How to Clean Car Upholstery and Carpeting

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Keeping your car clean not only makes you feel good when you’re driving around town, but it also helps protect your valuable investment. While a quick cleaning of your car’s upholstery or carpet with a vacuum usually does the trick, there are times when you may need to go further.
The type of carpet and upholstery you have in your vehicle — such as leather, vinyl, or fabric — will determine the type of cleaning products you can safely use without causing any damage. Tighter-fabric weaves will stain more than others. Consult your vehicle’s owner’s manual to confirm the exact materials in your car, and always test out a new product in an inconspicuous place before using it on your carpet or upholstery.
When your car is getting dirty, you can take things into your own hands and get it clean by following just a few simple steps.

Determine How Dirty Your Car Is

Is your car upholstery or carpet just a little dirty or dusty from basic use, or did you just get back from an off-road trip in the mud? How dirty your car is will determine what you need for cleaning.
For basic dust, a personal or handheld vacuum cleaner will probably do the trick. But for spots, stains, or excessive dirt, or if your car frequently gets dirty, it may be worth your while to purchase a vehicle upholstery cleaner.

Clean the Large Parts First

Before you do any deep cleaning of your carpet or upholstery, don’t forget to start with the basics.
Step 1: Remove the dust. It’s recommended that you dust your interior and dash first to remove debris.
Step 2: Remove the floor mats. Next, remember to remove all floor mats. Vacuum your floor mats separately, then get to the floor underneath.
Take extra care to get as much dirt out as you can before you do any additional cleaning.
Step 3: Remove seat covers. Remove any seat covers and wash them (if possible). Vacuum all the seats as well.
  • Tip: Use a hose tool on your vacuum to remove crumbs and dirt buildup from seat crevices and around seat-belt connectors. Get into the spot between the seats and car doors.

Clean the Upholstery with Vinegar

Materials Needed
  • Bucket that holds at least 1 gallon of water
  • Dish soap
  • Hot water
  • Towels
  • Washcloth or clean sponge
  • White distilled vinegar
Step 1: Blot up the spill from the fabric with paper towels or a clean, absorbent towel.
Step 2: Pour 1 cup of clear distilled vinegar, 1 teaspoon of dish soap, and 1 gallon of hot water into a bucket.
Step 3: Put on some thick rubber dishwashing gloves to protect your hands from the hot water.
Step 4: Soak a clean washcloth or small towel in the vinegar/dish soap solution.
Step 5: Apply the solution to the stain on the vehicle upholstery with the washcloth or towel.
  • Tip: If the liquid is blood, add cold water to powdered laundry detergent to make a thick paste. Put the paste on the blood, leave it until it dries, and then vacuum it up.
Step 6: Scrub the stain with a stiff-bristled brush. Really work the solution into the stain, but be careful not to scrub so hard that you ruin the upholstery finish.
Step 7: Leave the solution on the stain for half an hour.
Step 8: Blot up the vinegar solution with a clean, dry towel. Use several towels, if necessary, to get the spot as dry as possible.
Step 9: Park the car outside and leave the windows down to let the upholstery dry as quickly as possible. You can also use a hair dryer to dry the upholstery, but that might not get the padding beneath the fabric dry.

Clean the Stain with Glass Cleaner, if White Vinegar Doesn’t Work

Materials Needed
  • Glass cleaner
  • Paper towel
  • Towels
Step 1: Spray a small amount of the glass cleaner on the fabric upholstery in an area that you won’t easily see. Rub it vigorously with a paper towel to make sure the fabric won’t be damaged.
Step 2: Apply the glass cleaner to the area where the liquid was spilled. Spray heavily so that the area is completely soaked.
Step 3: Leave the glass cleaner on the stain for five minutes.
Step 4: Blot the glass cleaner up with an absorbent towel. Use several towels, if needed, until the area is nearly dry.

Pre-Treat and Clean Carpet and Upholstery Stains

From eating to drinking coffee in our cars, we are all bound to create a stain at some point. Depending on the type of stain, there are different ways of treating it. Generally speaking, the quicker you get to the stain, the better.
Type 1: Coffee Stains
Dilute the stain with cold water and blot it with a paper towel to absorb it.
If the stain is still visible, apply a small amount glass cleaner for about five minutes before blotting again with a paper towel.
  • Tip: It is important that you blot instead of scrub. Scrubbing makes a stain worse by pushing it farther into the fabric.
Type 2: Ink Stains
Use a combination of hairspray or rubbing alcohol with water. Again, only blot, don’t scrub!
Type 3: Blood Stains
Soak a cloth in cold water and blot the stain. The sooner you get to the stain, the better your results will be.
Type 4: Oil or Grease Stains
Water down paint thinner using equal parts paint thinner and water, and use a cotton cloth to rub the mixture into the stain.
If that doesn’t work, put a little salt on the stain and let it sit overnight. In the morning, go over it with a vacuum.

How to Clean Leather Seats

If your vehicle has leather seats, it’s recommended that you use a conditioner to keep the leather supple and free from cracks. There are also conditioners for vinyl.
Step 1: Use a leather conditioner first to help prepare the area for stain removal.
Step 2: Use only products safe for use on leather surfaces. All stain removers are not created equal, and something that works on cloth won’t have the same effects on leather. Look for a product like KevianClean, which is made specifically for leather interiors.
Step 3: Let the product sit for a minute or two before wiping it off. The leather conditioner in combination with the stain remover might need a few minutes to take effect.
With a little elbow grease and time, you can get your car’s carpet and upholstery in tip-top condition. Neglecting your car’s cleanliness can cause damage and lower its value if you ever decide to sell it.

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