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Cleaning your car interior is a good way to improve your driving experience. A clean car can feel brand new, even if it isn’t, but there are easy ways to make mistakes when cleaning your car as well. In my experience as a professional detailer, I’ve come across these mistakes (and even committed one myself). Here are the 3 biggest mistakes people make when cleaning car interiors and how to avoid them.

Using too much water can ruin your car interior

A bottle of Meguiar's Carpet and Upholstery Cleaner
The applicator may look flimsy, but it works | Meguiar’s

If you’re trying to remove tough stains, a carpet extractor can be a great tool. Even household models make it easy to apply both cleaning solutions and scrubbing to remove those tough stains. However, they also make it easy to oversaturate your upholstery. When this happens, you’ll soak not just the seat fabric, but the foam beneath. This is exceptionally difficult to remove completely, and will leave lingering moisture for days to come.

Furthermore, this can continue to wick up and embed new stains in the seats as it continues to dry. It’s a mistake I made early on when trying to clean a particularly trashed interior. Luckily, I was able to use the suction from my extractor and a warm blow dryer to re-clean the seats and ensure they were dry.

In extreme cases, the moisture can hang around long enough to create mold. When cleaning car seats especially, you want things to be damp, not soaked. Even if it takes multiple applications, this is still a better approach than ruining your car interior.

Aggressive cleaning will destroy your headliner

Rolls Royce headliner
Rolls Royce Headliner | John Keeble/Getty Images

Headliner stains are among the most difficult to tackle when cleaning your car interior. The fabric tends to be delicate and even less forgiving than your seats and carpets. In addition, the headliner is glued to the backing board that holds it onto the roof. This glue is especially sensitive, and too much moisture can delaminate it. Harsh cleaners will have the same effect. And either way, the result is a saggy headliner that will need to be replaced.

Instead, spray a modest amount of your cleaning solution onto a brush or towel, and gently apply it to the stain. Because the headliner is sensitive, you want to avoid scrubbing too aggressively. Instead, use moderate pressure and a circular motion to agitate the stain, then remove by gently dabbing with a microfiber towel.

Don’t use abrasive tools on leather seats

Fully loaded 2024 Lexus LX Ultra Luxury interior
2024 Lexus LX Ultra Luxury | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

Car leather is a tricky thing to clean, as it can be easily torn apart or broken down by aggressive cleaning. Not only should you only use a leather-approved cleanser, but avoid harsh brushes and Magic Erasers when cleaning your car’s interior. If your leather seats are stained, you can use a microfiber towel to get a bit more aggressive.

In addition, there are soft bristle brushes available that are safe on automotive leather. In short, when cleaning leather seats it’s best to start with the gentlest possible approach and get more aggressive only when necessary. And no matter what, hard bristle brushes and abrasive sponges should be left in the kitchen, not on your leather interior.

Avoid these mistakes to keep your car interior looking fresh

As much as we want to keep our cars clean, going overboard can actually make things worse. Avoid these 3 common interior car cleaning mistakes and get the best results to make your ride look great.


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