Simple Yet Effective Interior Cleaningby Chad Raskovich
For the average car owner, or even weekend detailer, interior cleaning can often be quite the challenge, which typically ends in unsatisfactory results. The biggest problem most people face is that they don’t currently own, nor do they want to spend the large amount of money needed to purchase expensive industrial hot water extractors and/or vapor steam cleaning machines, both of which can cost anywhere from $600 on up. While there is no doubt these machine deliver the best results time and time again, their cost is very hard to justify if their not used on a regular basis.
So what is a person to do? Well, luckily I’m here today to help you get great results at a fraction of the cost. 😉
Before we get started I’d like to note that this article is for cleaning BASIC SOILING ONLY. Special chemicals and techniques should be used when treating stains such red Kool-Aid, urine, vomit, ink, coffee, and gum. These chemicals or (spotting kits) can often be found at janitorial supply stores.
First lets look at a list of items that you’ll need.
- A good Shop-Vac, one that can be used to suck up water as well, the more lift it has the better.
- A cheap portable extractor, the Bissell Little Green Machine is perfect.
- Various brushes (carpet, upholstery, leather, detail)
- Air Compressor with air trigger attachment (highly recommended but not an absolute must)
- All Purpose Cleaner (Optimum Power Clean is great)
- Carpet Cleaner/Spotter (303 Fabric & Vinyl Cleaner or Folex work well for general soiling)
- Lots of Micro Fiber towels
- Vinyl/rubber Protectant (Depending on your taste in gloss, 303 Aerospace Protectant and 1Z Cockpit Premium Cleaner are great)
- Glass cleaner (Meguairs D120 is awesome and very cost effective)
Now that we have all the tools and products we need lets get started. To help with explaining my process I’m going to use this Chevy truck, which just recently came in for an interior cleaning…I thought it was a perfect candidate. 😉 The owner is big into hunting and fishing and his truck definitely gets used. Our long Minnesota winters are also notorious for leaving crusty salt deposits on the carpets, which can clearly be seen in the pics below.
Over the years dirt and debris has collected in all the seems between all the interior trim. Dirt, food, glass, coins, wrappers, and many other things had also collected under the seats and between the seats and center console.
Several spills had occurred as well
Clearly I had my work cut out for me!
The first thing we want to do is to remove all loose articles from the interior and then take our Shop-Vac and give the whole interior a thorough vacuuming.
If you have crusty salt deposits or stains they can often be loosened up with a stiff carpet brush while they are still dry
Next we want to purge the interior with air to get all the loose debris out of those hard to reach areas. I find that using compressed air on interiors to be one of the most valuable tools you can have. The task can be done with other methods (Shop-Vac that blows air too), but I’ve found this to be the most effective and efficient. Ideally I would have removed the seats on the vehicle but it wasn’t really that dirty under the seats and it also wasn’t in the owners budget. Removing the seats would have also defeated the purpose of this article since most people don’t have the necessary tools for such a job, nor do they understand the necessary precautions needed to do such a thing with. (Today’s modern vehicles, which are equipped with air bags built into the seats).
Safety first! Any time you’re blowing out the interior it is recommended that you wear eye and ear protection….especially on a vehicle such as this where broken glass was apparent.
This method is great for removing fine dirt and debris that falls between the seams of the seats
Blowing out the debris between the seats and console
Even after a thorough vacuuming you can see some of the stuff that came out from purging air under the seats and between the center console….fries anyone? 🙂
After you’ve purged the interior with air you will want to go back over with the vacuum and suck up any loose debris.
Now we will want to tackle the interior trim and headliner. The vinyl can be cleaned using an APC like Optimum Power Clean or Meguiar’s D101/D103, various brushes, and several MF towels.
I start by spraying the heavily soiled areas of the panel with an APC. (Arm rests are often the worst area on the panel)
Next gently agitate the soiled ares with an upholstery brush so that you can get down into the textured groves of the vinyl.
A small detail brush can be used to loosen debris in the cracks/panel seems and is also great for vents too
After agitating those areas with a brush follow it up by wiping the panel down it a damp MF towel.
