How to Spring Clean Your Car

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Originally published April 16, 2015. Updated April 27, 2020.

Knowing how to spring clean your car well makes the task so-oooo much easier.

I spend so much time in my car in the spring and summer traveling and sitting at kids’ sports practices and games, so having a cleaner car is important to me. I don’t want to be trapped in the small enclosed space of my car with a winter’s worth of dust, dirt and grime.

orange vacuum with cleaning supplies sitting in front of open car door with white text overlay reading How to Spring Clean Your Car

It’s spring. The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing and it’s time for spring cleaning.  I look forward to shaking off the dust and dirt of winter each spring with a thorough deep cleaning of my home and car.  Over the years, I’ve wrestled with how to spring clean my car and have discovered 6 tips that work for me.

How to Spring Clean Your Car

The secret to a thorough spring cleaning of your car is gathering the right supplies and choosing a nice day when you can allocate at least an hour to cleaning.

Supplies

Check out my Tips for a Clean Car Interior in No Time to keep the car clean by using wasted time waiting in the car. We all waste way too much time just sitting in the car, why not make that item work for you.

6 Steps to Clean the Car Interior

Vacuum the dashboard, doors, console and any other surfaces other than the upholstery and carpet

I use the soft brush attachment on the vacuum to remove all dust and debris.  I’m careful to look in crevices where dust or other surprises maybe hiding.

car door handle with crumbs circled

Use all purpose cleaner to wipe down plastic or metal surfaces

I add a tsp of all purpose cleaner to a large bowl of water.  I also have a second bowl of water for rinsing.  I use a cloth to wipe every surface down with cleaner and then wipe the surfaces well with a second cloth dipped in water.  I clean from the top down and leave the door wells for later.  I often have to change out the bowls of cleaner and water a couple of times. 

top image dusty car dashboard with text reading Before, lower image of clean dashboard with text reading After

Clean the seats

Vacuum all the upholstery.  Use the crevice tool to get down into the back of the seats.  Clean up stains with a soft cloth and water.  For more stubborn stains, check your car manual for cleaning recommendations.

Vacuum the carpets

Remove the floor mats.  I shake them out first and then vacuum them well.  Vacuum in one direction first and then vacuum in the other direction to remove all the debris.  I often find it helpful to just use the vacuum nozzle without any attachments.

clean car floor mat next to dirty car floor mat with vacuum head

I then vacuum the carpet inside the car. I like to use the crevice tool to get into hard to reach spots. Here again, I find it most effective to use the vacuum nozzle without any attachments on the carpet.

top image interior car floor with dirt with text reading Before, lower image clean car floor with text reading After

I take everything out of the trunk and vacuum it well. I know the trunk is clean when I can see vacuum lines in the carpet (and it makes me very happy). I then return only the necessary items to my trunk (how did all those extra things sneak into the trunk?!)

top image bags and clutter in a car trunk with text reading Before, lower image neat and tidy car trunk with text reading AFter

Clean the windows and mirrors

I’m always surprised at how much dirt and yuck I wipe off of the inside of the windows and the interior mirrors.  I’m ecstatic at how much clearer my windows and visibility are.

After I’ve vacuumed all the carpet, I use my bowl of all purpose cleaner and wipe down the door wells where grease and dirt collect.  I rinse these surfaces well with water and then dry them with a paper towel.  Taking the extra few minutes to clean this area seems pointless until your daughter’s beautiful prom dress is marred by brushing against her friend’s car door (ask how I know!).

Add your own car freshener that costs pennies

2 bottles of Fabuloso cleaner and roll paper towels

Instead of purchasing a car freshener, I just make my own.  Start with a repurposed plastic berry container.  The smaller berry containers are the perfect size.  I use a couple of paper towels and all purpose cleaner. I choose a cleaner with a fresh scent, like the soothing lavender Fabuloso® all purpose cleaner I used to clean my car.

clean car floor mats in car

I simply add a few drops of cleaner to the paper towels, fold them up and place them inside the cleaned berry container. I put the container under the front seat of my car. Voila! My nice clean car will continue to smell clean and fresh for days.  When I find that the scent is lessening, I just add a few more drops of fresh smelling cleaner.

