How to Detail Your Car Yourself

how to detail your car yourself

I drive a minivan.  I have three little kids.  You might think that I have an exceptionally clean car.  Or you might instantly realize that THAT combination equals a very messy car, most of the time.  They don't really eat that much in the car, but even one time of having a bag of fishy crackers is crumbs everywhere.  And of course they always take a sippy cup and then it inevitably rolls somewhere under a seat where it is instantly forgotten.

messy car

It was time to clean the car.  I don't mean go to the carwash and vac place and throw a few quarters in the machine...which is what I usually do.  I was sick of the car feeling gross.

dirty car

I wanted that brand new, detailed clean car feel.  The problem is, I didn't want to pay someone $100 to do it, but I didn't know how to get my car to be THAT clean.  Every time I vacuum it, it is cleaner, but not really that CLEAN.  But with a little experimentation, I figured it out.  So here's how to detail your car.

When I got home, I made this awesome upholstery cleaner:

Laundry Detergent Spray:  1 Cup Scented Liquid Laundry Detergent+ 2 Cups water

I also got out my vacuum with the skinny tube attachment and the rollervac attachment.

First I cleaned out my car of most of the junk and large garbage.  Then I pulled out all the rubber mats.

How to clean Rubber Car Mats:  Spray with Detergent Spray, then wash off with water, scrub any sticky spots.  This worked great.  I let them air dry in the sun while I cleaned the rest of the car.

  before after car upholstery

How to clean Car Upholstery:  See this chair?  My daughter's car seat lives here.  That means that there are spots of finely ground in crumbs, secured in place by water and juice.  You might think there is no way this can be new again.  Wrong-o!

First vacuum the large crumbs.  Then spray the seat with Detergent Spray.  Rub with a non-abrasive scouring pad.  Scrub the spots that are especially bad.  Then vacuum with the rollervac attachment.  For leather, spray with Detergent spray and wipe clean immediately with paper towels.    Voila!

how to detail your car

How to clean Car Flooring: This is the part I'm the most proud of.  I did essentially the same thing as with the upholstery and it worked WONDERS.  Vacuum large crumbs.  Spray the floor with Detergent Spray (This is why I used scented because the scent stays in the car and makes it smell wonderful.)  Rub the flooring with the non-abrasive scouring pad.  Then vacuum with the rollervac attachment.  And seriously, this made the biggest difference!  I'm very proud of how clean my car floor is.

car backseat

How to clean Car Vinyl:  I didn't really take pictures of this because it was hard to tell the difference.  Plus, once I got started and saw how easy it was, I went so fast that I forgot to take them.  But here's how you clean car vinyl and get all the grubby scuffs off:  Magic Eraser.  Just like at home, folks.  Use the Magic Eraser for all those scuff marks, especially in the plastic spots where feet hit (like right next to the doors).

car front interior car detailing diy

For some general cleaning, I used a generic cleaning spray and paper towels to wipe down the dashboard and many other areas of vinyl and plastic.  I vacuumed all the nooks and crannies with the long skinny vacuum attachment.  And by the way, when I cleaned my car I found six sippy cups.  Six!  (This picture was taken in the garage with my phone so it's a little grainy, but trust me...this car is the cleanest it's ever been.)

car interior

And that's how I detailed my car and saved myself $100.

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Comments

  1. Wow that’s awesome!! Would you mind sharing which detergent you used? Thanks

  2. Just a word of caution: magic erasers will erase your clear bra on your hood. Went after those bug spots with gusto on mine and it took the finish off. Can’t recommend it for paint.

  3. Cindy Dumke says:

    I always kept a bath towel under the car seat to help on the cleaning.

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      That’s a totally helpful trick to use too. Thanks!

      • Danielle says:

        When my son was little, I also put a Towel under neath the carseat. But I also put a trash bag on the seat then the towel over the bag. So something wet won’t soak the seat only the towel. Great job in the car!!

    • Natalie A. says:

      I use a door mat that I purchased at our little Family Dollar – it has the nonslip grip stuff on the back and is thin. Works perfect to keep accidents of food and drink corralled and not leaking through. I thought a garbage bag but I was afraid it would be to slick on the upholstery.

  4. what vacuum do you have?

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      I have the Shark. I absolutely love this vacuum and its going on year 3 or 4, I can’t remember. It was a good price and has always vacuumed well. But what I love most is the lightweight, the swivel head, and the fact that every hose can be removed and cleaned out so you can get every clog unclogged.

