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How To Clean Car Carpets Back To Factory New (w/ Secrets)

The carpets in your car are the single most abused item in the entire vehicle that may be forgotten during a carwash. They are constantly hammered by mud, dirt, sand, sticks and stones that you bring in with your shoes. On top of that we can frequently drop food and spill coffee and beverages while on the road. A torn door seal will introduce rain water and grow some disgusting mould and mildew.. Mechanics can accidentally leave engine grease and blood from a cut finger. Wild nights out can result in disastrous consequences we won’t even comment on.

Despite all of this dirt and grime, the carpets of our cars rarely receive more than some vacuuming before they’re subjected to another round of stomping. And we get it, you don’t have the time to deep clean your carpets every week. But if you follow all the steps to the end of this article, you will not have to!

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, so let’s get started with cleaning your car.

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First Thing’s First: Tidy Up The Vehicle and Prepare It For Cleaning

Start by removing all the garbage and junk out of the car - empty cans and bottles, candy wrappers, pieces of paper. Pick all of it up and throw it away.

Also tidy your personal belongings and either store them in the glove box or take them out of the car while you’re working.

Next, remove the floor matts. Fold them over to keep the dirt from spilling onto the carpet. You’ll clean them separately, and you want to access the carpeting underneath.

Pro Tip: Remove the Seats

If the carpet is heavily soiled and you have a ratchet and socket set at hand, it’s best to remove the car seats. You’ll find that dirt and garbage likes to accumulate around the seat and it will be next to impossible to fully remove it and clean those areas with the seats installed.

Thankfully, the seats are easy to uninstall. There are just four bolts holding the railings and an electrical connector you need to unplug.

Vacuum The Entire Car

The next step is to vacuum the carpet thoroughly. Use the strongest vacuum machine you can get a hold of and either equip a brush attachment or a stiff carpet brush to scrub the fibers thoroughly as you’re vacuuming. That way, you’ll break the dried mud and crust into pieces and disturb the dust and little bits that have lodged in between the fibers.

If you can’t take the seats out, get yourself an air compressor and blast around the seats and all the tiny crevices to get the dirt and junk out while holding the vacuum at the opposite end. Even a 12V tire compressor will do the job, but if you have a stronger one available, use it.

Spend as much time as you need on this step. You’ll find that hard work will pay off and your carpet will already look orders of magnitude better than before.

Now it’s Time To Deal With The Stains

Before you shampoo the entire carpet, examine it for stains and spots that require more attention.

For example, dropped pieces of chocolate or candy that have melted into the fibers are a good candidate for spot treatment.

You want to take care of these problems before washing the carpet. Most of these should come off easily if you use the right approach, but some tougher ones will require several attempts before getting out.

General Stains - Dirt, Mud, Stuck Food

The most common stains will come from mud and dirt as well as dropped pieces of food that have sat on the carpet for months.

DIY car stain remover

Mix yourself a spray bottle of hot tap water, a cup of white vinegar and a few drops of dish soap or laundry detergent. Shake well and spray on the troubled area while the water is still hot.

Let it soak for a minute, then spray again and scrub it with an old toothbrush. Pick up the contents with a rag and continue rubbing and spraying until the fibers are clean. You can also use a wet/dry vacuum to pull out any residue that’s still attached to the fibers underneath.

Dishsoap and laundry detergents have degreasers in them which help break down oils, fats and organic soils. White vinegar contains acetic acid which will dissolve minerals and also kill germs and bacteria that accumulate around organic rubbish.

Beverages - Coffee, Alcohol, Soda

Evasive maneuvers on the road or stepping on the brakes a bit too hard often end up with spilled drinks.

The easiest way to clean those up is to act immediately. Throw a piece of paper towel on the spot to extract as much liquid as possible. Then pour a bit of cold water or even carbonated water on the spot to dilute the stain and keep it from drying and use more paper towels or a rag to blot the area and extract the liquid. Repeat several times until the spot fades away.

Rubbing the area will just spread the stain around and you’ll have a bigger mess to clean.

If a light stain remains, you’ll remove it when you wash the carpet.

Grease Stains

Ever worked under the hood, then got in the car and went back and forth several times. It’s easy to get grease and grime over the carpet and seats.

It’s even easier to drop your greasy food in between the seats, where it makes a huge mess.