Every time I’ve jumped into my car this week to rush off to another activity, I’ve actually paused for a moment to enjoy my fresh smelling and beautifully clean car. Really.  

I knew I’d done a great job of spring cleaning my car when my teen daughter got into the car, paused and said, “Hey, mom, the car looks great.  And it smells good, too.”  When my teenager notices, I know I’ve made a big impact.

More spring cleaning ideas:

Do you have any favorite tips on how to spring clean your car?

Find all my best cleaning tips and hacks in the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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26 Comments

  1. I am awful about cleaning my car. My husband usually does it for me when it gets so bad he can’t stand it. I love your ideas though and definitely need to try out your air freshener idea since I’m hauling 2 stinky boys around all the time.

    1. Jean, you’re so lucky that your husband will clean the car for you! Do try the air freshener, it works well with my stinky hockey playing boys.

    1. Thanks, Andrea. I remember those days of having little ones in the car. It is amazing how much dirt one little one can bring into a car.

  2. Awesome tips! I don’t keep my car too clean, it’s a love hate relationship that I have with it.
    Don’t know. Definitely going to try your tips. Specially the air freshener idea. Thanks

    1. Laura, the love hate relationship is too funny. I just don’t like being closed up in a small space with all that dirt (I must have a messy family!) Hope the tips help.

  3. The DIY deodorizer is genius! I would choose the same cleaner. My mom uses Fabuloso to mop her floors and it always fills the house with an amazing scent for days. As for the rest of the cleaning, spring cleaning the car is my most dreaded chore because there are always many hidden terrors (that usually explain the strange smell in the car). The crevice tool on the vacuum becomes my best friend!

    1. Glad to know my family isn’t the only one that hides “terrors” in the car (how can they be my kids!)

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  5. These are great tips and I needed to get out and clean my car anyways! I have a link party on Saturdays and would love if you would come share with me!
    Hope to see you there.
    Abbi

  6. I am not a car cleaning person, although I do love a clean car. I love the tip about putting the cleaner on a paper towel and in a small fruit container! Great way to keep that clean scent for a long time.

    1. It really does work as a great air freshener. You can just add a bit more cleaner to the paper towel when the scent lessens.

  7. You sound like me that your car could be your second home, as you shuttle kids here and there. I need to clean my car out also, and what better way than to use Fabuloso, it smells amazing.

  8. Vacuum every surface, including the dashboard. It’ll save you time when you get to the next step. Don’t forget the spaces in between the headrests. The brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner can be especially helpful when it comes vacuuming the crevices on hard surfaces.

  9. Loved your ideas! Now how about this problem? I have salt stains on my car floor carpet (on the side) not on the removable carpet, but on the actual floor carpet. Any ideas???

    1. Thank you, Valerie. Try a mixture of white vinegar and water for the salt stains . Spray the mixture on the stain. Using a clean cloth gently rub the stain. Be careful not to grind the salt down into the carpet. You want to loosen the salt and debris not push it down into the carpet. Replace your cloth when it is dirty. Hope this helps and sounds like I need to do a new blog post on this topic. šŸ™‚ )

  10. I am beyond awful about cleaning my car and am in great need of a detailing! My seats are fabric and TAN! With a 9 year old boy and me always on the go, these make an equation for a disaster! I am looking for a way to clean the seats and multiple dark stains out effectively without having to spend $100.00.

    1. Hi, Chantale. You can try using warm water with a little bit of dish soap. Use a white cloth to clean the area with the water. Rinse well with clean water and blot dry. It’s worth trying before you pay to have them cleaned. Good luck!

  11. I absolutely love the idea of reusing a berry container to store the paper towels! That’s genius! Can’t wait to try these out for myself! Thanks for sharing šŸ™‚

    1. Some other “air freshening ideas” that may last longer…1) drops of essential oil on a wooden clothespin clipped to air vent, 2) wax melts in a small glass container with holes in the lid & place in a cup holder, 3) make your own “febreze-like” spray in small glass bottle by adding water, 1t baking soda, 10 drops essential oil(s), 1t alcohol.

      1. Deb, these are great tips! I think I’m going to update the post and add your tips in the body of it. Thanks so much for sharing them!

  12. A vacuum cleaner will really help to get rid of dirt and dust in the car interior. Thank you for sharing this article!

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