  5. Melody Myers says:

    PLEASE do not use a magic eraser on your car’s clear coat! It may remove it! My Mom scrubbed her car all over with one and it was fine, but I barely touched the door of my car with it and it left a deep blemish.

  6. ChrisSchmidt says:

    When you say non-abrasive scrubber what do you mean? A simple sponge? A nylon covered sponge?

  7. just wondering, how long did it take to finish the entire detailing of your car?

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      It probably took about an hour to an hour and a half. It was hard work, I’m not gonna lie but sooo worth it!

  8. Glad my car isn’t the only one that looks like that.

  9. Angelique says:

    Did you know you can toss your carpeted floor mats right into the washing machine? Lay them flat to try and they’re good as new!

  10. My OCD is my vehicle. It has to be clean. On thing I do that saves me a lot of cleaning time is placing a folded towel under my daughters car seat. It keeps my seat brand new and it never gets juice or crumbs.

    • i don’t have little ones anymore. I do have grandkids and it reminds me of the messes my kids made when they were little. I can’t stand trash or crumbs in my car either. Not sure how I made it through my kids being little. I think I just had that mindset that this is what happens when kids are little and I became immune to messes because it was the norm.

  11. Nanny of Two says:

    Great ideas, thanks! When I do clean out my car myself, for free, I’m always sure to reward myself with a little something like Starbucks!

  12. i just think you should know that I love you for this post. I am fa-freaking-natical about my van and haaaaaate the gross seats. Your detergent idea makes me want to go and clean all of my seats. Right. Now.

    And it’s 10 o’clock at night and -20 out.

    Thank you, I love you, thank you. I can’t wait for the clean smell!!!

  13. Jennifer says:

    What is the rollervac attachment? I have about 10 attachments for my vacuum (no kidding and not sure what most of them are for??) and wonder if I even have a rollervac in my arsenal of attachments.
    Your van looks AMAZING!

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      It’s small, like the size of your hand. It has a roller in it with brushes like a mini-vaccuum. Thanks!

  14. The wet doesn’t mess with your vacuum?

  15. I’m curious, how did your carpet & upholstery do in the long haul? Did your detergent mix leave any residue that later caused problems?

  16. Thanks so much for the tips. I recently bought a car that I swear no one ever cleaned. Yeah it is definitely an ewwww situation. My next big project is a diy detail cleaning.

  17. I was wondering if you knew about the car vents. See my husband drove my car for a bit and is a miner and works with rock and would leave the car windows down so all the dirt and grime got in car and vents and its been challenging getting them clean.

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      Hmm, that is hard. Maybe that slime goo stuff that is good for cleaning cracks and canned air?

      • I took an auto class back in the day and we went over detailing and the professor said to use a paintbrush to clean cracks and vents. It has worked well for me.

        • I also have some body shop friends that after they clean the vents with a brush, they spray Armor All in the dents to hide any remaining dust. Also, smells good. 🙂

  18. If you use pledge on your dashboard, doors, anywhere the sun hits it works wonders! Cheaper and last much longer than armorall 🙂

  19. I also have a giant mini van and 3 children (ages 9 to 3!). I detail my van every couple months (because it gets really bad, very fast!). I do basically the same thing. I take both bench seats out. I always clean those first by using the vacuum attachment from my own vacuum, and using shampooer attachment to wash them. I just straight vacuum the floor, and use the attachment to get anything from the edges that I couldn’t get and inside the hooks on the floor. Then again, I just shampoo the floor with my regular shampooer and use the attachment for anything that I missed or couldn’t reach. My big difference is, because my van is an old van (a 2000 I think) I do use the protectant sprays on any vynal, leather, and the dash. And I use windshield cleaner so I don’t have streaks and it helps to have less fogging windows! 🙂 you pay a little more for these but it’s worth the investment! It probably takes me 4 hours to clean my van, front to back (that includes washing the outside). 🙂

  20. You can use a shop vac so you don’t ruin reg. vac. If carpets are really dirty, use rug shampoo mixed in pail, then use a scrub brush to scrub carpets, then use shop vac to suck up liquid. Or you can put the shampoo mixture in new weed sprayer, spray, brush, vac with shop vac and then repeat using just water in sprayer and vac with shop vac.

  21. Please post a picture of the “non abrasive scouring pad”. I don’t know what that is.

    Thanks in advance.

    • Heidi @ Honeybear Lane says:

      Something softer, like the green rougher part of a sponge. Not anything metal or wire or hard plastic. No steel wool.

  22. Ive professionally detailed (yes it is an art 😉) for 10 years. I came across this and had to read it. Anyways some things to think about (not bashing the article at all I promise).

