Cleaning your Vehicle: Carpet

Part 1 of the “Cleaning Your Vehicle” series

It may seem like the most simple and obvious thing to do, but washing your car, correctly, is very important and can actually be quite rewarding. Unless, of course, you have an old truck, like mine that is more rust than metal. But if you have a fairly decent car, this post will provide a few tips and tricks for detailing your pride and joy.

I used to detail cars for a living. “Detailing” is a common, slick term for cleaning your car with great care. So let’s start with the

Photo by Gary Pradel

interior and get down to business.

Interior First

I like to clean the interior first because I often end up getting the outside of the car dirty as I clean the inside.  This inevitably happens when I’m shaking out the floor mats or vacuuming the carpet. So, start with the inside first. Work inside out, top to bottom.

If needed, get a garbage bag or bucket and clean out all of the junk. Every gum wrapper, every half-melted piece of candy, every movie stub, every fast food wrapper, and every unidentifiable scrap you come across. Who knows, you might find enough change to treat yourself to a cold beverage. Also, be sure to check any receipts you find. Make sure you don’t need them before you throw them away.

Next, vacuum the interior with a small handheld vacuum cleaner or a larger “shop” type vacuum that has a flexible hose. I like to use a large, powerful vacuum and the crevice tool the most. When vacuuming (or really any kind of cleaning), it is best to start from the top and work your way down. Start with the headliner, if needed. Be careful! The fabric on headliners can be very fragile, or the glue that holds it in place may be weak. Be gentle and make sure you do not damage the headliner.


For the seats, start at the top and work your way down to the floor. Use the crevice tool to get under the headrest, if possible. Use sweeping motions to get as much hair and dirt as possible. The seats may seem clean, but you might be surprised at how dirty they can get. You may even want to use a good automotive upholstery cleaner for stubborn stains or that bit of chocolate bar that slipped down and melted in the crevice near the seatbelt buckle. Not that I would have any experience with that.

Remember to vacuum under the seat. This is where you will find most of your loose change and french-fries.

Floor Mats

Take the floor mats out, if you have them, and either wash them with soap and water or vacuum them. Remember, the carpet in a car is different than the carpet in your house. It is usually made of acrylic which is basically plastic, so you can actually get away with using dish-washing

liquid and water.

The Rest

Finish up with a good vacuuming of the rest of the carpet.  This is tedious, time-consuming and may require you to twist and maneuver into positions you never thought possible. But, it is worth it. When you have finished, you may even want to use a quality automotive carpet deodorizer, if needed.

One final note, be sure to remove spills as quickly as possible, especially milk. I know of a car that smelled like spoiled milk for years. They could never get the smell out. The faster you clean up the spill, the better.

Written by Gary Pradel