Spring Clean Your Car from the Inside Out

by Dave Humphreys | 6 min read     March 6th, 2018


As we say goodbye to the dark and dreary winter months; now is the perfect time to spruce up your car and show it a little TLC.

There are many reasons, good reasons for cleaning your car, and it’s not just so it looks good. A clean car can reduce distractions when driving, it can ease wear and tear on the car’s interior and exterior, it can prevent corrosion and rust, remove allergens from the ventilation system and boost its resale value.

You don’t have to do much to keep your car clean. With these handy tips and tricks your motor will look marvelous in no time. With this in mind, it’s time to roll up those sleeves.

Let’s Start on the Inside


Researchers at Princeton University discovered that disorganisation and visual clutter – i.e. rubbish in your car, children’s toys lying around, etc. – distracts and causes stress. In fact, clutter within your viewing space, especially on the dashboard can diminish your focus and pose a distraction hazard while driving. A recent report by Allianz highlighted that ''every tenth traffic accident with fatalities is due to driver distraction''.

Additional studies show that a lack of organisation can elevate the stress hormone cortisol; resulting in feelings of fatigue, tiredness and depression.

So start the clean up by removing all unnecessary items from your car. Remove all rubbish, ditch the air freshener hanging off the rear view mirror, and empty all the door bins and cubbyholes.

If you have children, one of the best ways to keep your car organised is to hang a shoe organiser over the backs of the front seats. Keep baby wipes, drink bottles, nappies, crayons, change of clothes, toys, sunglasses, first aid kits, plastic bags, or dog leads all neat and tidy; and off the car floor and seats.

 These shoe organisers can be picked up in loads of stores for a couple of euro or less.

Shake and Vac

Next you should vacuum and you should do this before you clean hard surfaces - as vacuuming can kick up dust.

If you have a dry carpet shampoo, sprinkle it over the floor, cloth seats and boot. If you don’t have a specialist product just use baking soda. If your car is really filthy, take a dry brush and rub the powderinto the surfaces. Leave it to sit for a few minutes. Then vacuum it off.

Leather Love

If you have a leather interior, take a damp cloth or sponge and rub some mild hand soap into the sponge not onto the seats. Leather is not fully water resistant, so you do not want to use a wet cloth.

Use this to wipe down the seats and any leather trim. Then, take another clean damp cloth and run it back over the seats to remove any residue. Then take a clean dry cloth and give everything a final rub down.

As an extra treat, if you have leather on the seats, door cards or steering wheel, rub them with a dry cloth dipped in olive oil and then wipe off with a clean dry cloth.

Stain Removal

For really stubborn stains, mix three parts baking soda with one-part water to make a paste. Apply this paste to the stain and leave it to set for as long as you can. Then take a dry brush, rub off the paste and just vacuum up the residue.

Remove Odours

After decluttering, vacuuming and cleaning the seats your car should be looking and smelling a lot better by now, but sometimes strong odours need a little more work.

Get some fresh air into the car by turning on the air-con and switch it to the recirculate setting. This pulls fresh air into the car and circulates it around the cabin.

If you haven’t done so already, empty the astray and give it a thorough cleaning. Then spray it with some furniture polish or perfume. If the ashtray is no longer in use fill it up with some baking soda or coffee beans to help neutralise the smell of smoke.

If you have tumble dryer sheets, place a few under the seat as these will help to absorb odours and keep your car smelling fresh.

Exterior Cleaning

Win at Washing

Washing your car can be very therapeutic but to make sure you leave it in better condition than it was to start with, there are a few things you need to do.

Before you wash the car, make sure all of your cleaning accessories are free from dirt. If you don’t have access to a power washer at home, ensure that your bucket is sparkling and that any sponges and cloths are also clean.

It really is worthwhile using a specialist shampoo. Avoid using washing up liquid as this can sometimes remove protective waxes on the car and leave a residue on the paint.

You need to use at least two buckets. One bucket should have the cleaning solution mixed with warm water and the other should have clean, plain warm water.

The first step is to rinse the car with water to wash away debris. You can throw buckets of warm water over the car or use a hose if you have one. The reason for rinsing the car first is to remove surface dirt, as you don’t want to be rubbing in the dirt as this will scratch the paintwork.

If you have been driving on salted roads during the winter, make sure you give the underneath of your car a thorough wash to prevent corrosion damage.

Wash the car from the top down. The lower parts of the car are the dirtiest and you don’t want to be washing these parts first as you could transfer dirt upwards, again, increasing the risk of damaging the paintwork. Ideally, wash the entire car once to get the heavy dirt off it before then going at it properly.

You should always dunk your sponge into the plain water to remove grit before putting it into the soapy water. The key to a good home car wash is to use loads and loads of fresh clean water. The aim is to wash your car without transferring any dirt on to it as the dirt will scratch the paint work.

When the car is sparkling rinse again with the hose. Then dry off with a micro-fibre cloth.

Zapping Sap

If there is any tree sap on your car, you can remove this by rubbing some hand sanitiser or mayonnaise into it and rinsing off well.

Wax On

When the car is dry, follow with a synthetic wax or sealant for added protection. Unlike carnauba waxes, a polymer or acrylic resin sealant can shield against water and road salts, and is great for cold weather protection. Doing a good job on waxing your car will also make it easier to keep it clean in future.

Wheelie Wheelie Clean

There are numerous dedicated wheel cleaning products on the market to help get rid of that brown/black brake dust that can build up on wheels. These can be quite acidic so it’s best to wear gloves when using them. Alternatively, you can also use the same baking soda paste that you used on your car seats to get your wheels clean. Just take a damp cloth and rub the paste all over your rims, then rinse off with warm water. Watch as the dirt and grime disappear.

You can also give the tyres some added protecting by applying a tyre cleaner and coating. Using a product with UV protection will help to slow down the deterioration of the rubber.

Shine your Lights

Over time, ultraviolet light, dust and extreme weather can cause plastic headlight covers to deteriorate. This makes the lights appear hazy and dull. But we have a handy and cheap trick to get them looking like new again. Simply get some non-abrasive (not whitening) toothpaste and squeeze some onto a dry cloth - or your hand. Then rub the toothpaste all over the plastic headlight coverings. Finally, take a wet cloth or wet toothbrush and buff it off. You may need to do this buffing a second time to get rid of the residue.

Clean the Battery

If you want to be very thorough, you can check over your battery if it is easily accessible. Most are located in the engine bay, so make sure that it hasn’t been affected by any dirt being thrown up from the road. When you are done using the baking soda paste on the seats and the wheels, pop the bonnet and undo the battery connections. Rub the paste onto any corrosion on battery terminals. Wipe off with a damp cloth. When reconnecting the battery you will need to reset the time in your car’s clock; you may also need to input the radio code (a bit like the PIN on your phone) into your car’s radio in order for it to work. Check that you have this number to hand before attempting this task.

Professional Job

Of course, you can just leave the car with the professionals and get a full exterior detailing and interior valet. This will save you time but will cost you more than buying a cleaning kit and doing the job yourself.

And there is something to be said in the pleasure gained from getting your hands dirty to clean your car and admiring your hard work when you are done.


Information correct as of date of publishing. This blog will not be updated or edited so the information may become outdated.

Dave Humphreys
Motoring journalist on 2 & 4 wheels. Road Test Editor @CompleteCar, Editor @50to70 & @EngineRoomShow. Writer for @CE_editorial & more. AUTOBEST Jury member