How to Clean Car Carpet in Five Steps

Control pedel brake clutch
The driver’s footwell usually collects the most dirt. Mumemories / Getty Images

Unless you’re constantly on top of it, the carpets in your car are likely much dirtier than you think. Fortunately, you don’t need a detailer. Learn how to clean car carpet using a few supplies you likely already have around the house.

Your car carpet puts up with a lot. From mud and salt to fast food and pets and everything in between, your car carpet collects all of it. Over time, all that “stuff” can cause lots of problems. Of course, the longer your carpets are dirty, the harder it’ll be to remove the stains, but that’s not all. Aside from being unsightly, organic matter will rot and moisture will encourage mold and mildew growth, which will make your ride stink. Additionally, leaving such debris in place will deteriorate the carpet materials.

How to Clean a Carpet in Five Easy Steps

girl cleaning car with portable cleaner
A portable car vacuum is a great way to keep your car carpet clean, but we need to go deeper. yipengge / Getty Images

Before you start, get everything out of your car—we mean everything. Start by picking up trash and removing the floor mats. Depending on how ambitious and handy you are, consider removing the seats, center console, and other molding pieces. Basically, the more exposed the carpet is, the easier it will be to see, clean, and dry. If the carpet is wet, allow it to dry a couple of hours before vacuuming. Use a stiff brush to loosen dirt and larger debris, sucking it up with the vacuum.

Spot Cleaning

After vacuuming, you might notice stains that need to be removed. Spot cleaning requires only a few items, including upholstery cleaner, a stiff brush, and clean cloths. A general upholstery cleaner can be used on most dirt and organic stains, and you can even make a cleaner for your car at home with hot water, vinegar, and liquid soap. Other stains require a different touch, like alcohol or hairspray for ink marks, or lacquer thinner for oil and grease stains. Salt stains can be diluted with clear water.

Apply the cleaner of choice to the stain but test first in an inconspicuous area, like under the seat, to see that it doesn’t discolor the carpet. Allow the cleaner to soak into the stain but not completely saturate the carpet and underlay, because that will make it harder to dry out. Use a stiff brush to work the cleaner into the stain, then remove it with clean cloths. Repeat as needed and allow to dry.

Hand Scrubbing

For general cleaning of your car carpet, you can use upholstery cleaner, a stiff brush, and a wet-dry vacuum. Spray the cleaner over a small area of the carpet, perhaps four or five square feet. Use the brush to work the cleaner into the carpet, then vacuum. Move to another section and repeat.

Once you’ve been over the carpet—you may have to repeat—you might consider rinsing with clear water, but don’t take out the hose just yet. Just as when applying the cleaner, spray clear water lightly onto the surface of the carpet, then vacuum out. This will remove any unpleasant odors from the cleaner.

Steam Cleaning

To deep-clean your car carpet, you can use a steam cleaner. Conventional steam cleaners have a spray wand and vacuum head in one tool, so you can apply cleaning solution and immediately vacuum it up. Follow the instructions on the steam cleaner and work small sections at a time, being careful not to saturate the carpet.

Alternatively, you can also use a clothing steamer to similar effect. Spray the cleaner on the carpet, then steam it. The steam will force the cleaner deeper into the carpet and help it work more effectively. Then, vacuum the carpet completely.

Air Drying

The leftover water and cleaners need time to evaporate, which reduces bad odors and prevents the growth of mold and mildew. If the weather is good, especially a breezy day, leave the doors open for a few hours. You can do the same in a garage, speeding up the process with fans.


You can reduce the amount of work needed to clean your car by taking preventive steps. Most cars come with at least one set of floor mats, but some aftermarket floor mats have better coverage, keeping your carpets cleaner. Stain guard spray is a great investment of your time, as it helps your carpets, seats, and other surfaces resist stains. Finally, consider other items to keep dirt away from your carpets, like a trash receptacle or pet seat covers.

Car mats
Consider floor mats with more protection to keep your carpets clean and odor-free. weerapatkiatdumrong / Getty Images

Now that you know how to clean car carpet, you really don’t need to spend so much on a detailer. True, you could pay someone to do it, but doing it yourself is rewarding and there’s nothing quite like enjoying your own handiwork and saving money while doing it.