The car interior is a harsh environment. It has to deal with extremes of temperature, as well as UV damage that can cause fading or cracking. Then there are deposits from fast food, spilled coffee, animals, babies and so much more. In fact, many interiors could be considered a biohazard and, while shoving your hand down the back of your seats might present a health risk, isn't it time you gave yours a clean?
I'll admit, we're guilty of neglecting our own cars, so over the past few years we've visited our friends at Meguiar's to get a thorough understanding of the correct techniques.
The first article was an exterior car cleaning guide ran in the 12/11 issue of Eurotuner magazine. It can be found under the "Tech" menu at eurotuner.com or by searching for Meguiar's on the homepage.
We followed it up with some wheel cleaning basics in the 9/12 issue of european car magazine, which can be found by conducting the same search at europeancarweb.com
For our third installment, we're concentrating on the best way to clean and deodorize your car's interior, the best products to use for each job and the recommended techniques.
As in the past, we sought Meguiar's help because they offer superb online tutorials and even conduct classes at the corporate headquarters, so the team knows how to educate people. In fact, our day began in the classroom with head teacher and Meguiar's Product Expert, Professor Mike Pennington.
Just like paint and wheel care, using the correct products can maximize your effort, ensuring good results and avoiding potential problems. However, Mike always stresses that whether you're using Meguiar's or any of its competitors' products, always read the label before use. If in doubt, test a small, hidden area first.
Keeping the interior clean is important from a hygiene perspective, as well as maintaining the value of your car. But before you start you need to identify the materials that are used. Generally you will have either cloth, vinyl or leather seats. The leather can be perforated, which introduces different problems, but you might also have suede or microfiber to consider. You will also have glass, plastic, metal, paint and carpet. All these need to be considered when selecting your cleaning products.
You should also assess whether the interior needs to be cleaned/restored or maintained/protected. The former will require a multi-stage process and is generally done before selling a car or when you buy one, or if the interior has been neglected for a while. Simple maintenance/protection is a quicker, one-stage process that can be done on a regular basis along with other car care chores.
When tackling your interior, it's best to start from the top and work down - the headliner to the carpets, for example. This means you're not getting dirt on clean surfaces as you go.
You should also work from the furthest corner towards yourself. So if you're at the driver's door, start in the rear on the passenger's side and move forwards. Again, this prevents you having to go back over areas you've already cleaned.
This may sound obvious but let's start with the basics. So remove all the large objects, such as wrappers, bottles, papers, fries, trash, etc from the interior, including under the seats. Slide the seats backwards and forwards to improve access and clean out the seat runners as you go.
The next step is to vacuum thoroughly. Remove the mats and clean separately out of the car. Use a brush with medium-stiff bristles on the mats and carpet as you vacuum. This will lift the fibers, allowing you to clean deeper into the material, but don't brush so hard you damage the cloth.
Use a soft brush to loosen dirt and dust from the vents, console, radio, heater controls, etc. Don't forget to clean in the folds and pleats in the seats, door panels, etc. You may need to pull the cloth to open these areas but they can conceal a lot of dirt.
Cleaning the headliner is a delicate business. Even if you have a fancy microfiber or leather liner, it's recommended you simply wipe with a cloth dampened in water. Wipe in one direction to prevent the dirt being rubbed in, and fold the cloth regularly to expose a clean surface. If you have dirt that water won't remove, Meguiar's recommends you consult the manufacturer because most cleaning products can remove the dye from the headliner, leaving it blotchy.
The next step is to clean all hard surfaces with something like Meguiar's Quik Interior Detailer. Wiping with a clean cloth will allow you to assess the condition of plastic, vinyl and painted areas such as the dashboard, door cards, console, steering wheel, etc.
For leather, you have two options. You can use a one-step product such as Meguiar's Rich Leather Cleaner/Conditioner if you're just maintaining the interior. While the separate Meguiar's Leather & Vinyl Cleaner can be applied before the Leather Conditioner if the condition of the hide requires it. The two-stage process will clean, moisturize and protect the leather better but it will take you longer.
One caveat is for perforated leather, where a regular cleaning lotion can clog the holes. And since the Porsche we were cleaning had perforated seats, we used the Leather & Vinyl Cleaner spray bottle, but gels are also available.
To clean leather, choose the correct product and apply. In this instance we sprayed it on. Then wipe away with a cotton towel applying medium pressure. Despite the clean appearance, we were surprised to discover the towel was black with dirt after a few wipes. Apply Leather Conditioner to a foam sponge applicator and wipe it over the leather surface. This will fill the microscopic cracks in the leather, provide UV protection and moisturize the hide to reduce further cracking. Many carmakers coat their seats with UV protection but even these surfaces can crack, allowing the conditioner to get into the leather and do its job.
As an experiment, we taped a seat and cleaned/conditioned on one side. Even on black leather, the difference between the treated and untreated sides was stark, reminding us that even if your car looks clean, it can still benefit from these products.