How to clean a car interior: Disinfection, deodorizing and more

Cleaning and disinfecting rideshare car

Whether you’re a rideshare driver, taxi operator or simply taking your turn in the carpool, a clean car interior is essential. But car interiors are composed of an eclectic mix of surfaces, materials and odd angles. That makes cleanliness a challenge. But never fear! Here’s our comprehensive guide on how to clean a car interior.

3 top priorities to consider

Most of us use the term “clean” loosely. It can describe everything from simple tidying to pressure washing. To make sure we’re all on the same page, here are the three top cleaning priorities to focus on for car interiors.

  1. Physical cleaning: This is when you focus on removing the dirt, dead leaves, old receipts, coffee spills and any other visible detritus.
  2. Deodorizing: This is when you treat the unpleasant smells of mildew, pets, old spills, etc.
  3. Disinfecting: This is when you clean on a microscopic level, deactivating or killing viruses, bacteria and fungi that can cause illness.

How to physically clean a car interior

Depending on the condition of your vehicle, you may need a variety of tools to physically clean your interior. These tools include:

  • A container to collect and remove trash
  • Soft, clean rags or towels
  • A small paintbrush or toothbrush
  • Dish soap and water
  • Alcohol-based cleaner
  • Glass cleaner

At a minimum, physical cleaning should include removing trash, vacuuming debris out of carpets and upholstery, washing away residue and wiping off dust. By removing these physical materials, you are removing anything that might interfere with subsequent deodorizing and disinfecting steps.

For more information on cleaning specific parts of a car interior, check out Consumer Reports’ excellent guide.

How to deodorize a car interior

If you still find your car smells like garbage once all the garbage has been removed, it’s time to deodorize.

If you can, identify the source of the unpleasant smell. Did an accidental upholstery soaking lead to mildew? Did a pet or a child have an accident in the backseat? Or did you simply spill your coffee a few months ago and haven’t had time to clean it up?

Whatever the problem, the most important thing is to face it head on. No more hanging air fresheners or spritzing perfume — masking a foul odor is not the same as eliminating it.

One of the best all-around solutions to remove smells from a car is a peroxide-based cleaner. These cleaners:

  • Attack the mold spores causing musty smells
  • Deactivate odor-causing chemicals in organic residues, including bodily fluids
  • Can also be used to erase organic stains

However, not all peroxide cleaners are made equal. Many aren’t color safe, meaning you may end up with splotches in your upholstery. Be sure you’re using a color-safe, non-toxic peroxide cleaner, such as UrineTrouble by EnviroPro Solutions.

UrineTrouble can be used as a car deodorizer.

How to disinfect a car interior

Finally, if you want to have your car both clean and safe, disinfection needs to be the final step.

Our blog on the pros and cons of 5 common sanitizing solutions covers quite a few different disinfecting strategies. When it comes to vehicles, the top two options for disinfection are:

  1. Wiping all interior surfaces by hand with a disinfectant solution
  2. Spraying disinfectant solution with a handheld electrostatic sprayer

Wiping by hand involves very low upfront costs, just the cleaning chemicals and a cloth or disposable wipes. However, there are several major drawbacks. It’s time-consuming to wipe by hand and often difficult to reach every necessary surface. Worse yet, it can be very difficult to keep chemicals wet and in contact with surfaces long enough to ensure necessary dwell times are met. You can check out our glossary for more information on dwell times.

While a handheld electrostatic sprayer has a much higher upfront cost, it saves in the long run on supplies and time. The Victory cordless electrostatic handheld, for example, reduces overall cleaning chemical use by 65% versus conventional methods. And because the electrostatic technology allows the spray to wrap around corners, you don’t need to strain to reach every single nook and cranny.

If disinfection is something you’ll need to do regularly between rides, investing in a handheld electrostatic sprayer is often the most efficient and effective strategy for keeping everyone safe.

Handheld electrostatic sprayer for cleaning car interior.

A clean car means happy riders

While it can be a bit of work, keeping your car interior clean is worth the effort. Not only is a garbage- and odor-free ride more pleasant, but a truly clean interior helps ensure everyone makes it to their destination safe and sound.

To learn more about the products we recommended in this blog, check out UrineTrouble and the Victory Cordless Electrostatic Handheld Sprayer.