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How to Vacuum Your Car

wet/dry vacuum next to car

Your car can have the shiniest, most perfectly detailed paint, but if you open the door and your carpet is covered with grass trimmings and fast food wrappers, the car won’t feel clean.

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, there isn’t a better way to improve the appearance and comfort of your vehicle’s cabin.

Keeping your vehicle’s carpet and mats maintained is easy and inexpensive. Clean carpet also lasts longer, wears more evenly, and smells better too. By regularly cleaning your vehicle’s interior, you are protecting your investment and helping the resale value stay as high as possible.

Get the Right Vacuum Cleaner

There are many types of vacuum cleaners on the market. Odds are you own a household vacuum already, and for many, that is the best option for cleaning your vehicle.

If you live in a house with an accessible outdoor power outlet, a plug-in vacuum cleaner is often the least expensive and most powerful option.

A Wet/Dry Vacuum Is Ideal

If you  decide to purchase a vacuum cleaner specifically for your vehicle, 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 bag model, and they can send tiny amounts of dust and dirt back into the air. To combat this, wet/dry vacuum your car outside, or in a large, heavily ventilated garage.

Dyson cordless vacuum on car floor mat

Dyson Cordless Vacuum / Credit: Carfax

Cordless Vacuums

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 you need to remove the sand and dirt carried in by your passenger’s shoes.

Of course, there are exceptions. High-end units from companies like Dyson are powerful and don’t require a bag. The only downside is that they can be expensive, costing $300 or more.

Gas Station/Car Wash Vacuums

A third option is to avoid vacuuming at home altogether, and instead 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 you make every time you use one will add up. Still, for many, gas station vacuums are an excellent option.

Helpful Car Vacuuming Tips

  • Vacuum your vehicle before you wash the exterior: Even if you’re careful, vacuuming your car can kick up dust and dirt. If you vacuum the inside of your car before you wash the outside, there is a chance that the wind will carry that dirt right back onto your car’s freshly washed exterior.
  • Take out all the mats: Take out all the mats and bang them against the ground or a pole to get the loose dirt free before you start vacuuming.
  • Use vacuum attachments to get into all narrow spaces: Once the mats are out, start by vacuuming the interior, using different tools to reach into narrow spaces when necessary.
  • Pay special attention to the seats: Seats can also benefit from vacuuming, but be careful with hard plastic or metal vacuum attachments; they can damage delicate leather and fabric upholstery. 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 your car’s seats.
  • Vacuum the removable mats last: Vacuum the removable mats last and look to see if you need to go one step further and shampoo any stains that may remain.
car carpet cleaner

Car Carpet Cleaner / Credit: Carfax

Removing Stubborn Stains on Your Car’s Upholstery

There are many great products on the market, such as Turtle Wax Ice Heavy Duty Floor Mat & Carpet Cleaner, that 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 – leaving the spray foam on the stain for a few minutes before wiping it up is most effective. 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, go the extra step and shampoo the interior of the entire vehicle. Don’t spend the time that you would on a stubborn stain, but spray the entire carpet with a shampoo and use a light bristle brush to give it a gentle scrubbing.

Once you’re done, run over the shampooed carpet and mats with a wet/dry vacuum to make sure any trapped moisture is removed. The process yields a clean interior that looks, feels, and smells great.

Next Steps

If you have questions about this story, please contact us at Editors@carfax.com