Grease stains are most effectively clean with...you guessed it... degreaser!

All dish soaps contain a healthy amount of degreasers so it can cut through the oils and grease from your plates and cooking utensils. So, mix some dish soap with hot water and saturate the stain. Then, dab one end of a microfiber towel in the solution and rub it in the stain. Repeat until the stain is gone.

Ink Stains

Obviously you can try a dish soap and hot water solution on every type of stain. You might just get surprised by how much it actually can clean.

That said, permanent marker and ball-point pen inks are usually oil-based and notoriously hard to remove.

Try applying some rubbing alcohol using a cotton ball. Blot the stain, don’t rub it. Rubbing can spread it around and create a bigger harder to clean stain. When the ball is saturated with ink grab a clean one and repeat until you pull all the ink out of the stain.

Some advise to spray hairspray on the stain. Older hairspray products used to contain alcohol, which is why they were effective are breaking down ink. Newer products have almost eliminated alcohol, so they might not have any effect.

Animal and Cigarette Smells

If you’re smoking in the car or frequently drive pets, it’s likely your entire upholstery, including your carpet, will be saturated with the smell.

To neutralize smells and odors, grab a box of Borax and sprinkle the carpet generously (you can use the whole box if you want) and leave overnight. Vacuum it out the next day and test the smell. It should be considerably better, but it might take a few attempts to fully cure.

Consider that the smell is also in the seats, the headliner and any other fabric in the cabin, so just taking care of the carpet won’t solve the issue for the whole car.

Hydrogen Peroxide for Tougher Stains

Colored stains, like blood, black currant juice, coffee or red wine will be a bigger challenge - especially on light colored carpets. These stains are referred to as oxidizable, meaning they can be broken down with a bleaching agent.

NO! Don’t pour bleach on your car’s carpet! Instead, grab a bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide from the local pharmacy, mix 1:2 with water and apply a tiny amount to the spot. Let it sit for a few seconds and blot it out with a microfiber towel. The majority of the stain should come right off. Repeat the procedure, this time scrubbing with the towel instead.

WARNING: Hydrogen peroxide can bleach out the colors of your carpet, leaving a discolored stain. ALWAYS test in a location where it can be concealed, like under the seat, before applying to a highly visible area. Especially on dark colored carpets, this effect will be more noticeable, so dilute the hydrogen peroxide more.

TIP: Exhaust all other options before resorting to hydrogen peroxide. Wash the stain with carpet cleaner, soap and water, baking soda and water and white vinegar to try and remove it. If nothing else works, try hydrogen peroxide, but beware of the dangers.

Wash The Carpet

Okay, now that you’ve cured all the stains on your carpet, it’s time to actually wash it. This task is dead simple, but requires some elbow grease.

What You Need

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Get to Scrubbing

Step one is to grab your Torque Detail Intra Clean. The point of this product is to deep clean and deodorize your carpet. Feel free to use it on other parts of your car interior as well! It’s designed for everything! :)

Apply a generous amount of cleaning solution on a section of the carpet. Work in sections to keep the carpet as dry as possible.

Use a stiff nylon brush and scrub like a mad man. Don’t use too much pressure, focus on scrubbing the entire area in two directions so you upset all the dirt and grime lodged in the fibers.

Apply more cleaning product if you need to, but try to keep the carpet as dry as possible. When you’re done scrubbing, use a couple of microfiber towels and slowly drag them over the carpet with medium pressure to extract the cleaning solution and moisture out.

Drill Brush Attachments

Some detailers use a brush attachment for a cordless hand drill to speed up the brushing process. You just equip it in the drill, apply your cleaning solution and run the drill over the carpet with light pressure, while moving up and down and side to side, similar to polishing paint. It definitely makes for a quicker, more effective scrubbing phase, but cannot eliminate other steps out of the process.

Hot Water Extractors and Steam Cleaners

Let’s talk about the big guns in carpet and upholstery deep cleaning. If you go to a detailing shop to wash your carpets, the team will likely use a hot water extractor or a steam cleaner (or both) to complete the job quicker and get better results.

Hot water extractors combine three tools in one - sprayer that applies your cleaning solution (carpet shampoo and hot water); brush for scrubbing the carpet; and an extractor to vacuum the solution out. These actions happen all at once so while one end of the handle delivers the cleaner, the other sucks it out before it has time to soak and sogg the material too much.

