Mother Knows Best: How to Vacuum Your Car

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I had just moved into my first apartment and my mom had come to visit. I hurriedly ran around tidying up the place before she arrived, but the bulk of my time was spent putting away laundry and cleaning dishes; I had completely overlooked the floors.

My mom walked in the front door and gave me a sage piece of advice that I’ve never forgotten. “If you only have a few minutes warning that a guest is coming by, vacuum the front entryway carpeting and then move on to tidying up the rest of the place.”

She was right, it turns out that having a great first impression of the apartment really goes a long way. Moreover, those vacuum cleaner lines that appear when you run the Kirby over the carpet are a tell-tale sign of a clean, well-kept house.

The same basic principle is true for an automobile. You can have the shiniest, perfectly detailed paint, but if you open the door and the carpet is covered with grass trimmings and fast food wrappers the car feels old and dirty.

I am able to review brand-new cars on a regular basis, and when they first arrive they are always nicely detailed inside and out. Within a few days of normal use the carpets, especially the darker ones, start to collect dirt and sand and the vehicle actually starts to look like something you’d find at a used car lot. When used regularly, it can only take a few days for a brand new vehicle to start to look lived in. However, if you take five minutes to collect the trash and vacuum the carpets, the car will look new again. The transformation costs nothing and rarely feels like work once you’re done. For the time expended, I can’t think of a better way to improve the appearance and comfort of a vehicle.

It is also worth mentioning that a vehicle that is filthy on the outside because of the inevitable rain or snow seems incredibly tidy if the carpets are vacuumed and the cabin is free of dust and trash. Clean carpet also lasts longer, wears more evenly and smells better too.

Keeping your vehicle’s carpet and mats maintained is easy and inexpensive. And by regularly cleaning your vehicle’s interior you are protecting your investment and helping the resale value stay as high as possible. There really is no right or wrong way to keep the interior lovely, but I do want to share some information that I’ve found useful from years of car ownership and being the designated “car guy” in my family.

The Right Vacuum Cleaner Makes all the Difference

There are many different types of vacuum cleaners on the market. Odds are you own a household vacuum already and for many of you that may be the best viable option for cleaning your vehicle too. Unfortunately, many household vacuums are too bulky or awkward for vehicle use and they can often represent a large investment that you may not want to drag outside and risk damaging. While I’m not saying it is necessary, my recommendation is to purchase a vacuum specifically for cleaning your car.


(CARFAX, Inc.)

If you live in a house with an accessible outdoor power outlet, a plug-in wired vacuum cleaner is often the least expensive and most powerful option. I own an older shop vacuum that works perfectly and has for at least ten years. I don’t think I paid more than $50 for it brand new. If you do decide to purchase a vacuum cleaner specifically for your vehicles, consider purchasing a wet/dry vacuum that can pick up liquids as well as dirt and grime. A traditional vacuum cleaner uses a bag that is not intended for liquids and even vacuuming up a small amount of water can lead to the growth of mold and bacteria. A wet/dry vacuum draws the dirt and water into a canister that can be emptied and rinsed out. The only downside of a wet/dry vacuum is that they often lack the filters provided by a bagged model, often sending tiny amounts of dust and dirt back into the air. To combat this, my recommendation is to wet/dry vacuum your car outside or in large heavily ventilated garages.

(CARFAX, Inc.)

(CARFAX, Inc.)

If you live in an apartment complex without access to a power outlet you may want to invest in a cordless vacuum. Just keep in mind that an inexpensive cordless vacuum may not provide the suction that you will need to remove the sand and dirt carried in by passenger’s shoes. Of course, there are exceptions, one being the recently released Dyson V6 cordless vacuum cleaner. The Dyson unit provides about 20 minutes of cleaning time that is as good, if not better, than many plug-in vacuum cleaners. The Dyson unit doesn’t require a bag either, and emptying the unit after cleaning your car only takes a few seconds. The only downside of the Dyson is that it is fairly expensive; with units starting around $300.

A third option is to avoid buying a car vacuum altogether and using the large coin-operated units found at many gas stations and car washes. These vacuums are typically quite powerful and do not require a substantial investment. Of course the downsides are numerous. They can be less convenient depending on how far you have to travel, and the investment that you make every time you use one will add up over time. But for many, gas station vacuums are a really excellent option.

Some Helpful Car Vacuuming Tips

As I said before, there really isn’t a right or wrong way to vacuum your vehicle, but I can offer some suggestions from my own experience. I would recommend vacuuming your vehicle before you wash the exterior. I usually take out all the mats and bang them against the ground or a pole to get the loose dirt free before I start vacuuming. If you do this before you wash the car, there is a better chance that the wind won’t carry some of that dirt and sand right back onto your car’s freshly washed exterior.

Once the mats are out I start by vacuuming the interior, using different tools to reach into narrow spaces when necessary. Seats can also benefit from vacuuming, but be careful with hard plastic or metal vacuum attachments; they can damage delicate leather and fabric upholstery. I have found the hose attachment with the soft bristle brush works perfectly for seats and your car’s other hard and soft-touch surfaces, like the center console. The soft bristle vacuum attachment will also help grab any dust and dirt that have accumulated in the hard-to-reach contours of the car’s seats.

Removing Stubborn Stains in Your Car’s Upholstery

(CARFAX, Inc.)

(CARFAX, Inc.)

I will typically vacuum the removable mats last and look to see if I need to go one step further and shampoo out any stains that may remain after I have thoroughly vacuumed the cabin. While there are many great products on the market, I have found Turtle Wax Ice Heavy Duty Floor Mat & Carpet Cleaner to work quite well. The can comes with a handy plastic bristle brush built right into the spray nozzle to help remove stubborn stains. Follow the instructions on the label and be patient, I have found leaving the spray foam on the stain for a few minutes before wiping it up to be most effective. I have also discovered that it usually takes a few applications to get the best results with liquid stains like coffee and ground in clay and mud.

Keeping Up Appearances

Once a year, I go the extra step and shampoo the interior of the entire vehicle. I don’t spend the time that I would on a stubborn stain, but I will spray the entire carpet with a shampoo and use a light bristle brush to give it a gently scrubbing. Once I’m done, I run over the shampooed carpet and mats with the wet vacuum to make sure that any trapped moisture is removed. The process yields a clean interior that looks, feels and smells great.

More importantly, keeping the car tip-top makes my mom happy when I pick her up for lunch. And as we all know, that’s probably the best reason of all.

By | 2018-07-16T21:04:04+00:00 February 29th, 2016|Maintenance|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Shawn August 22, 2016 at 12:33 am - Reply

    I know that there are certain coatings for the interior of the cars that make it more resistant to stains and spills. This also helps to keep the car clean and makes cleaning less of a hassle

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