I have a long-standing war with my car's floor mats. As something of a neat freak, keeping my car clean is a source of considerable anxiety. I'm the one who asks you to please wipe your boots off before you get in and please take your trash with you when you go.
But I'm also a bit of a klutz. I've lobbed full venti-sized Frappuccinos across the front seat, dropped an order of chili cheese fries on the floor and even spilled black liquid shoe polish on the mats (don't ask). Add to this muddy weather and all manner of messes from the dog, and the floor mats in my 2001 Nissan Sentra take quite a beating. Oh, did I mention they're beige?
Between the fast-food fiascos, the puppy accidents and the salt and grime from winter, I've still managed to keep my 12-year-old car mats in relatively pristine condition. Through trial and error, I've come up with a surefire way to bring even the most stained and abused mats back to life.
If you're starting with brand new floor mats, you have quite the advantage. Splurge on a can of 3M Scotchgard auto interior fabric and carpet protector and apply it according to the directions.
Once primed with stain repellant, it will be a lot easier to keep your floor mats clean. It won't save them from that half-gallon slushy your kids dump on the floor, but it will give you time to dab up the occasional spill before it soaks in and stains the carpet.
If your floor mats are older, it's not too late to apply Scotchgard, but you need to clean them thoroughly before applying the stain repellant.
First, a few words of caution: Do not attempt to wash your car mats in the washing machine and don't try scrubbing them out in the bathtub. While these methods may seem like appealing timesavers, I can assure you they are not.
Washing machines don't have the intense mechanical action needed to really scrub out the dirt; you'll just be left with dirty mats and a dirty washing machine. The same goes for the bathtub.
For this grubby job, you're going to need room to work and the right tools: A good vacuum (or two), a power blast of water and a heavy-duty stain lifter.
Regardless of how grungy your floor mats are, a good cleaning starts with a thorough vacuuming. Take the floor mats out of the car, shake off the excess dirt and hit them with a high-powered vacuum. Forget the little handheld models. You need something built to tackle heavy grime.
Start with a small vacuum cleaner to remove clumps of dirt, pebbles, leaves and other debris and follow up with your household vacuum using the upholstery attachment. Vacuum both sides of the floor mats to thoroughly loosen and remove as much dirt as possible, and when you think you've got it all, vacuum once more just to be sure.
The next step is treating all the stains that have set in over time, and for that you're going to need a high-powered nozzle attachment for your garden hose or a trip to the do-it-yourself car wash to use the power sprayer.
You'll also need a heavy-duty cleanser, something capable of tackling grease, oil, dirt, food and other set-in stains. I recommend Woolite Oxy Deep carpet stain and odor remover, though in a pinch I've also used Shout stain remover. Both come in a spray bottle for easy application, and both remove coffee, grease, dog vomit and other hard-to-handle stains.
Wet down your floor mats with a steady blast from the hose. The more residue you can remove with the hose the less elbow grease you'll need later. Once they are thoroughly soaked, spray a generous amount of cleanser directly on the mats. Using a scrub brush, gently work the cleanser into the mats and let them sit for 10 minutes before rinsing.
Here's the really important part: Rinse them well. Dried soap acts as a magnet for dirt and stains. Even a little bit of soap residue left behind will cause them to gunk-up again in no time. Rinse the mats until all the suds are gone and the water runs clear.
Depending on the amount of grime built up in your floor mats, you may need to repeat the process to get the tough stains out, but with a little patience, they will come out.
Once the mats are dry -- absolutely, thoroughly, 100 percent dry -- it's safe to apply Scotchgard to help protect against future mishaps.
Of course, you'll still need to stay on top of the vacuuming and shampooing, but with a good protective barrier in place, the job gets a lot easier.