Extractors are amazing for washing carpets and leaving them almost dry.

Steam cleaners are on the rise in the last decade or so. They clean purely with the power of hot pressurized steam, which penetrates the fabric, blasts out any junk from the inside and lifts it on the surface. The steam also kills germs, bacteria, mold and mildew through sheer heat. All of this happens without a single drop of cleaning product, which makes the steamer the safest and most ecological method to clean the carpets of your car. Steam cleaners leave the fabric almost completely dry, which is one of their biggest benefits.

All that said, steam cleaners are usually used as a precursor to conventional washing. They help break up and loosen all the dirt and grime to make the washing and extraction quicker with less product and less water used.

Of course, neither the steam cleaner nor the hot water extractor can do magic. Really trashed carpets and upholstery usually take several passes with various tools, upholstery cleaners and cleaning techniques to remove set stains and refresh the fabric to look brand new.

Dry The Carpet Properly

The trickiest part of washing carpets is getting them dry. If you don’t want mold in your car, you better dry out that carpet as fast as possible.

Obviously, this job is easier with a wet/dry vacuum machine or a hot water extractor which will suck out the majority of the water, leaving the carpet just a little bit damp but definitely not wet.

If you don’t have access to either of those, prepare several dry rags, lay them over the carpet and press on them with your palms to draw the liquid out and into the towel. This will take some time, but with enough rags, you should be able to get the carpet somewhat damp.

After this, all you can do is let air do its thing.

In the summer, take the car out in the sun and open all doors fully to allow it to dry. If you have an air mover, put it on a chair or a box at the level of the carpet and leave it on for a while to promote better ventilation and faster drying times.

If you have a garage, you can leave a dehumidifier in the car overnight. If you’re doing this, close all doors and windows, you want the machine to work on the interior, not the whole garage, which likely has several air leaks.

After the carpet has dried, run a clean dry brush over it in a single direction of your choice. This action will rearrange the fibers to face the same direction and make the material look uniform and really tidy.

Clean The Floor Mats

If you have rubber matts, just wash them with soapy water or a pressure washer and leave them out to dry.

If you have carpet floor car mats, use the same procedure as washing your carpets. Remember that floor matts should be considerably more dirty than the carpet itself, so you should spend a bit more time and effort cleaning them.You can also wash them with a pressure washer to remove all the heavily compacted dust and dirt.

When you’re done, simply hang them outside to dry.

Protect The Fabric

After all this hard work to get the carpet of your car looking brand new, you’ll appreciate something that cuts back on the hassle and protects your carpet from future stains.

Enter carpet and upholstery sealants. These products create a flexible hydrophobic layer over the material. The carpet will still feel the same, but if you spill some water over it, you’ll notice it doesn’t soak in like before but stays on the surface. You can easily wipe it away and it won’t leave a stain or a very superficial one in comparison to a non-protected fabric.

Most carpet protectors come in spray form. All you need to do is make consistent overlapping passes, then give the product some time to set and apply another coat in a perpendicular direction to ensure complete coverage.

If working in the car, use a mask and eye protection. Carpet protectors are harmless once dry, but you really don’t want to breath in any of the aerosol and fumes while you’re working.

DIY CERAMIC COATING - 1yr of Protection
The Two-Step Interior Kit That Works

★★★★★ "I have a 2020 Cadillac XT6 with pearl white exterior and light oyster color interior your new interior kit is fantastic it is easy to work and the results are incredible. This product is just like all your other products I purchased from you to keep my car looking better than new.." - Lillian M.

SHOP NOW

Conclusion

Okay, that was carpet cleaning 101. Here are the takeaways:

  • Vacuum and brush the carpet meticulously with a vac to remove most of the debris, dust and dirt from the fabric. The more you take out, the less you’ll have to wash later on.
  • Use any carpet cleaner or a mix of water, dish soap and white vinegar as your cleaning solution. Brush vigorously, before wiping away and removing the cleaner.
  • The trick to carpet cleaning is the drying. We recommend buying or renting a wet/dry vacuum machine to extract the water and cleaning solution. This will allow you to use more product and get better results without fearing you’ll grow mold in the car.
  • Stains are always a problem. Use one of our recipes, but remember to always test store-bought and homemade cleaners in locations where you can’t see them.
  • Published on May 15, 2021
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