplies by the gallon at a local car-dealer supply store. Look in the phone book and call ahead, as a few of them don't sell to retail customers. Most commonly-used supplies are available there in bulk at a cost of $15-$25 per gallon. If you go to a retailer like Pep Boys,Wal*mart,Autozone,etc., stick with brand-name products such as those available from 3M, Meguires, Mother's. You can buy bulk from Carbrite, Zep, or others.

Products You'll Need - You'll need a good all-purpose non-silicone vinyl and upholstery cleaner; dry-cleaning fluid or spot cleaner; a non-silicone base interior protectant (preferably water-based silicone leaves a greasy film and tends to dry out serfaces eventually); a leather cleaner and conditioner (if you have a leather interior); and a good automotive glass cleaner. (Avoid ammonia-based tinted household glass cleaners as they can dry out plastic, rubber, & vinyl surfaces (I prefer the 3M brand.)

Door Jambs - Now is the time to clean your door jambs and sill plates (the area between the exterior of the car and the interior of the car). Use the same (non-detergent) car-washing solution that you would normally wash your car with. Opening the door wide, take a clean rag soaked in the solution and thoroughly clean around the door opening. Do the same for the edges of the doors, cleaning all of the areas you can't see when the door is closed. When done take a dry rag and wipe the inner door and door sills dry. Once the door jambs are clean and dry you can apply a wax to them, just as if you were waxing the exterior of your vehicle. Remember to keep the wax away from rubber seals and trim pieces, as it's almost impossible to remove once it dries. Finally, take a pointed object like a small screwdriver or knitting needle and open the drain holes on the bottom of each car door. There are usually a few holes along the bottom of each door that let the rainwater out (water leaks down the outside of the windows into the doors). When these holes become plugged, they trap water inside the door, causing the doors to rust out from the inside. This step can also be done while washing the outside.*

Vacuuming - First remove all of your possessions and trash from the vehicle. I suggest putting the non trash items in a large box for safekeeping. Don't forget your side pockets, ashtrays, and storage compartments. Remove your floor mats and start vacuuming everything: seats and seat crevices first, then the floor. Make sure to get underneath the seats, in between seats and center console, and inside ashtrays and side pockets. If you can remove the seats (minivans & SUVs) or seat cushions it will make the job much easier. You'll be suprised how much junk accumulates underneath the back seat, especially if you have children. You can blow the underside of seats to the front with air compressor or blower on vacuum. Suprissing how much you'll get.

Floor Mats - To clean your floor mats, place them in a wash tub, soak them with your carpet-cleaning solution, then thoroughly scrub them with a stiff brush. Rinse them off with water until the runoff is clear, a pressure washer is ideal. Then vacuum them with your wet & dry vac. Dry them in the sun if possible.

Shampooing - After your vacuuming is complete, you can decide the best way to clean your seats and carpets. Lightly-used carpeting and upholstery can be easily cleaned using an interior shampoo and a soft scrubbing brush. I prefer Dawn soap with a Small amount of degreaser. The same holds true for seat belts and shoulder harnesses. For vinyl seats, try a warm, damp rag first. If they still look dirty try some mild scrubbing with a rag soaked in shampoo. Leather seats should be cleaned and conditioned regularly, every two to three months, with a specialized leather-cleaner and Conditioner (maguires has a good one). Use dry-cleaning fluids and spot-removers sparingly: some fluids can slightly discolor your upholstery, so always test them on a small spot first. Important: Use separate brushes for cleaning upholstery and carpets, because carpets are so much dirtier.

Salt Stains - If you have gone through a winter in the salt states, you'll find salt embedded in your carpeting. First use a stiff bristle or wire brush to break up the deposits, then vaccum again. If deposits remain, wetting them with your carpet sollution followed by substantial brush-scrubbing usually removes them.

Grease - Grease and dirt stains must be removed by applying a strong degreaser, scrubbing, and then vacuuming with your wet & dry vac.

Odors - The smells associated with mildew, children, and pet accidents can usually be masked by a thorough shampooing followed by an odor-eliminating spray. Beware: some stains and odors will not go away no matter what you do, in particular baby smells, barnyard odors, cigarette and cigar odors, and my favorite - "essence of dog." Dog hair, like dog odor, can be very difficult to remove. After a thorough vacuuming I go over affected areas with the adhesive side of very wide (2") masking tape wrapped around my hand. This removes most of the offending hair; with persistence and new pieces of tape, you should be able to get it all.
Carpeting - Professional detailers commonly paint discolored carpeting with color-matched carpet dye (available at your detailing supplier). Horrible smells caused by water damage or large holes caused by cigarette burns or wear indicate that the carpeting will need to be replaced - a fairly involved process that you might be able to do yourself if you have mechanic's tools (the seat belts and seats must be removed along with the carpeting). Or you can use an odor removing bomb that may work.

Door Panels - Next come the door panels. Take a clean rag moistened with your car-washing solution and thoroughly clean all the interior surfaces of the door panel. Pay special attention to crevices where dirt and dust accumulate. Clean the dust and grime on and around switch assemblies using a damp (not wet) toothbrush and a cloth-wrapped plastic knife (constantly move the cloth around the edge of the knife to avoid scratches as the knife cuts the cloth). Make sure not to drip any liquids into switch assemblies, as the moisture could cause the switches to fail or short circuit. A trick on smudges is light degreaser and a magic eraser purchased at any grocery store.

Windows - Cleaning the interior glass surfaces comes next. Do not use household glass cleaners as the ammonia tends to dry out rubber and vinyl surfaces. I suggest a clean microfiber with 3M window cleaner (just be sure to have a wet and a dry rag.)

Dashboard & Steering Column - First clean off the dirt and dust from the top of the dash using a damp cloth. Carefully use a the pastry brush or detailing brush (dry) to get dust out of crevices such as AC vents and panel joints. Switches can be cleaned using your toothbrush and cloth-wrapped plastic knife combination. Remember to keep the toothbrush and rags damp, not dripping. The same procedure can be used for your steering column and control stalks. If your vehicle has a center console, now is the time to clean that as well. (Magic Eraser) Annoying scratches in clear plastic dash lenses (instrument cluster, radio faces) can be removed (actually masked) by using clear plastic polishes or baby oil. Finish the dash and non-upholstered, non-glass interior surfaces with a silicone-free UV-blocking interior dressing in order to prevent cracking and fading. *Although Armor-alll is probably the most popular interior protectant sold, I would not personally use or recommend. It is silicone-based and shiny, which can cause sun and headlight glare problems when used on top of the dash. In addition it leaves a slimy film on everything it touches (including your hands & clothes), and overspray is difficult to remove from window glass. Look for a matte finish, non-silicone, UV-blocking vinyl dressing instead (preferably water-based).


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Interior Cleaning