If only light cleaning is needed a simple spray with APC and wipe with a towel is all that is needed. (1Z Cockpit Premium is also a great gentle cleaner for those light jobs)
Then follow up with a dry towel. Air is a great tool here too as it helps clean the cracks/panel seems and removes excess water. (Note: Be mindful around electronics and switches when using cleaning liquids and compressed air. Avoid spraying them directly with cleaners, water, and air)
A lot of vehicles have cup holders and trays that are easily removed and simply snap back into place. If the vehicle you are working on has trays like these, you can save time and also do a much better job of clean them outside of the car. The tray below was removed, sprayed down with some Optimum Power Clean, agitated with a brush, rinsed off with water, dried down, and dressed with 303 Aerospace protectant. Compressed air was also used to aid in the fast drying.
After finishing the interior trim I did some light cleaning of the headliner (sorry no pics). Anytime your working with the fabric headliners you want to avoid over wetting. To do this I simply spray some APC on a dry micro fiber towel and gently rub the soiled areas.
The leather seats were also gently cleaned using Optimum Power Clean at 10:1. This was done by working in small sections using a process similar to the vinyl above, though you want to be a little more gentle using the leather brush. (Note: When working on leather always test the cleaners in an inconspicuous areas first!)
Tips for cleaning cloth seats can see read about in this article (since this truck had leather seats)
Before we start extracting the carpets with our Little Green Machine we will want to treat any soiling with a fabric cleaner like 303 Fabric & Vinyl Cleaner and let it dwell for a few minutes.
Next you will want to scrub those areas with a carpet brush and follow it up with your little extractor.
Some additional notes on cleaning the carpets:
- Pre-treating and scrubbing are very important, don’t expect the machine to do all the work.
- You want to avoid over wetting as much as possible. Cheaper extractors lack PSI and especially water lift which will leave carpet/fabric more wet then a high end extractor will. To reduce over wetting I suggest following up the extraction process with a Shop-Vac right away to remove as much water as possible.
- You may need to repeat the process several times on heavily soiled areas
- The hotter the water the better. Some of the units will have heat on them (helps a little) but I still fill the tank with hot water from the tap
The front seats on this vehicle were also treated with Leatherique. 😉
After doing all the above I decided to call it quits for that day and would return the next morning to wrap up the details.
Note: After you’ve cleaned the carpets it is important that they dry as soon as possible. Air movers or fans should be placed in a way that allows them to blow over all cleaned/damp areas. Anytime I do an interior job I keep the car overnight and place my air-movers inside the vehicle as shown below. This usually has them dry in a few hours but your drying time will vary depending on several factors. NEVER SEAL UP A CAR WHEN THE INTERIOR IS STILL DAMP OR ALLOW IT TO DRY ON ITS OWN!
Now that the carpets are done you can go over all the vinyl with a protectant (optional) that meets your or your clients desired level of gloss. In this case I choose 303 Aerospace protectant. If you desire no gloss at all Meguiar’s Quick Interior Detailer or 1Z Cockpit Premium work excellent and both of them are also great for the Radio/Nav and dash displays. I also applied the 303 to all door seals.
All glass was then cleaned with Meguiar’s D120 glass cleaner.
Now for some finished pics! 🙂
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found the information helpful. If you have any questions or comments please do so in the comment box below.
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Rasky…very good article that will undoubtedly help both do-it-yourselfers and professional detailers alike! Thanks for the great documentation.
Also, great work on that hideous interior!
Thanks Todd! I always love a challenge and interior jobs also make for such a dramatic transformation. 😉
Yes, quite a transformation!
I’ve always wondered about the need/ability to rinse after using an APC on the interior. I’ve actually gone to Optimum No Rinse for my pedals as a result. But there may be cases where I need something stronger (like this!). Do you feel you get enough rinse with the wet-then-dry towels? Or should I be less concerned with removing the APC?
Thanks for the great write-up,
I feel the rinsing with a damp towel is more than adequate, and I’ve honestly never seen any harm from the proper use of an APC on interior vinyl in the 20+ years I’ve been detailing cars. I do rinse the towel in a 5 gal bucket frequently. If you follow up with a protectant on the vinyl I’m confident you’re also removing any remnants of the APC.