    If you use detergent: dilute, dilute, dilute. Water comes out of upholstery, detergent is gooey in nature that’s why our cloths go through a rigorous rinse cycle. Oh and don’t use dawn dish soap. One its a horrible for the paint and two unless you plan on bringing a hose in the car to rinse it out do t use it on carpet.

    No magic markers. Yes it will fry your clear coat. Buy an auto magic clay bar. Sounds weird but yes a detailing clay bar is our hat trick. You say clay and people look at you like a lost dog! Trust me, YouTube it haha!!!

    When I’m working on carpets and a foam cleaner (in this case a diluted: remember very diluted detergent) I use a standard towel. Like a hand wash towel (white). The friction (which produces the heat and abrasiveness to loosen the grime/dirt so it can vacuumed up. Always vacuum after a shampoo. So spray your cleaner on the carpet and scrub with the towel.

    I seen some vent questions too. So close the vent and give a spray and use a tooth brush. It’s small and can get in anything. Mine never leaves my pocket. Along with various other little brushes but I find my tb to be the most essential.

    Also, a trick to smelly goodness coming through the vents all the time. On the outside of every car there is an air vent that usually is positioned at the very bottom of the front windshield (on the outside. If you’re inside that’s where the air comes out not in 😁). You should see little vents. If you have some febreez or any other air freshener spray, spray a little squirt in each vent so that all the air coming in from the outside has to pass that intake vent and get swallowed by the smelly goodness!!!!

    Shop vacs are your friends. As well as compressed air. Tight crack hit it with 40psi of air and it will move grime/dirt to an area to be sucked up!

    One last thing. Autogeek.net can elaborate more for those specific special jobs on vehicles. Plus you can order all detailing stuff known to man! I use it for all my ordering. Love my Wolfgang product line!

    Anyways I love detailing its my stress reliever and hobby. Taking a crappy car and making it look brand new is rewarding to me so any questions shoot I’m open to anything.

    All this detail talk reminds me that I have a customers Pontiac G8 that I have to get back to in my drive way! Later!!

    No magic erasers. Yes it will

  23. Pictures look great. Ive been detailing for 10 years or so, and I can second the Magic Eraser for interior use. You can use it on leather if it is really dirty. Just watch is the leather has been dyed, or old and wearing thin. Exterior use i wouldnt use the magic eraser though. It is the equivalent to a high grit sand paper, and cause light scratching and marring to your clear coat.

  24. Elizabeth says:

    Hi, and thank you for your wonderful article! I don’t have kids, but it definitely got me in the mood to go clean out my car! I do love that clean car feel:)

    I just wanted to note something about the detergent idea. I’m not really familiar with laundry detergent, which must be made to rinse out of clothes pretty easily, but being a floor covering specialist, I’ve learned that soap is dangerous! What I mean is that since it’s so tacky, so that it collects the dirt & grime of it all, if it’s not rinsed out super thoroughly then it keeps on doing it’s job of being tacky, and collecting dirt & grime. It won’t get sucked out enough by even the strongest of vacuums, unfortunately. It takes water, and lots of it. So, I’m with detail guy in that to dilute is a very integral part of the process, or you’ll have a much dirtier car in the close future. It’ll seem so much dirtier, faster than ever before, and that is why: the soap keeps on collecting and holding onto dirt.

