by Jim Kerr
Your car’s interior takes a lot of punishment. Even if you don’t have children or pets, freezing cold, the baking sun and normal wear and tear take their toll. To keep your interior looking like new, give it some special treatment. You could take it to an auto detailer for interior cleaning, but much of it you can do yourself.
Start by vacuuming the carpets and seats. Then clean the vinyl dashboard, door panels, and seats with a soft cloth and warm water. Soap is usually not needed but a diluted household cleaner may help remove stubborn dirty spots. Try not to use concentrated cleaner directly on a dirty spot. It will remove the dirt but can also remove oils from the vinyl or discolour the plastic. Make a habit of always testing a cleaning chemical on an unseen part of the interior before using it on visible panels. Most cleaners are fine, but why take a chance?
After cleaning the vinyl and plastic parts, you may want to use a commercial protectant designed to rejuvenate vinyl and plastics. These chemicals work, but can leave a glossy shine on dashboards. I find they work best if you spray the protectant on, let it soak in for a few minutes, and then wipe the remainder off with a soft cloth. Note: body shops don’t use these protectants because some of them contain silicone, which can cause blemishes when painting a car.
Carpets take a lot of abuse. Commercial cleaners use steamcleaners to clean the carpets, similar to home carpet cleaners. A foam type carpet cleaner will work for home use. The foam cleaner is worked in with a brush and vacuumed up. This cleans the carpet and makes the car smell clean. Cloth seat materials can also be cleaned with foam-type upholstery cleaners. Again, some materials may discolour so test the cleaner on a small out of sight area first. Clean a complete seat panel at one time to avoid different shades.
Stains on upholstery need special treatment to restore that “new” look. Some stains should be cleaned with cold water. Hot water will “set” the stain. Fruit, juice, coffee, other food stains, and blood are removed with cold water. To remove the stain, wipe towards the centre of the stain with a damp cloth. Rinse the cloth often and repeat until the stain disappears. Cleaning the stain as soon as possible after it happens will help remove it easier.
Grease or wax stains such as tar, oil, lipstick, and crayons require a solvent type upholstery spot remover. Gently scrape as much of the stain off as possible with a dull knife and wipe the stain with a clean cloth dampened with the solvent. Always work from the outside of the stain towards the centre and dry the area immediately afterwards with a hair drier. Be careful not to overheat and scorch the material.
Freeze gum with an ice cube and scrape off all you can. Then use the same cleaning method used for grease stains.
If you don’t know what caused the stain, take it to a professional car cleaner. There are lots of them listed in the yellow pages, but I always ask at my local car dealership. Most dealerships use an independent cleaner to freshen up their used cars, and if they are good enough for the dealership, they should do fine work on my car.
After cleaning the interior, lubricate all the door and trunk weather-strips with a silicone lubricant available at most auto parts stores. This prolongs the life of the weather-strips and prevents squeaks as you drive down the road.
Don’t forget to clean the windows inside and out using a household glass cleaner or a little vinegar in a pan of water.
Finally, to help preserve your vehicle’s interior, park it inside, in the shade, or use a sunshade inside the windshield. The air temperature in a small car exposed to the sun on a 35-degree C. (95 degrees F.) day exceeds 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees F.) within 20 minutes and 65.5 degrees Celsius (150 degrees F.) within 40 minutes!