I would be a little more cautious with leather by diluting the product to at least 10:1 and avoid letting it dwell too long (work in small sections). Optimum Power Clean is supposed to be pretty safe for leather though according to Optimum. You also want to watch out for cheap repairs or redying of leather seats (pretty common on used cars) and it’s always a good idea to test in an inconspicuous area first.
Hope this helps,
Wow. That car was crazy dirty. I love your work Chad and the detail in the article is superb.
Thanks Allen! 🙂
No job’s too tough for Chad! Great work and documentation showing how to effectively use some tools that many enthusiasts have sitting around but don’t fully use. The turn-around is so huge the finals look nearly fake!
Thanks Marc/Jacob. 🙂
Great article, you’ve definitely given me a few ideas to help keep my interior cleaner. I’m going to pick up a Bissell next, and my seats are currently soaking in some Leatherique as we speak! Thanks for the pointers in this article.
Thanks Nick! I’m glad you found it to be helpful. The LGM is also a great tool around the house! My wife uses it all the time actually. 😉
What is the ratio for the APC when doing headliners please?
The dilution ratios for APC’s will vary between manufactures so it’s best to follow their recommendations. On this vehicle I was using Optimum Power Clean mixed at around 3:1 for the headliner. When using either the Meguiar’s D101 or D103, I’ll mix it at 10:1 for headliners and other fabrics.
what would you recomend for a dilution ratio for the 303/fabric cleaner and is there a different way to rinse the carpets other than the the lgm
You can use 303 straight or dilute it, according to the manufacture. I currently only use it for spotting carpets and I have it mixed at 1:1. You can use other brand/models of extractors for rinsing too, but the LGM is just one of the most common ones. I know some people will just use a sponge to wet/rinse the carpet and follow it up with a Shop-Vac, but this is NOT something I recommend.
Great Job those after pictures really show how complete of a job you did. One could accuse you of going down to your local Chevy dealer and taking pictures of a new truck interior. Thanks for sharing
Hahaha. Thanks Don. 🙂
Chad that is a great article. You really had your work cut out for you on that one. Beautiful work!
Hi, I was wondering what air movers you are using? Thanks!
Yikes!!! Vehicle neglect like that should be against the law. Great job of “rehabililitating” the interior. Really inspires me to adopt some of your techniques. Thanks Chad.
What brand ate those yellow blowers you use? Model?
Thank you and great job!
Thanks again guys!
The air movers I have are made by Stanley Tools, Model 655702.
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Have you tried a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and hot water to remove excessive salt build-up?Some do not like the vinegar smell left behind.
Or is the 303 Fabric Cleaner (or Folex) a “better” cleaner for salt on carpet and fabric floor mats?
I have heard of the vinegar method before but I honestly detest the smell of it and for that reason alone I’ve never actually tried it. My above process has always produced great results for me and I’ve never seen any reason to deviate from it. If you’ve used the vinegar before and you’re happy with the results you’re getting, by all means continue to use it. However, if you’re looking for a new method (with no odor) I would suggest giving the above a try. Just remember that brushing and breaking up the chunky stuff is a big part of the process too, as I don’t think the Folex will be as effective at dissolving the salt 😉
Thats it, Im sending you all my interior jobs!!!! LOL’
Nice work Chad, great write up!
Hahaha! Thanks Eric! I actually don’t mind doing interiors that much, but definitely prefer polishing paint. 😉
Thanks for the write up. I wish the review included more on the use of the Little Green Machine. How many times did you have to empty out the tank while cleaning.
For the budget detailer, the blower is just not cost effective so wondering how long would it take to air dry (or using the shop vac blower) the interior?
I didn’t want to focus too much time on the LGM as it’s not the only budget extractor that can do the job, and it’s also not a product carried by Detailed Image. I had to empty and refill the tank 3 times, but your results will vary depending on the size of the vehicle and the condition of the carpet. I have a large jug I fill with hot water so I can quickly fill the LGM without having to run to the faucet in the house.
