There are three primary ways to clean interior automotive carpeting, upholstery and fabrics.
- Hand cleaning with a scrub brush and absorbent towels.
- Hot water extractor
- Steam machine
Working by hand
This how-to article will show you how to clean dirty, soiled carpet by hand using a quality carpet and upholstery cleaner plus an ordinary scrub brush plus plenty of clean, dry towels. The secret to cleaning dirty carpet by hand is actually quite simple. Besides using a safe and effective carpet and upholstery cleaner, the next most important aspect is to remove as much of the cleaner (and the dirt it has loosened and emulsified), out of the carpet by using the blotting technique.
The blotting technique
The blotting technique is simply using clean dry microfiber or cotton terry cloth towels to wick or absorb any liquids in the carpet up and out of the carpet. After doing your best to blot out any residual liquids, the next most important step is to remove all remaining moisture via evaporation and to do this you use an air mover. Once the carpet is fully dry you can then put the car back into service without the risk of mold or mildew forming.
- A high-quality carpet and upholstery cleaner.
- Carpet scrubbing brush.
- Lots of clean, dry microfiber towels or cotton terrycloth towels.
- A small fan or air mover.
Step 1: Remove any large loose debris.
Step 2: Remove any floor mats.
Step 3: Blow out any loose dirt and debris.
Step 4: Vacuum carpet thoroughly – this removes embedded dirt and also LIFTS the fibers of the carpet up.
Step 5: Spray carpet and upholstery cleaner onto a section of carpet to be cleaned. Follow directions for dwelling and penetrating time.
Step 6: Agitate carpet and upholstery cleaner with a brush.
Step 7: Use the blotting technique with plenty of clean microfiber towels to remove the cleaner and any dirt and grime its loosened out of the carpet. Switch to a clean, dry towel often.
As you can see, even working by hand you can clean even the dirtiest of carpets.
And of course, we cleaned the other side plus the driver’s side carpet also.
For extremely dirty and soiled carpet and upholstery – after blotting out the majority of the cleaner and loosened dirt residues – re-wet the surface with clean water from a spray bottle and re-blot. This acts as a dedicated rinsing step. Repeat until you are satisfied with the results.
Note: For extremely dirty carpet and upholstery - repeat steps 5, 6 and 7 until you’re satisfied with the results.
To speed dry the carpet place a small fan or air mover into the interior of the car. Roll the windows down a few inches so fresh air can move into the car and moist humid air can flush out of the car. Run the fan for an hour or two and this will evaporate any remaining moisture out of the vehicle.
Helpful tip: Place a clean microfiber towel down first and set the fan or air mover onto the towel.
Professional Technique Tip - Use an Air Freshener!
Most professional grade carpet and upholstery cleaners include a fresh scent to leave behind a clean smelling interior. If you have a favorite air freshener or prefer a specific scent, now is a great time to mist the freshly cleaned carpet and surrounding carpet and upholstery with your preferred fragrance of choice.
Spraying 3D Mango Tango Air Freshener for a fun, citrus scent for the interior of this Mercedes-Benz.
Now that the carpets are clean and dry, reinstall the floor matts. For this classic 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL 500 the owner purchased new floor mats as the floor mats that came in the car were old and deteriorated.
Carpet – The dirtiest part of your car
One of the dirtiest areas of your vehicle is the carpet in the front driver’s and passenger sides of the vehicle. The reason why is because these areas tend to see the most foot traffic unless you have kids or pets that ride in the back of the vehicle. Sure, the outside of your car gets dirty from exposure to the environment but cleaning the outside is pretty straightforward – you wash and dry the car. When it comes to cleaning interior carpeting and upholstery, because this is a fibrous material – cleaning it requires just a tick more technique plus the right products.
Carpet naturally attracts and holds dirt
Anytime you’re walking around outside, the bottom of your shoes are getting dirty with all kinds of dirt, germs, oily grime and other crud you walk on as you move around. This build-up of dirt travels from the bottom of your shoes to the inside of your car where it self-cleans off the bottom of your shoes and onto the carpet inside your car. Most automotive carpeting has some form of design or nap. This design can be a closed loop or an open or straight fiber. The closed loop style tends to stay cleaner because dirt has a more difficult time moving down into the weave of the carpet. The open style straight fibers are more luxurious, but this style does tend to become dirtier over time because dirt and liquid stains can easily penetrated deep into the weave where it will be more difficult to remove 100%.
Interior carpeting – what is it?
When we think of carpet our brains tend to think of some type of cloth from natural materials, things like cotton, denim, canvas are examples of stout types of cloth material. But modern automotive carpet is not made from natural materials such as these because these types of materials simply will not hold up to the rigorous abuse floor carpeting is subjected to day-in and day-out.
Synthetic fibers – high-end and luxury cars
Most automotive carpet can be placed into two categories, high-end and low-end. The carpeting found in high-end cars will tend to use some type of synthetic fibers including rayon, nylon, or polypropylene. These synthetic fibers will hold up to repeated wear-n-tear from physical contact from all types of shoes including, flip flops to rugged work boots. Synthetic fibers simply hold up better to physical abrasion plus they are also a lot more stain resistant as well as color-fast. Low-end carpeting will often be manufactured from recycled materials including plastic.
Recycled materials – low-end transportation vehicles
Many OEM car manufacturers in an effort to incorporate recycled materials into the build of their fleets, use recycled materials, primarily plastic in non-structural components, which includes carpeting for the interior as well as heat and sound deadening insulation. Any carpet made from recycled materials will tend to be more fragile due to the nature of the material itself. Low-end carpeting can be more difficult to clean and restore to a factory new appearance depending on the offending dirt and grime. The cleaning process by hand for both high-end and low-end carpeting is the same however and that is to use a professional grade carpet and upholstery cleaner with the appropriate brush plus plenty of clean, dry towels to blot the carpet dry.
Regardless of the type of car you have or the type of carpeting used for the interior, if you follow the steps outlined in this article and use high quality products with good technique in most situations you’ll be able to clean the carpeting while restoring a factory new appearance with a clean, pleasant scent.