Cleaning Car Upholstery:
How to get professional results

In today's world of car upholstery cleaners, cleaning car upholstery will be a challenging task as most cleaners are formulated to be overly mild and overly safe due to what I call the idiot factor.

Manufacturers can't control which idiot is going to end up behind the trigger of their upholstery cleaner and therefore have to dumb it down to the biggest idiot in the room. Don't mean to sound so harsh; I am not the one who created the problem. (at least that is my story) But this is our reality which is why most people after failed attempts with these overly mild car upholstery cleaners, go in search of professional grade cleaners.

The Dirt is Only Going to Get Worse!

While there are exists a select few among us who are diligent about keeping the inside of their cars showroom fresh, most of us simply do not have time!

I get it!

Seriously I do. And because you are likely one of these people who have a life that has you running on fumes already, you have now come looking for a way to clean up the interior of your car.

And do I have some answers for you!

How to Clean Car Upholstery

cleaning car upholstery tips

Exactly how does a person go about cleaning car upholstery in a way that is both effective and realistic for the average person. Like many areas of car ownership, sometimes we stand back and look at a problem like an overly dirty car interior, and are completely clueless as to how to go about cleaning the years of dirt that has accumulated day after day.

Let's break down the process of cleaning your cars interior into simplified and doable steps:

  • Choosing a quality car upholstery cleaner.
  • Using the right tools for the job.
  • A few techniques to make your efforts more effective.

Cleaning Car Upholstery:
Car Owners/Driveway Detailers

If you are a car owner or what is often referred to as a driveway detailer, your needs are very different than that of a professional detailer like myself who will be using large amounts of products.

For this reason, I am suggesting some quality products for cleaning car upholstery that are both very effective, but in a ready to use size that would be more appropriate for home use.

Adam's Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner 16oz

  • I recently just tested this upholstery shampoo and it blew me away!
  • I was amazed that a retail/enthusiast grade upholstery shampoo was able to perform at the same level as any of my professional grade upholstery shampoos.
  • You will not be disappointed!

Griot's Garage 10956 Interior Cleaner 22oz

  • Griot's Garage is a leading brand among any car enthusiast.
  • Another one of my favorite, ready to use car upholstery cleaners.
  • Promises to perform to the level of any professional upholstery cleaners I have ever used.
  • You will not be disappointed.

Cleaning Car Upholstery:
Professional Detailers

While the ready-to-use formulations above will work for anyone regardles of your needs, the following car interior cleaners are concentrates and you wil be able to not only custom dilute them, but will get more for your money if you plan on doing more cleaning than basic car interior cleaning.

Upholstery & Carpet Shampoo 16 oz

  • Clean everything in your car's interior.
  • Professional grade auto upholstery cleaner.
  • Cloth, fabric, leather, vinyl, plastic, etc., etc.
  • One of my top picks for a professional car upholstery cleaner that is also a concentrate.
  • Very economical.

Chemical Guys CWS_103_16 Fabric Clean Carpet and Upholstery Shampoo and Odor Eliminator (16 oz)

  • Concentrate; mix according to directions.
  • One of my top performers when cleaning car upholstery!
  • Economical and you won't have to pay a boat load in shipping costs compared to gallon sized cleaning concentrates. (can anyone say Meguiar's APC)
  • Professional results!
  • One of my top picks in an upholstery cleaner.

Auto Upholstery Cleaning Tools

Pick and choose from my top picks when it comes to the "tools" required for professional results when cleaning car upholstery for professional grade results.

OXO Good Grips Heavy Duty Scrub Brush

  • If I had to pick a single upholstery scrub brush; this would be the one.
  • Not too stiff, not too soft.
  • Safe for virtually any material found within your car (leather included)
  • Remember you remain in complete control based on how aggressive you are with speed and pressure when scrubbing.

Nanoskin (85-634) 8.5" Carpet & Floormat Scrub Brush, Black Nylon

  • My second favorite upholstery scrub brush.
  • More aggressive than the one above.
  • The extended handle makes it ideal for additional leverage when going in level 10 for serious scrubbing!
  • Also a scrub brush I consider a must have; especially for floor mats.

Chemical Guys ACC_S95 Long Bristle Horse Hair Leather Cleaning Brush, , 1 Pack

  • Dedicated leather scrub brush.
  • Natural horse hair bristles.
  • Most people are overly cautious when it comes to cleaning and scrubbing leather; this is your perfect brush.
  • Softer and gentler than the other brushes above.

Don't Forget to Clean Car Vents

Since you will be cleaning car upholstery and no doubt will have done a fabulous job, we don't want to forget to dust and clean the dash vents in your car. The dash vent brushes below will be the perfect addition to your other car upholstery cleaning tools.

I have given you a couple options.

Chemical Guys ACC_S90 The Goat Boar's Hair Detail Brush

  • If I had to pick a single vent dusting brush; this would be it.
  • Long enough to get deep inside your car vents.
  • Soft and gentle enough to safely dust just about anything within your car (not that I have yet to scratch anything with this brush)

Makeup Brush Set, USpicy 32 Pieces Professional Makeup Brushes Essential Cosmetics With Case, Face Eye Shadow Eyeliner Foundation Blush Lip Powder Liquid Cream Blending Brush

  • I often find myself going outside the detail industry for the perfect tools.
  • For those that tend to go level 10 with anything.
  • An assortment of fine detail brushes for just about any need you could be presented with.
  • Gentle enough for women's faces; gentle enough for your car.

How to Clean Your Car Upholstery

cleaning car vents

Now that I have laid out some professional grade upholstery cleaners and tools,you should follow these basic steps for maximum results:

  • Vacuum areas to be cleaned first; this will easily suck up any loose debris and dirt before you get the area wet with upholstery cleaner. You can even scrub the dry area first to break up dirt as you vacuum for even better results when you use the upholstery shampoo. See this detail vacuum link for the perfect detailing vacuum.
  • Spray area to be shampooed with a few light sprays of upholstery cleaner, scrub aggressively with plastic scrub brush, mop up area vigorously with cleaning cloths. Repeat as often as necessary to achieve desired results.
  • As a rule, people tend to over-saturate the area the first time around thinking that the more upholstery shampoo they use, the quicker and cleaner the area will get; lighter and repeated applications are better than thinking you can get it all in one heavy application.
  • You must also be realistic when cleaning car upholstery; excessively soiled fabric and carpeting may in fact not come completely clean if you have neglected required cleaning and maintenance long enough.

Cleaning Auto Upholstery Summary

car upholstery cleaner

Most of you reading this have likely chosen a car upholstery cleaner off the shelves of your local retailer and have had discouraging results. With that said, let me end this page with some additional bullet points that will help in your understanding and also help be a voice of reason to your cleaning car upholstery efforts:

  • Both a quality product and technique is going to be the winning combination.
  • Follow product label instructions regardless of product chosen.
  • The lighter the interior of your car is, the more difficult it will be to clean.
  • Many people do not realize just how dirty their car's interior has gotten and fail to put it into respective. I often see car upholstery fabrics and carpeting so dirty that if it was put into their house, there is no way they would try to clean it, they would simply replace it due to the fact of it being so incredibly dirty. Because it is in their car, many people think they are going to be able to clean it back to near original condition. No car upholstery shampoo in the world is going to be able to clean away years of neglect and/or abuse.
  • With that said, just as many people are pleasantly surprise at the results they are able to achieve with the right upholstery cleaner, tools, and techniques when cleaning car upholstery.

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