How To Clean a Car Inside and Out in 8 Easy Steps

car cleaning gel that helps you
Courtesy of Amazon

If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, may receive an affiliate commission.

Do you commute to work every day, cart your kids around to all their various extracurriculars, or find yourself running daily errands in your vehicle? Then you certainly deserve to do so in a clean car. Of course, you could easily hit the carwash for quick cleaning, but every car owner should learn how to clean their car properly. If you want to take matters into your own hands but don’t know where to start, we’re sharing some step-by-step instructions to show you how to clean and detail your car inside and out.

When you deep clean your car, you can remove ugly stains and foul odors that can hurt the value of your vehicle and embarrass you whenever you give a friend a ride. While this guide includes a few steps that are rather obvious, like floor mat cleaners and window scrubbers, you’ll also learn how to clean out all those hidden nooks and crannies.

So if that new car smell has long since been replaced by mystery odors, then keep reading and finally learn how to clean a car properly.


The Tools You’ll Need for Car Cleaning

If you want to tidy up your car, then there are a few tools that are absolutely essential. So before we get into our tips for cleaning your car, make sure you have the following supplies on hand.


1. Vacuum Your Car’s Carpets, Seats and Assorted Nooks & Crannies

Before you get into a deep cleaning of your car, you’ll need to clear away any errant french fries, dirt and debris that’s accumulated over the past few months (years?). To do that, you’ll need some type of car vacuum. An auto vacuum lets you quickly suck up all of the dirt, rocks and debris you accidentally drag into your car on your shoes. You can also hunt down rogue crumbs and wrappers that have disappeared under and between your seats. Your car’s interior is full of little nooks and crannies that are impossible to reach, which is why a cordless handheld vacuum is essential if you want to keep your car tidy. A lot of people skip this step, but any dirt, food or ash that’s left in your car will inevitably lead to that dreaded bad car smell.

There are some great handheld vacuums designed for your car, but you can’t go wrong with the cordless vacuum featured below. The Dirt Devil Plus isn’t just great for auto cleaning; it also features attachments for carpet, upholstery and stair cleaning. Inside your car, a special nozzle lets you vacuum up anything that’s slipped between your seats and other hard-to-reach places. It’s the perfect tool to help you get deep underneath your seats and suck up all those errant straw wrappers and half-eaten French fries. Because this vacuum can do double duty in your car and in your home, it’s moderately priced at $51. If you’re trying to learn how to clean your car like a pro, a reliable car vacuum is essential. It’s the only way to avoid embarrassing odors, especially if you often eat inside your car.

dirt devil plus handheld car vacuum Courtesy of Amazon


Another option for keeping your carpets and seating tidy is this car vacuum cleaner from ThisWorx. It offers 110W cleaning power, integrated LED light, and a washable double filter. There are three attachments to help you detail small areas, a carry bag, and a filter cleaning brush. Plug it into your car’s power source and rid your floors and seats of crumbs, sand, and dirt.

ThisWorx Car Vacuum Cleaner Courtesy of Amazon


2. Tidy Up Your Floor Mats

It’s a simple fact that most car floor mats don’t get enough love. Coffee stains, random food wrappers, and six-month-old pieces of gum all have a way of collecting on your floor mats. If you have removable floor mats, take them out of your vehicle before treating them with cleaning products. Shake them free of dirt and debris, then give them a good pounding to get rid of all the dust that’s accumulated. Once this process is over, you should have a clear view of any stains or messes that need more intensive cleaning.

No matter what’s left clinging to your floor mats, give them the boot with a product like Turtle Wax for auto carpets and mats. As an all-in-one carpet and mat cleaner, it’s able to get in deep to help give your mats the scrubbing they so desperately need. As an added bonus, this stuff also helps eliminate those pesky odors and foul smells that may be emanating from the interior of your car.

Car Mat Cleaner Courtesy of Amazon

Pro Tip: We recommend keeping a bucket full of warm water handy as you clean your car’s floor mats. Using a microfiber cleaning cloth, you’ll want to use some serious elbow grease to attack stains and dirt. As you go, rinse clean the microfiber cloth in the bucket of water.


3. Pay Close Attention To Your Car’s Upholstery, Seats and Carpets

First, before you start wiping down and cleaning your car’s interior, you’ll want to make sure you’ve selected the right cleaning products for your car’s interior. Cars with leather seats will need some special attention, so make sure your cleaners are designed for use on leather seats. You can also find multi-purpose car cleaners that can be used on leather seats, upholstery, and auto carpets. After wiping off any dust and debris, simply spray your cleaner of choice and wipe the surface clean with a microfiber towel.

