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It’s super satisfying to hop into your car after a good cleaning. It really doesn’t take much effort, either. In fact, you can quickly refresh the interior with products from your laundry room or kitchen. There are a ton of articles and videos out there on how to clean your car with common household items. Here, I’ll share a few of my own tips and tricks.

You can clean fabric upholstery and carpets with a simple solution

If you don’t have any formal upholstery cleaning equipment, no worries. You can use diluted laundry detergent to freshen up your fabric seats and carpets. My favorite DIY secret ingredient is powdered Tide, but liquid detergent will work, too. You can use a “clean” or “free” detergent if you wish. There are many recipes out there for homemade cloth seat cleansers. Keep in mind that most involve some sort of product like oxygen bleach or dish soap.

To use my recipe, simply mix a small amount of detergent – think 1/4 teaspoon – into a bucket filled with very warm water. Add a clean rag or soft-bristled brush. Use the rag or brush to wipe down the seats, working through surface stains.

Once you’re done wiping with the solution, you can swap for a clean rag and another bucket of clean, warm water. Give the seats another wipe-down.

Repeat the process for carpeting. You can go more aggressive with brushing here. Leave the windows or doors open to let the interior air dry, or you can use a vacuum to speed the process up.

A black leather car interior shown in high contrast blue background word "FRESH!" overlaying in fluorescent font

You can use dish soap + water to clean leather seats, the dash, and the center console

To clean leather seats, the car’s dashboard, and the center console, including the steering wheel and cup holders, you can mix dish soap with warm water. You can use well-known brands or more natural castile soap. Like the fabric seat solution, think ½ teaspoon of soap to a filled bucket. Use with a clean towel to wipe all surfaces. 

You can use a toothbrush or Q-tips to address any tough areas. Feel free to let cruddy nooks sit in the solution for a bit to loosen up.

Once you’ve gotten everything clean, swap to a clean towel and a fresh bucket of warm water to do a rinse-wipe.

Finishing touches go a long way

I like to wrap up a car interior refresh with a dash protectant and a lasting but not overpowering scent. To protect the dash, you can mix a base oil (some have used olive oil, others mineral oil) with a few drops of scented essential oil (pine, orange, whatever) and wipe the hard surfaces with it.

Lastly, I typically place a dryer sheet under the driver’s seat. It will absorb future odors plus serve as an air freshener. It’s especially inoffensive for those sensitive to strong car fresheners.