Detail your car interior like a pro

Do you need to pay for professional car detailing?

You really don’t. With a relatively small investment, and a little time, you can do your own professional car detailing in the comfort of your own driveway. For this article, we’ll focus on the interior of your car.

The pandemic is an excellent time to learn new skills, as most of us are spending more free time at home than usual.

Detailing your car interior at home can save you a lot of money, and in many cases you really can make your interior look like new—or close to it.

What do you need?

You only need a few products and tools, and most of them are fairly simple. Here’s what we recommend to get started:

Interior cleaner and protectant

image credit: Mothers polishes

This product is ideal for cleaning your dash and all the plastic, wood, rubber, and vinyl parts of your car. It’s ideal for removing dust, fingerprints, and light scuffs, and also usually adds protection against UV damage.

One important distinction is that you’ll generally want two different types of protectant for the hard plastic and the soft plastic parts in your car. Hard plastic parts are usually smooth and shiny (and include fake wood), whereas the soft ones are typically matte and sometimes porous—they include parts that might look and feel like leather—including the top of your dash. Apply wish a microfiber towel, and after a couple of minutes, buff off the excess with a clean part of the towel.

For the soft plastic and rubber parts of your car—basically everything that isn’t shiny—as well as rubber of vinyl floor mats, you’ll want to use the spray on cleaner/protectant.

For hard plastic, you’ll want to use a polish (Like Mothers plastic polish or Meguiar’s PlastX, which you apply sort of like a wax, and buff off.

If you want to clean small areas and in between parts, picking up a small interior brush is a good idea.

Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner

This is the product you’ll need for cleaning cloth upholstery and all the carpeted areas in your car (including floor mats). Meguiar’s makes a good one that has a sort of brush built into the top for scrubbing.

These cleaners not only act as shampoo to remove dirt, grime, and light stains, they also eliminate odors.

When you’re cleaning upholstery, carpet, and mats, it’s best to remove the mats and vacuum then apply cleaner to them, and then vacuum and apply cleaner to seats and carpet. Let everything dry for a couple of hours before you put the mats back in.

Leather cleaner and conditioner

If you have leather seats in your car, you’ll want to pick up some leather cleaner and conditioner, and some dedicated microfiber towels. Many products contain both cleaner and conditioner for simplicity. Prices can range from reasonably low (Meguiar’s, Mothers, Adam’s Polishes) to more expensive (Lexol, Swissvax). They will add do a good job; it’s up to you how much you want to spend.

Leather cleaner is a good idea no matter how pristine your interior looks—by its nature leather tends to collect oils and other impurities since it’s such a high-contact surface.

image credit: Cornerstone Plymouth

In addition to cleaning, conditioning is important to help keep your leather supple and prevent it from drying out. This is an especially high risk in cars, since most interiors are exposed to damaging UV rays (and often intense heat) on a daily basis.

For most cleaners, you’ll want to put the cleaner on the towel and work in small sections, being sure to really work it into the leather, and folding/switching to a clean part of the towel for each section. Give it 45 minutes or so to dry.

If you’re using a separate conditioner, use a fresh towel and apply it the same way as the cleaner. Then let it sit for 45 minutes or until dry. Repeat every 6-10 months to keep your leather in top condition.

Making a small investment to clean your interior thoroughly once or twice a year can yield surprising and satisfying results—and really help to keep your car in great condition for many years.

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