Interior Stains

By Sharon Naylor

August 20, 2010 5 min read

Keeping the interior of your car free of stains is an important responsibility. You are not only maintaining an attractive interior but also protecting the value of your car for resale or trade-in. According to Kelley Blue Book -- the authority on car trade-in values -- stains on carpets, seats and even seat belts can reduce your car's value by significant amounts. That means you'll pay more for your next vehicle.

Car value aside, some messes inside your car can breed mold and mildew, and sweet stains -- such as ones from soda, iced tea and cupcake frosting -- can attract insects, and infestations can occur if the bugs are undetected beneath clutter-filled back seats or in trunks.


Whenever you're faced with stains inside your car, you might be tempted to grab any all-purpose cleaner from beneath your sink and scrub away, but car experts warn that some cleaning products can damage your car's upholstery and carpets. And strong chemical-based cleaners, including ammonia, have been known to weaken the webbing of seat belts, creating a dangerous destruction of those essential safety features.

Always use a brand-name cleaner specially formulated for the type of surface you will be cleaning, e.g., upholstery, leather, carpet or seat belts. These products are made to clean surfaces without damaging them, but you still should spot-test in your car before applying large amounts of cleaning fluids or foams in your car. As your next careful step, choose a car-cleaning product that includes your type of stain in the list of stains it effectively removes. Visit the product's website, and research the in-depth details that are not included on the can or spray bottle.

You'll find well-reviewed products specially made to remove stains from coffee, ink, fruit juice, gum and even urine and vomit from pets and humans.


Car cleaning experts and car dealerships who facilitate trade-ins universally advise using a very light touch when it comes to applying any professional-grade cleaning product, because saturating carpets or upholstery through the "more is better" erroneous mindset can lead to further damage.

When you do apply and then remove cleaning fluids, leave your car doors open to allow the interior surfaces to dry naturally. Never use a hair dryer to take the moisture out of a freshly washed section of upholstery or carpet, because the heat from the dryer can set any remaining stain and even create burns in the fibers.


If you prefer not to expose yourself or your passengers to the fumes and residues of industrial cleaning products, you can use more natural cleaning solutions. A solution that may work for a stain on leather or vinyl fabric -- which can be very challenging to clean, especially when you're dealing with an acidic soda stain or an oil-based food stain that gets trapped by the fabric's own dyes -- is regular toothpaste applied in a small dot and rubbed gently on the spot using an old toothbrush. Blot it with a damp towel (cotton or microfiber is better than a paper towel, which can shred), and let it dry naturally.

Rubbing alcohol has been suggested on many natural cleaning websites, but the experts' reviews are mixed because alcohol can lighten your fabric or leather's dyed color, so proceed with caution or skip it altogether.

A far better option is to visit, where you'll find a wealth of natural product suggestions and recipes provided by Sophie Uliano, author of the best-selling "Gorgeously Green" books. (Oscar-winning actress Julia Roberts is a fan and wrote the foreword for one of the books!) Enter the password "dazzle" and you'll find updates on the newest and best-rated eco-friendly cleaning products. "I am obsessed with these great products that are formulated with essential oils, which make them smell absolutely wonderful," Uliano says of the natural cleaning products at She also recommends Citrus Magic 5 in 1 at as a stronger cleaner for stains and carpets.

As for sticky stains, Uliano suggests the simple solution of rubbing an ice cube over the mess, which she says is "often miraculous." If you need additional help, try Goo Gone spray, found at

And of course, you always can take your car to a professional cleaning establishment or your dealer to have the experts remove the stains and detail your car fully. Remember, the investment in this type of stain removal comes back to you in the form of a higher car value for your resale or trade-in.

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