What is vinyl in a car and how do you safely clean it?

This morning I had a coffee explosion in my car. It was bad. My mom said I need to be careful when I clean the vinyl, but she didn’t explain what that is or what to do. So here’s my question: what is vinyl in a car, and how do you safely clean it?

Matt Terzi · Updated on
Reviewed by Shannon Martin, Licensed Insurance Agent.
Ouch! We’re sorry to hear about your coffee incident. The good news though is you can blame the damage on someone else, since baristas literally never get your name right on the coffee cup. “Who made this big mess, Stacey?” “I dunno, someone named Stanley.”
Okay, bad jokes aside, vinyl—technically known as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC—is a plastic material that usually looks and feels sort of like leather. It’s used heavily in modern cars, with interior and exterior applications. Though we’ll just focus on the interior ones here.
Most of the softer (but still hard) plastic components in modern cars on dashboards, door panels, steering wheels, and center consoles are made of vinyl. Your glove box, shifter, and numerous other interior bits are coated in vinyl, if not made entirely from it.
As a rule, vinyl is pretty easy to clean. You just need a damp (not wet) microfiber cloth and a little elbow grease. For especially bad messes, mix three parts water with one part vinegar and add in a couple of drops of bleach-free dish soap (original Dawn is excellent for this). Never use bleach to clean vinyl. It fades it and can even cause cracking.
You’ll find special vinyl wipes in most auto parts stores, too. These are a little pricier, but they work well and they’re super easy to use.
We hope this helps you clean up your car’s coffeetastrophe. And hey, before you go, might we interest you in potentially saving hundreds, if not thousands of dollars per year on
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