Interior cleaning: from top to bottom, coarse to fine

Interior cleaning: from top to bottom, coarse to fine

How do you clean your car’s interior? Do you make do with a quick vacuum and then wipe down the plastic surfaces and windows with a cloth? If you want to treat your car to more thorough care, read about interior detailing.

8. 7. 2020 Lifestyle

Detailed cleaning of a car’s interior is finicky work. If parts of the interior have to be dismantled and taken out, that’s the first step. Then all the compartments, boxes and pouches are opened and all the customer’s items are removed and set aside. Then a combination of detergent and steam cleaning is applied to the door sills. Depending on how dirty the interior is, APC universal cleaner is sprayed onto the grime and dirt, with compressed air used to flush out grit from hard-to-reach spots.

“That’s followed by the part that I find toughest: vacuuming. You need a powerful vacuum cleaner, various extension adapters and a number of detailing brushes to dislodge dust particles. We always start from the ceiling and work our way down to the carpets. Carpets can be tricky – some are easy to clean, but other carpets obstinately resist all efforts to remove grit and dust. If we have taken the seats out, it’s their turn next: there tend to be lots of cobwebs and sticky crumbled foam on the seats’ underside. The runners contain a lot of greasy dust. All that is removed using brushes, cloths, detergents and air,” says detailer Karel Bubela from Car Detailer Garage in Pilsen.

Don’t launder micro-fibre cloths with fabric softener. It’s best to launder them at low temperature in a washing machine with a natural, gentle detergent, and then dry them in a spin dryer. Spin drying will soften them and get rid of hairs.

That is followed by wet cleaning. Depending on how dirty the interior is, a wet vacuum cleaner and a universal detergent or a strong hydroxide product is used. Hydroxide products have to be used with caution, though, as they can also ruin some materials. You start from the ceiling. Here, Karel Bubela does not recommend using an extractor, which can make the fabric come unstuck from the foam filling, causing the fabric to hang loosely. At his company in Pilsen, they add concentrated fragrance to the wet vacuum to keep the car interior smelling fresh for a long time to come.

Products for textiles and seat covers coat the individual fibres with a protective film

This prevents liquids and grime from being absorbed, even by armrests, headrests and carpets

“During wet vacuuming, water can form a coating on the plastic parts of the interior, creating a greyish film on them. That’s why plastic parts are only cleaned once the entire interior has been vacuumed. Effective chemicals mean we usually don’t have to scrub them with a brush: just spray on some detergent and then wipe off with a high-density micro-fibre cloth. Sometimes the windows need to be rubbed clean as well, to remove grease deposits from the ventilator or cigarette smoke. We shouldn’t forget the seatbelts and rubber seals around the doors either. Then all that remains is to impregnate the plastic surfaces and we’re done.”

How much will it come to?

A lot of the things you need for cleaning your car’s interior can be found in the home. The first thing is a good, powerful vacuum cleaner with the right adapters. You’ll need a few high-quality micro-fibre cloths, ideally 300 g/m and ideally in different colours for different uses – these cost 3–6 euro per cloth. Another item is a non-fuzzy micro-fibre cloth for polishing windows – the price is the same. Interior brushes will come in useful. These can be plastic or wooden, but not the kind with a metal frame around the bristles, and they range in price from 3 to 8 euro. Plus aerosol diffusers (approx. 6 euro); and a leather brush if necessary (6–7 euro). If you don’t happen to be beside a water source, a bucket comes in handy. The products required are APC universal cleaner costing around 10 euro, plastic coating liquid for about the same amount, window cleaning fluid (6 euro), a pH-neutral leather cleaner for around 10 euro and a leather impregnating product for about the same.

Forget sprays

Karel Bubela has a few useful tips to add on how to take care of a car’s interior. “The key is to beat the carpets regularly and not eat in the car. But try telling your kids that, right? The most common and most visible damage tends to be on hard plastic surfaces. These are increasingly commonplace in car interiors, but they can get damaged even when a rucksack or handbag brushes lightly against them. Put simply, you need to be careful. There are things you can do to stop plastics fading and to prolong the life of leather upholstery.

