Cars can become real dumping grounds for all sorts of muck - whether it’s food crumbs, sand from that beach trip last year or just plain old dust and dirt.
The good news is that quite often you can get your car’s interior looking almost as good as new with the simple application of a vacuum cleaner. A quick hoover will get your mats and upholstery free of debris. It’ll remove dust, helping those with allergies. And keeping your carpets free of damaging grit means they’ll last longer, too.
But cars are so full of nooks and crannies that it’s easy to miss a spot. Here’s how to vacuum yours really thoroughly.
Choosing the right vacuum
Trying to hoover out your car with a bulky upright is an exercise in frustration. For that reason we’d recommend either a cylinder vacuum cleaner with a long hose, or a cordless handheld unit.
Henry Bagged Cylinder Vacuum
The classic cylinder vacuum cleaner from Henry is an icon in its own right thanks to its clever nozzle and cutesy face. As tough as old boots and more capable than it needs to be, it's our favourite cylinder vacuum cleaner and good for cleaning cars, just remember the Car Kit.
Gtech Multi MK2 Handheld Vacuum Cleaner
If you're in the market for something handheld then the Gtech Multi MK2 is our top pick. We like how robust it feels and the fact it is decently powerful. It's also lightweight and offers a very good 20-minute runtime which makes it a really good choice for cleaning the car. It is on the pricier side however.
Regardless, you’ll want the following tools to do the best possible job:
A flexible hose - this gives you more freedom in the tight confines of the car
A crevice tool - for nooks and crannies down the side of seats
A turbo brush - for larger areas of carpet
A soft dusting brush - for more delicate areas
A long extension cord - for mains-powered vacs, to give you the maximum reach
If you want to get really anal, specialist car cleaning kits are available with extra-small nozzles and brushes for areas like air vents. You can, however, approximate this yourself with a drinking straw and some duct tape - though use this with your vacuum on its lowest power setting.
Preparing before you vacuum
First things first, grab that bin bag and get emptying. There’s no point trying to vacuum up big bits of rubbish - they might clog or damage your vacuum cleaner - so it’s best to thoroughly clear out the car before you start. And that means everything!
Then, it’s a good idea to open up all the doors and give the car a good airing before you start.
Remove all the interior mats - they’re easier to vacuum when they’re out of the car, and give you access to clean the carpet underneath them. The same applies to the seats, if you have an MPV or an SUV with removable chairs, as well as children’s car seats. You can much more easily move around these if they’re outside the confines of your car’s interior.
How to vacuum your car - step by step
Vacuum your floor mats outside the car. If they’re badly soiled with heavier debris like sand, you can hang them up on a clothesline and give them a good thwacking - otherwise, use a turbo brush or a stiff upholstery nozzle to give them plenty of agitation.
Starting at the top and working down is a good idea. Vacuuming the headlining may seem overkill, but it holds a surprising amount of dust.
Now’s a good time to open up the sunroof, if you have one, and vacuum out any debris that may have accumulated in its channels.
An often-forgotten area. Use a soft brush attachment to avoid scratching delicate surfaces, especially any screens.
Cover the wider expanses of dash first, then apply either a smaller tool to get into the cracks and crevices. Remember to clean inside the air vents as well as in storage areas such as the glovebox or cupholders.
It’s amazing how much dust and debris even a visibly clean seat can hide. Give every seat a really good going over, especially the bases using a turbo brush or stiff upholstery nozzle to get out the muck that suction alone can’t tackle.
Now’s the time to practice your origami - fold the seats in every direction they’ll go, as you never know where litter can penetrate.
Using your vacuum’s crevice tool, get into all the nooks and crannies. Slide it into the gap where the seat back meets the seat base, as well as down the sides of each one and in between the front seats and the centre console.
Of course, vacuuming can’t remove stains - so if your seats are covered in more than just surface debris you might need one of our favourite upholstery spot cleaners.
This is where you’ll want your turbo brush again - or, if your boot is particularly large, you could even use the main floor attachment for your vacuum to speed proceedings up. Work methodically, covering every bit of the floor area.
There are loads of areas you could miss, so make sure you’re covering every bit. Fold the rear seats down and vacuum their back sides, and remember to clean any debris from underfloor storage areas or the spare wheel well.
Finally, you’ll want to clean the car’s fitted carpets. You should vacuum these regularly to keep them in good condition, as sharp debris such as sand and grit can actually cut the pile and wear them out quickly.
Vacuum every inch, including where the carpet rises up the centre console, and make sure you get into awkward areas such as those under the front seats and behind the pedals.
A soft cloth to wipe over the infotainment screen, instrument panel and other delicate surfaces can get rid of statically-charged dust that the vacuum missed. Give your upholstery a spritz with some fabric refresh spray to keep things smelling fresh, and when loading your personal effects back in use the opportunity for a comprehensive decluttering.
Of course, vacuuming can’t sort everything - so check out our reviews of upholstery spot cleaners here if you’ve got stains that need extracting. Or, for cleaning the outside of the car, consider our favourite pressure washers.