As far as drying goes, there are many factors that come into play which determine how long it will take (weather, type material, how wet you got it, amount of air flow…). I’ve never tried using a shop-vac to dry with so I’m not sure how well that would work, but they can definitely more large volumes of air. As long as the shop-vac is blowing clean, odor free air, and you can safely secure the flow of air, it should do the job. Not sure if you look up the cost of the air movers I use, but they are under $50 each, which is actaully a fraction of the cost some of the industrial units run. 😉
Great work Chad. The before and after shots are amazing! I’m a newbie and never realized I could use Optimum Power Clean on headliners (duh!), so that’s a great tip for me. Can’t wait to try it on my next job. Thanks for the great write up!
Just make sure you are spraying it on the towel and not directly onto the headliner and avoid getting it too wet. 😉
wow…. i am happy to find your site….. i am bookmarking it….
the only sad part is availability of the cleaning stuff in India
Chad excellent write up as usual that was an amazing turnaround on that nasty interior. I just have two questions though? What was the ratio of APC used for the interior and who forgot the clean the pedals lol. Excellent job I cant believe that little green machine works that well guess now i have to go open and use the one I bought a few weeks back. Excellent job man looks fantastic.
The dilution for OPC will vary depending on the surface I’m cleaning, but typically it’s about 4:1 for most surfaces and about 10:1 for dirty leather.
Not sure what you mean about the pedals but I think you better have another look at the first pic and then the after pics again. 😉 FYI, I NEVER put any type of gloss enhancing products on pedals or floor mats. They were simply cleaned with OPC and a brush, nothing more. 😉
I wasn’t recommending any gloss enhancing products on the pedals lol that would be dangerous, the pedals just looked a little brown, could just be the angle the picture was taken from. Anyways it looks a million times better anyways great job as usual man keep up the great work you are truly a dedicated professional……..
Great work sir, very impressive and some great new techniques.
Do you have any recommendations for getting used motor oil out of tan carpet? Please? Help me?
I can’t quite tell from the pics if the speaker covers on the doors are fabric or some stiffer material. I was wondering how to get stains out of fabric ones without damaging them? The ones in my car are already on the loose and wrinkly side I’m afraid if I scrub them I won’t be happy with the results!
Great write up Chad! Only just come across this site, sorry its a bit belated (maybe something to do with being across the pond!) but did you have any cleaners in the LGM or just clean water for rinsing? Great work!
I have used cleaners in the tank before but I found it better to just use only water and have it act as a way to rinse. I finally broke down and bought a Mytee last year, and I’ve maybe done 2 interior jobs since then….O-well, lol! 😉
My girlfriend had me take her cat to the vet for an emergency trip. Needless to say the animal peed all over my passenger side floor carpets. I have used a Bissell steam cleaner and Bissell’s Urine carpet cleaner. I’ve done this twice and there is still a faint odor. Any suggestions to remedy this situation?
Any help would be greatly appreciated
As far as over the counter products you may want to try some “Nature’s Miracle”, which can be found in pet stores. Otherwise a janitorial supply store like Jon-Don will have specialty products for pet urine. Keep in mind some of these specialty products will also have unique cleaning processes, so you may want to try the Nature’s Miracle first. Cat urine is nasty and very hard to remove in my experience.
Hope this helps,
I would love to learn more about this topic. Being a pro cleaner, this kind of thing
interests me. I’ll bookmark your site and return later.
In step 6, you’re using Folex, no?
It’s been a while since I did this vehicle so it could have been either Folex or the 303 cleaner listed. I do recall putting 303 in that bottle at one time, I just can’t recall if it was on this vehicle. Either will work though and I still keep both on hand. 😉
let me know if you need an intern my friend!
Chad… excellent article! I pretty much follow all of the steps that you have outlined here. One thing I do have is a small Craftsman wet dry vac that I use for “wet work…” like vacuuming moisture from WeatherTech floor mats, etc. I have the Bissel Little Green Machine extractor in addition to this and my standard wet dry vac. What I did was remove the nozzle from my LGM and use it with the Craftsman to pick up moisture from carpeting after spraying Folex, scrubbbing and steaming the carpeting. It has more suction than the LGM, and seam puts less moisture into the carpeting, allowing it to dry a lot quicker.