However, for most cars, a simple fabric cleaner is all you really need. The cleaner below is great for breaking down the sticky residue and pesky stains on your car’s carpets and/or upholstery. This upholstery shampoo is designed to get in deep to help scrub away any stains that may be a pock on an otherwise flawless interior. With a myriad of different uses, this car cleaner works on both indoor and outdoor fabrics, as well as both upholstery and carpet. It also features a nice, citrusy scent. If your car’s carpets or seats are a little worse for wear, then spend some time scrubbing and deep cleaning. A thick-bristled brush will help you scrub away stains and destroy nasty odors in your car.

cleaning auto carpets Courtesy of Amazon


4. Replace Your Air Filter and Clean Your Vents

Your air vents keep you warm (and cool), but when was the last time you had them cleaned? As a first step, you’ll want to clean out the vents themselves. Sure, there are plenty of aerosol sprays and cleaning foams you can use, but we think this cleaning gel is a safer, more comprehensive alternative (plus it works on your dash, cupholders, and steering wheel too). This easy-to-use auto cleaning gel gets in deep to help clean all those little nooks and crannies. The gel will keep your vents, and thereby your AC, squeaky clean.

Car Cleaning Gel Courtesy of Amazon

Once you’ve cleared out your vents, you’ll also need to clean your car’s cabin air filter (that’s different from your engine’s air filter). When you’re trying to get rid of odors in your car, you absolutely need to clean or replace your cabin air filter. This filter should be replaced about once per year, but more often if you smoke. If you know your way around a car, replacing your cabin air filter can be a DIY project. Your local mechanic can also help you with this. When learning how to clean a car, many people never learn about their cabin air filter. Whether you try and replace it yourself or ask your mechanic for help, don’t skip this step!

If you aren’t sure where to startt, check your car’s manual for step-by-step instructions. We promise: you can do this!


5. Don’t Forget to Make Those Tires Shine

Because having clean tires is akin to having a nice haircut, a sparkling set of rims can really help elevate the look of your vehicle. The best tire sprays are designed to help easily and quickly remove all the guck and muck off your tires, leaving your rims and tires looking like new. For this job, we recommend Trinova’s Tire Shine Spray. The formula not only leaves your tires with a shiny gloss, but it also helps repel dirt and grime from accumulating. To achieve a brighter shine, leave this cleaner on your tires longer before wiping it off.

Car Tire Cleaner Courtesy of Amazon



6. Keep Your Windows Squeaky Clean

Cleaning your windshield is about more than aesthetics; it’s about safe driving. Cleaning your windshield regularly ensures that you always have a clear field of vision. This microfiber cloth window cleaner is designed to clean your windows inside and out. The easy-to-use handle lets you easily reach every corner of your windshield and windows. This product can also be used on your mirrors, leaving you with sparkling clean mirrors free of those pesky streaks and smudges that will affect your field of vision. For under $15, this auto window cleaner is a must.

Window Cleaner Courtesy of Amazon


7. Give Your Headlights a Little Love

Notice your car’s headlights are looking a little dim lately? Well, it may not be your battery or bulb. Give your lights a little love with this headlight polisher. When cleaning your car, don’t make the mistake of forgetting your headlights and brake lights. Whenever you notice your lights starting to dim, break out your car cleaning kit and give those lights a quick clean.

This auto cleaning product from Plastx is designed with a  smart formula that helps remove cloudy and yellow debris from your headlights, and the polish helps dial back some of the oxidation older lights often suffer from. Best of all, this cleaner and polisher is made with water-resistant polymers that are designed to help keep your headlights cleaner, longer. If you live in an area that gets a lot of snow (and where the roads are regularly salted), then headlight cleaning needs to be a crucial step in your car cleaning routine.

Headlight Cleaner Courtesy of Amazon


8. Keep A Detailed Cleaning Kit Handy

There are 16 pieces in this kit to help keep the exterior of your car in pristine condition including car wax, window cleaner, tire gel, microfiber cleaning towels, detailing tools and applicator spray bottles. We recommend keeping this in your garage or trunk to give your car a good scratch-free shine and buff when needed.

Chemical Guys HOL169 16-Piece Arsenal Builder Car Wash Kit Courtesy of Amazon


Remember: To Maintain a Tidy Car, Prevention Is the Best Medicine

After you’ve finished vacuuming, scrubbing and detailing your car, you’ll want to make sure your car doesn’t revert to its dirty old self after a few more weeks on the road. Your car’s exteriror will inevitably accumulate grime and dirt as you drive, but you can install some simple products to keep your interior in the best possible shape. Here are some of our favorite products for keeping your car organized and clean in the future.

Drop Stop Car Seat Gap Filler

This As Seen on Shark Tank product will ensure that no french fry, crumb or smartphone ever slips under your car seats ever again. This is hands-down one of the best car cleaning hacks ever invented, and for just $25, it’s a bargain, too.

drop stop car seat gap filler Courtesy of Amazon


EPAuto Waterproof Trash Can

A trash can for your car? It makes sense, especially if you tend to eat fast food or other snacks in your car as you drive. This waterproof auto trash can will keep trash in one convenient place until you’re ready to empty it out. Plus, for drivers with kids, this will be a lifesaver.


auto trash can Courtesy of Amazon


Angry Orange Odor Eliminator

If you have pets, children or mystery stains in your car, then you’ll want to invest in a reliable odor eliminator. Angry Orange’s Odor Eliminator solution was designed to break down tough stains and organic messes, and it’s a great car cleaning hack, too.

Angry orange odor eliminator, best black friday pet deals Courtesy of Amazon


Get More Deals, Reviews & New Products from SPY on Instagram


Protect Your Car With This $25 Steering Wheel Lock