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How to Clean the Interior of an Automobile

Keeping your car’s interior clean is more than a matter of pride; dirt contains grit and chemicals that can eat away the surfaces of your car’s interior. Generally speaking, the same procedures and products that you use at home work quite well in your car.

Clean the interior before you do the exterior. The most effective thing you can do is vacuum the seats first, remove and clean the floor mats, and then vacuum the carpets. Dust the dashboard, rear window shelf, and other surfaces, and use swabs or a toothbrush to get into A/C vents, around dashboard knobs, and other tight places. Aerosol cans of air used for cleaning cameras and computers can force dust from tiny apertures.

Never use a dry rag or paper towels to clean the plastic lenses on instrument panel gauges. Small, dry particles of dust and grit can scratch the surface. If the lenses are clouded, use a plastic cleaner sparingly with a clean, damp terry cloth rag or sponge. Excess moisture can damage electronic instruments.

You can use the same products to clean car upholstery and carpeting that you use to clean your chairs, sofas, and rugs. Keep the following in mind:

  • Avoid using large quantities of water; you don’t want to get the padding under the fabric wet or rust the upholstery buttons, if there are any. Avoid sponges, working instead with damp rags wherever possible. If you think that you’ve gotten things too wet, use a portable hair dryer to dry the padding quickly and evaporate water from around buttons and seams.

  • To keep upholstery from fading and deteriorating, park the vehicle facing in a different direction as often as possible so that the sun doesn’t keep hitting the same surfaces. During dry seasons, keep a window or the sunroof open a crack to prevent heat from building up inside. It can dissolve fabric adhesives and crack vinyl seat covers.

Vinyl seats and interiors and plastic surfaces such as dashboards, steering wheels, and interior moldings usually respond well to water and a mild soap or dish detergent, but you may have to resort to special vinyl-cleaning products if you’ve let things get out of hand.

Protect all vinyl and plastic surfaces from sunlight and heat with products designed for those materials. While you’re at it, use them or a spray silicone lubricant on dashboards, weatherstripping, vinyl or rubber floor mats, and tires, too, to prevent them from cracking and drying out and to keep them supple. Avoid oil- and petroleum-based products that can damage vinyl and leave it brittle.

If you’re lucky enough to have leather seats in your vehicle, take care of them. If properly cared for, leather can last a long time but, like all skin, it dries out and ages prematurely if it’s not kept clean and moisturized. Follow this advice for caring for leather upholstery:

  • Use a high-quality product like saddle soap to clean and preserve leather seats. Neatsfoot oil waterproofs, softens, lubricates, restores, and preserves leather that has been cleaned first.

  • If you must park where the sun can get at your leather seats, lean them forward or drape something over them to protect them. If conditions are severe, think about installing window film that blocks UV rays. If this is impossible, take comfort from the fact that leather seats don’t get as hot as vinyl ones, so you can probably sit down on them without screaming.

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