Keeping the interior of your car as close to showroom condition as possible makes drive time more pleasurable — and helps keep the value of your vehicle at the upper end of the Kelley Blue Book scale (barring accidents and mechanical problems). That level of cleanliness takes more than wiping down the dashboard and vacuuming every couple of weeks.
Here are some tips for how to do it right:
• Before using any product on your car, check your owner's manual for recommendations or cautions about cleaning inside components. For most jobs, all you really need is window cleaner and a bucket of mild, liquid soap well-diluted with water. If you do buy special products, test them on inconspicuous spots to see if they cause damage.
• Use a paintbrush, toothbrush and toothpicks to get grime and debris out of hard-to-reach corners, crevices, around the hardware under the seat, etc. Brush dirt where you can easily reach it with a vacuum.
• Many of the transparent plastics used on instrument panels scratch easily or may fog in reaction to certain chemicals. Wash these plastics with a damp soft cloth, and use another soft cloth to dry. Afterward, clean the dashboard with the damp cloth, using diluted soapy water when needed to remove grime.
• Seat belts should be cleaned with mild laundry soap (or hand-washables detergent) well-diluted with water; some cleaning products can weaken the fabric.
• To get rid of gum and wax on carpets and upholstery use chewing gum remover, which freezes the substance so you can chip it off with a dull scraper. (You also can use dry ice, but be sure you follow all precautions. Apply the dry ice until the gum or wax cracks easily when tapped with the scraper.)
• Remove adhesive residue from tape and stickers by using a blow dryer (or park the car in direct sun for a while) to warm the residue until it's tacky. Using your fingers, roll the residue into a ball that's easy to remove. Wax and grease remover should safely take off the remaining goo.
• Freshen the smell of your automobile by setting out an open box of baking soda (or a no-spill container with holes to allow absorption). Sprinkling baking soda on your carpet, then vacuuming it up will improve the smell of your interior. Vinegar gets rid of odors on non-absorbing surfaces; start with a 20:1 ratio of water to vinegar, scrub thoroughly, rinse and dry.
• Once you've neutralized odors, add your own version of pleasant smell with fabric-safe scented sprays such as Febreze. Lightly spray on carpets, upholstery (unless it's vinyl or leather) and fabric ceiling. You can even find new car-scented spray to keep you in the right frame of mind for keeping your car looking like you just drove it off the showroom floor.