    One idea might be to use these cheap pet odor and spot cleaners which are made of enzymes. We sell them at the carpet store, however, the dollar stores have them for, well, a dollar. What’s terrific is several things:
    1–they don’t need rinsed out ever! You vacuum, then wet the area needing cleaned (work in sections on the upholstery & carpet, mats and even any hard surfaces) and spray the enzyme cleaner and put a wet towel over the whole area. Close the doors and go back to the car in 6 to 24 hours. The damp enzymes eat all biological and organic matter, such as food–all of those tiny crumbs, sticky messes from dropped candy, chocolate, juice, even remaining spit up, vomit, or bodily waste, and organic matter like crushed up leaves, and so on. You will see huge stains completely disappear before your eyes! And if there are some areas which didn’t finish before they dried–as they need moisture to remain active–then re-wet them with water, cover them with a wet towel again, and let them sit. The only thing is that with grease/oil/rust/ink/paint, you will need to use a solvent (chemical) cleaner. But surprise! Almost all of our dirt and even dust is organic: dead skin cells, hair, food, bodily waste, and boogers, too!
    2–they smell so wonderful! And, they don’t need vacuumed out, since they’ll just work again the next time the area gets wet with any organic matter, milk spills etc, and thus keep cleaning for you in the future!
    3–they’re 100% safe for humans & pets. We demonstrate in the store by spraying the stuff in our mouths. Seriously. The brand we sell is by Mohawk.It’s been out for 15 years, now.
    4–Speaking of “safe” for us, they’re a-okay for my pets which are free to roam in the house 24/7, but you never smell them:) I have had for 20 years two huge turtles (one is near Guinness Book World Record for her weight & breed in captivity and 32 years old), for a few months a Himalayan Forest cat (huge and long haired), and an Amazon parrot who appears as though he’s on steroids for the size of him. They’re each potty trained: the turtles go in the aquarium, the parrot goes in certain spots of only 2 rooms of the house which does need cleaned up (no newspapers laying around, please!), and the cat will periodically get sick from hairballs. Like I said, you may enter my home and although it may be messy at times, it’s not one bit dirty and it doesn’t smell of pets at all. Most of all it’s easy…
    I hope this helps even just one person. I’ve been blessed with this knowledge and love it so much that I wish I could afford to do an infomercial about it so that everyone can share in the glory of a soap-less, softener-less, smell-less and dustless world, like I do. It’s THE CHEAPEST, easiest, and forever cleanable and not collecting of dust and dirt. No more pledge, scrubbing bubbles, or windex for my home. Forget that carpet cleaner crap, as you can get yours steam cleaned by Mohawk trucks around the world, (and other cleaning companies too), so that no soiling occurs right after you just had it done. [Ever hear someone say, “It seemed like it got dirty so fast after I had it cleaned!” and they think it’s the carpet? Yeah, no.] And if you want to freshen yours up in between an annual, (or like me, every 2-3 years) professional enzyme cleaning, just use your steam cleaner w/o any soap at all! Spot treat with enzymes only, and steam will reset the heat set fibers so they stand up like new again!
    5–also I do keep a bottle of enzymes in the kitchen/laundry/baths, since it’s a great cleaner of any surface and it not only leaves such a fresh scent, but also leaves no “soap” film to continue to collect dirt/dust/sticky items which will then just feather dust off or wipe off with just water. For nearly 15 years, I haven’t used soap anywhere except window cleaner (the foam for car windows is the best, but don’t use paper towels which will leave a film, so I use rags washed/dried w/o any softener–I use only vinegar as fabric softener so that my clothes & towel fibers aren’t coated, and thus last longer and perform better: more absorbent, antimicrobial fibers to be as such, etc). And, I use comet & bleach for commodes, drains & porcelain stains, but never in the porcelain tub–where I clean with water only, since there’s so much soap in the place as it is, that a good scrubbing with a brush & somewhat hot water is all it needs. For hard water stains, I use Calgon water softener in the tub, sink, on glass, or in laundry, and ALWAYS when I take a bath:) Not only does it make your soap products work wonderfully on you, but leaves your skin so soft, (don’t rinse yourself & your hair off with hard water–trust me, you’re cleaned enough just getting out & toweling off), and you can simply rinse out the tub to clean it! It’s so worth the money for that little box–I swear by it! Another good cleaner is the tried-and-true Borax. [I just don’t use it on my rugs, as it suggests you do. You already know how I handle my rugs, of course.] But don’t mix Borax with comet in the commode–there must be some chemical reaction, or something….the fumes were awful!

    And, by the way, I DO like those magic erasers on my white laminate counter tops–which don’t lose their finish when using them–at least on the brand names of Formica, Wilson Art, and Armstrong. Those granite counter tops? A lot of work, and you can’t really tell when they’re clean, either! If you have to go that look, do Silestone, or a similar crushed quartz product. It works like a dream and doesn’t require special treatments like granite does. I also like concrete, too; but am not aware of the finishes on those to be able to say how much upkeep there is to them. My father made a ceramic tile counter top which only I was responsible for cleaning in my teen years, and damn him! That was a total pain in the ass! Grout can be treated, but it still doesn’t last, and it will stain quickly after a few washes, as I’m here to tell you!
    Sorry this is so long, as

    I honestly have so much to do that I can’t believe I just wrote this, but I’m driven to tell any & everyone I can about these things, (enzyme cleaners, vinegar for laundry, and mirror/window cleaner for cars in the house), because they have made my life so much better! Sometimes, it IS the SMALL stuff that matters!
    Thank you so very much for your lovely blog, patterns and goodies–I LOVE it all!
    Very truly yours,
    Elizabeth

  25. I have towels under my children’s car seats, to keep my car’s seats clean and free from any indentation marks..

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