Keep Your Vehicle Interior Fresh for Summer Travel
Our vehicles are our home away from home. How can you keep food, spills, pet or kid accidents from fouling up your ride this summer?
Cleaning the interior of your car should be as routine as changing your oil or rotating tires. Just like you regularly change your oil and tires, implement interior cleaning as part of your car care routine. Wipe down surfaces with a gentle cleaner and vacuum the carpets and floor, making sure to get underneath the pedals and seats.
“Much like caring for the exterior of a vehicle, a periodic light cleaning on the interior can go a long way toward keeping-up the value and appearance of your ride,” said Jim Dvorak, product specialist at Mothers High Performance Car Care.
“A category of interior care products that are relatively new, but easy to find on the automotive care market, are known as ‘interior detailer’ products.”
Vacuuming removes particles that not only contribute to bad odors but attract moisture, which can lead to mold and rot.
When it comes to cleaning products, look for ones specifically designed for vehicle upholstery and surfaces. When using foaming interior spray on cloth upholstery, apply it and then wipe down with a wet sponge.
“Interior detailers are easy-to-use sprays that remove dust, light dirt, food crumbs and other common soils from virtually all vehicle surfaces,” Dvorak said.
Use these interior detailers by spraying on a plush microfiber towel and wiping-down the surface, whether it’s vinyl, hard plastic, display screens, leather (real and simulated) or fabric – they can even be used on glass.
Use a soft and clean dry rag to wipe away any residue or dampness. Once the area dries, use a vacuum to pick up any remaining debris.
Consider steam cleaning your carpets every six months to remove any accumulated bacteria or deep-seated dirt. Also, consider using rubber floor mats to protect your interior carpets. They help keep dirt from getting ground into the carpet and are easily removed for cleaning.
Don’t Let Spills Linger
Don’t let liquids soak into surfaces or allow dropped food or dirt to get ground underfoot into the carpets, where it can set in and cause permanent stains.
Keep a few microfiber towels in your vehicle and within reach for spills as well as a bottle of carpet cleaner. Before using, always test cleaning products first by applying the product to a small, inconspicuous area to see if it discolors or harms the fabric.
Repeatedly blotting the area with a towel is more effective than trying to rub stains off the upholstery. Rubbing the stain might cause it to spread or become more lodged in the fabric. Diluting the stain with cold water can also be helpful before you dab and blot the liquid away.
No matter how hard you try, water will make its way into your vehicle via shoes, clothes, open doors and windows and even pets. This will cause your car carpet and upholstery to become damp during rainy weather and can lead to musty odors.
While air fresheners can cover up smells, they are only a temporary fix. Aerosol sprays remove smells using chemicals that actually neutralize and destroy the odor-causing molecules from the air. Use aerosol sprays when you are not planning to drive for a time and make sure to air out the vehicle by opening the windows before driving.
If you know the source of the odor, there are liquid products that can be applied directly to the cause of the smell. These usually have a higher concentration of chemicals and are needed only in extreme situations where aerosol products fail.
Be aware that liquid odor removal products tend to attract dirt so you may need to do some clean up after it neutralizes the source.
Another trick for removing odor—sprinkle baking soda on carpet and let it sit for a bit before vacuuming. It’s a natural odor absorber and will not harm your carpet fabric.
Leather is a natural covering, but requires special care to remain supple and to prevent stains, grime, and dirt from setting in. This is especially crucial during summer when intense heat punishes leather and can cause it to become brittle, fade and even crack.
To restore leather, start by vacuuming the vehicle interior. This removes surface debris and makes it easier to further clean and treat the leather.
Using a leather cleaner, pay special attention to high-traffic areas. Seats take the most abuse and are the most at-risk of stains, drying, and cracking. Don’t forget the arm rests and door handles. While they are often matching vinyl, you can use the same products as your leather.
Don’t spray the cleaner directly on the leather. Instead, apply it to a cloth and then use it on the surfaces. Applying it directly can cause over-saturation or overly damp spots that can lead to issues such as discoloration. Don’t use too much cleaner, or the liquid may pool in the seams and seep into seat cushions.
After you get your seats clean, it’s time for conditioning. Conditioning keeps the leather pores flexible, soft, and supple. Consider saving time with a two-in-one solution which cleans and conditions leather simultaneously. These two-in-one products provide the best results on interiors that are already clean.
Experts suggest you treat your leather interior every season, about once every three months. Read labels carefully and test cleaner on a small, inconspicuous spot to make sure it doesn’t damage the leather.
Also, avoid cleaners or conditioners that add color. You want the natural shade of your leather to shine through. When in doubt about products, consult the manufacturer or a professional detailer if you are unsure if a cleaner or conditioner is right for your vehicle’s leather.
If you have tried retail products and the stain or smell hasn’t gone away, consider consulting a professional interior cleaning service. They use devices known as “extractors,” equipment designed for removing the most difficult, deeply embedded carpet stains.
Extractors use a combination of heated water and heavy suction to penetrate vehicle carpet fibers. Read more about extractors here.
Tips for keeping your vehicle interior clean for your upcoming summer road trips:
- Make cleaning your vehicle’s interior a regular event. By staying on top of cleaning, you’re less likely to have issues such as odors or stains.
- Clean those spills right away! Keep microfiber cloths and cleaner in your car so you can take care of spills immediately.
- Blotting is better than rubbing when it comes to stains. You can dilute it with cold water before cleaning.
- Air fresheners just cover up smells. Use specially formulated aerosol spray to chemically eliminate smells.
- Try to find the source of an odor. It might be an issue such as mold or just food that dropped under a seat.
- Leather is a natural material and needs different care than vinyl or other surfaces. Use a cleaner and conditioner specifically made for leather.
- Know when to get professional help for the proper cleaning you desire. Sometimes it’s just best to go to a detailer because they already have the expertise, team, and products ready to give your vehicle a great cleaning or to deal with bigger issues such as deep stains.
“Interior products are not meant to leave much in the way of glare-causing shine, or really any other evidence that you used them, except your vehicle will be clean and well-maintained with a hint of protection from the sun and UV rays,” Dvorak said.