Never clean the interior in direct sunlight or when the car is very hot – the car needs to cool down first.

Plastic lasts a long time, but it’s very sensitive to UV radiation – meaning that its colour is prone to fade. Technology is advancing all the time, of course, and plastics’ colourfastness is getting better and better, but it’s still necessary to impregnate plastic surfaces and strengthen their protective coating. Use a special plastics coating liquid that both protects the surfaces and leaves them with a nice velvety matt finish. Because the surface isn’t greasy, dust won’t stick to it, unlike when you use cockpit sprays.”

Plastic lasts a long time but is sensitive to UV radiation, so its colour can fade

For vacuuming you need a powerful vacuum cleaning, extension adapters and a number of detailing brushes

Cockpit sprays tend to be a thorn in the side for professionals. These sprays are often used by firms who want to make their life easier and save time, so they don’t clean plastic surfaces properly but merely mask them with the spray. So they aren’t recommended for home use either. “I recommend using professional chemicals at home as well. They’re safe and effective, not to mention the fact that if you buy them from someone who works with them he will advise you on the best way to use each specific product. You won’t get that at a supermarket or petrol station,” Bubela warns, before adding one more piece of advice.

What to do with leather?

Cars with a leather interior are cleaned in the same way, except that the leather is cleaned by hand and not by wet vacuuming. Most of the interior can be cleaned with APC universal cleaner, but not leather. Most cleaning products have a high pH, which badly damages its transparent protective coating. So the ideal leather cleaning products are ones that are acidic but are neutralised after application, with an impregnation product applied afterwards. That will make the leather brighter and softer. You can also use various abrasion-resistant nano-coatings. It’s important to impregnate the leather regularly, roughly once every four to six months.

“Nano-sponges are all the rage these days. We sometimes use them too. But never, ever on leather. Its micro-abrasive properties damage the transparent varnish, so it can easily happen that the colour will fade the next time you clean it. You should only ever use a brush, micro-fibre cloths and specialised cleaning products on leather.



Various ceramic coatings are used to give the exterior paint maximum protection. But similar products exist for the interior, such as products for textiles – seat covers, carpets – that apply a protective film to the fibres, preventing liquid and grime absorption while protecting the textile against UV radiation and fading.  Abrasion-resistant coatings can be applied to leather. Ceramic coatings, or possibly polyurethane protective film, are applied to gloss-finish plastic and displays. It’s important to understand that all the steps mentioned here are intended to slow down wear-and-tear, not protect the materials forever as some advertising claims.


A very tricky part of a car. If the windows are very grimy and greasy, Karel Bubela recommends first using something stronger and only then a window cleaning product. There are several alternatives: liquid, cream or foam. They all do the same job – it mainly depends on what you’re used to. “We use a liquid cleaner and two cloths. First we spray the cleaner onto one cloth and use that to wipe the window, followed right away by polishing with the other, dry cloth. Don’t forget to wind the side windows down a little and clean the part that goes between the rubber seal in the door frame.”

 A separate issue is water-repellent sprays for the windscreen. It’s the same as with everything else: the cheap ones are no good, while the higher-quality ones can significantly improve visibility when driving in the rain. And they make subsequent cleaning easier as well. How should you choose the right product? “It’s very difficult, there are lots on the market and they all claim to work better and last longer than all the others. I recommend going by user reviews and experiences you can find online, or asking for advice at a detailing centre. A high-quality water-repellent spray lasts for around six months and costs roughly 30 euro,” the expert from Pilsen says.

Karel Bubela

Karel Bubela has been taking care of car interiors at Car Detailer Garage in Pilsen since 2017. His firm’s speciality is a case-by-case approach – instead of the usual packages of predefined cleaning steps regardless of the car’s condition, he assesses how big a job it will be and the price and the time it will take are then based on that assessment. The vast majority of their work is on passenger cars, but they don’t turn away vans, lorries, buses or boats and yachts either.