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Interior Car Detailing and Cleaning

Making your ride look new again!

Estimated time: an afternoon

Maybe your car doesn't look as great as it once did. Perhaps the kids have trashed the interior. Maybe you just got a killer deal on something that looks like heck, but runs great. You'd be amazed just what a good cleaning will do for a car, without a repaint, restore or anything long term like that.

Personally, I like to start with the interior. You always spend more time in your car, rather than outside looking at it. So, from a mental perspective, you'll see and feel the results of your work much faster when the interior is tackled first. The critical points to doing the interior detailing is ensuring that you have the right cleaners and restoratives, as well as the right tools. And, in this care, an armor all wipe just isn't going to cut the mustard.


Tools needed Supplies
Terry cloth towels
Nail Brush (like for finger nails, not 10 penny ones :)
Plastic scrubbers (think steel wool, but made of plastic)
Vacuum (I use my shop vac)
Rug Doctor with upholstery attachment (you can do a daily rental at most major supermarkets)
A large pot or bucket
Newspaper (optional)
Razor Blade
A couple grocery bags and a garbage bag
Glass cleaner (a.k.a. Windex)
General Cleaner (I used to use Simple Green, but recently tried Greased Lightning Blast (with citrus) and really like that better)
De-Solv-It (great for removing adhesive, crayon, etc)
Plastic/Vinyl/Rubber restorer (I like the Meguiar's product)
Anti-Foam, Upholstery Cleaner, and De-odorizer (Rug doctor specific stuff for the rug doctor)
Saddle soap (for leather interiors)


So the first step is to shovel out the car. Don't fib to me and tell me that there isn't any soda cans, unread newspapers, fast food wrappers or other such items in the car. We all do it. Get any trash out that will be too big or clog the vacuum cleaner. Remove the floor mats from the car and set them aside (after a vigorous shaking). Empty out all the little cubbies, cup holders etc into one shopping bag and set it aside. Take the glovebox contents and put them into another bag. This helps you keep car contents that will be returned in order while you're cleaning. If there are any other removable items, go ahead and remove them now.

At this stage, the only items left in the car should be vacuum cleaner fodder. Go over every surface in the car. Pay close attention to in and around the front seat area. Shift the seats as far forward and back that they will go. Also put the seat back as far forward / far back as it will got to get the crumbs caught in the seat. Also go through the trunk area at the same time. Don't just go over the trunk surface, but pull out the spare tire and such bits and vacuum down in the sheetmetal area.

Once the interior of the car has been gone over completely, go ahead and do the floor mats. Once the floor mats are vacuumed you have two options. You can either wash them in the washing machine (providing the wife isn't looking) or leave them set aside for the rug doctor.

Upholstery Cleaning

Hit any obvious or large stains with either the rug doctor stain remover or carpet stain remover (remember to test it on a non-visible section of the carpet first. Let it sit for a bit to work into the stain. If the stain is crusty, run over it with the nail brush to try to break up the nastiness. Now, you need hot water. The hotter the better. Prep the rug doctor machine (follow the instructions) and fill the lower reservoir with that hot water (in addition to the cleaner and de-odorizer.

Using the Rug Doctor is a wet process. To minimize left over water in the car, and to keep the cleaning bit from getting too messy, start at the highest point of the cloth/rug interior and work your way down. To maximize the cleaning go over an area an then re-do it by going back over 90 degrees off of the direction you went originally (I.E. If you went vertically first, go horizontally second). If you watch the cover of the upholstery tool closely you should be able to see the dirt/soil coming off the fabric. Repeat until clean. Once you've worked your way down to the floorboards, do the carpet. I'll warn you now that the carpets and the driver's seat are generally the dirtiest part of the car (unless you have small children in the back seat all the time). As you're working your way around the vehicle leave the doors open to assist the drying process. For a little extra enlightenment, pour off the fill tank (the white piece) of the rug doctor into the toilet when it's time for a water change. It can be really quite gross. But, the good part is knowing that the dirt is no longer in your car!

Vinyl, Plastic and Glass

Now go over all the internal surfaces with your cleaner. If you've got adhesive, crayon, etc, anywhere hit it additionally with the de-solv-it. Certain areas, like the arm rests and center console (or any flat surface covered in vinyl) will attract far more goo than anywhere else. To clean into the nooks and crannies of the grain use the nailbrush or the plastic scrubber (note: be careful with the plastic scrubber. When you're using it, gradually increase pressure to ensure you're not scoring the vinyl). In cracks and crevices use the toothbrush. This may sound over the top anal retentive, but believe me, you'll see that dirt when you're done and it will bother you. The toothbrush is also helpful for cleaning the heater/ac vents. While you're at it a good cleaning of the door frames (which are not exposed when you externally wash the car) is in order.

Special Note: If you've got a leather interior be careful about overspray from these sorts of products. Use saddle soap to clean the leather. You want to be careful about using chemicals near the leather as it may stain or crack the leather.

Now that all the internal surfaces are clean, it's time to take care of them to help them stay clean. This is where the Vinyl/Rubber restorer is important for not only doing additional cleaning work, but also preserving the material. My preference is to spray it directly to the terry cloth as the sprayer nozzles generally aren't too accurate. Pick one area on the car and then work your way all the way around until you've reached your starting point again. While you are at it, make sure to completely treat the rubber door seals. You'll also want to lower the windows and treat the rubber seals at the bottom of the window. Depending on the overall condition of your car you may need to go around again. If the surfaces are bone dry, then you do. If you can barely feel the restorer when you touch the surface you're ok. If the surface feels greasy then you've got too much there and clean it off with the cloth.

With all the vinyl and rubber treated it's time to turn your attention to the glass. Some folks prefer to use old newsprint as it leaves behind less lint. I'm lazy an don't subscribe to the newspaper so I set aside the towel that's the most threadbare for doing the glass. When you're doing the side windows be careful as you approach the window rubber. The window cleaner has the reverse effect of the rubber restorer.

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Contents copyright 2008, 2009 - Jody F. Kerr

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