Detailing the Interior

This month we will proceed to detail the interior of our car. The methodology of our approach is the same whether we're detailing a Ferrari or an SUV. The first step is to disconnect the interior/trunk dome lights (if possible) so we don't kill the battery. The second step is to completely empty out the car. The third step is to remove/disassemble as many items as "practically" possible. This should include the mats (upper and lower on some cars), knobs, center console, ash tray and detachable radio faces.

The key to doing the interior is to be efficient. For example: You don't want to shampoo the carpets and then clean the dash … and watch the dirt drip on the carpets, doubling your work. We need to determine whether your floor mats are dirty enough to require wet washing. If they are, you should do it first to give them ample time to dry. The correct way to wash them is to first mist them with water then spray with a quality carpet shampoo (remember to check for color fastness first!) and allow proper dwell time. Work the cleaner in with a nylon-bristle brush in a circular motion and rinse thoroughly with water at as high a pressure as possible, until no foam is evident. Then vacuum with a wet/dry vacuum cleaner and hang the mats up to dry. We address the removal of specific stains such as road tar or gum in future articles.

If you ever had your carpets shampooed and noticed they felt stiff, this was caused by the cleaner not having been rinsed out completely. If all else fails, a little trick is to spray the wet mats with a solution of concentrated lemon juice or vinegar (both are acidic) and re-rinse.

Now in the shop our next step is to thoroughly blow out every crevice of the car especially between the cushions of the seats (make sure to wear appropriate eye protection). Now if you don't own an air compressor this can be a little tough. Now, we proceed to clean the vinyl/plastic parts of the interior. For this task, we need an effective but safe all-purpose cleaner, a nylon covered "bug sponge", a toothbrush, some Q-Tips; a soft 1" diameter soft-bristled paint brush (with electrical tape covering the metal ferrule); a wooden ice cream sticks/toothpicks, a bucket with warm water and clean terry cloth and microfiber towels. Let the microfiber towels soak in the bucket. The biggest no-no here is never spray the cleaner directly onto any electrical controls (i.e. window or seat controls). Always spray onto the brush/sponge and work into the surface. The same technique applies to cleaning the vents; spray the cleaner onto the Q-Tip and then clean. Then wipe clean with the rung out microfiber towels. Repeat rinsing the towels in the bucket and empty the bucket as needed to keep the rinse water clean.

Also never allow the cleaner to dry on the surface of the interior nor allow the cleaner to get on any plastic lenses (i.e. the instrument cluster); the cleaner can spot the plastic. Make sure you turn any levers both ways to clean crevices. Turn the steering wheel around as well as tilt it for the same reason. Also, don't forget to clean the headliner; just make sure not to saturate it which can loosen the glue.

When cleaning the vinyl/plastic, work the cleaner in by brush on a small arc, so as not to let it dry. Wipe with a clean towel and repeat as necessary. If after cleaning, you still have black heel marks, use a petroleum-based solvent such as a bug & tar remover with a toothbrush. Test a small out-of-sight spot first, to make sure the cleaner is safe to use. Then follow with your all-purpose cleaner.

The next step is to clean the carpets. First thoroughly vacuum and clean just like we did our mats. The only difference is that we're not going to rinse with water but wipe the soil off with some clean white terry cloth towels. An effective technique is to wrap the towel over the brush and wipe. Continue wiping the carpet until no dirt transfers to the towel.

Now this is the point where many folks like to dress the vinyl/plastic surfaces. I personally am not a big fan of dressing the interior because as a purist I think your car should look like the day it rolled out of the assembly line. Also they tend to off-gas onto the insides of your windows and a shiny dash is a driving hazard. I've found that wiping these surfaces with an instant detailer produces the perfect sheen while adding anti-static properties. If you must dress the interior, use the type that is not shiny and apply sparingly. Using a disposable paper floor mat to protect the glass from the dressing will save you some cleaning later. Allow to dry with the windows open and then buff with a dry towel to reduce the gloss.

We will cover the care of leather in another article.