Should I Steam Clean My Car Interior?

Car interiors build up all kinds of dirt and grime over time – it’s almost unavoidable.

Whether it be dirt and mud from shoes and boots which has sunk into the carpets or drink spillages on the fabric of the seats, you need a good cleaning solution.

Around the home, lots of people have turned to steam cleaners to tackle the ‘big clean’. But can you use these tools to safely clean the inside of your car?

Well, there’s no easy answer. Because while steam cleaners are good for cleaning some surfaces, they can damage others – including leather.

In this post, we’ll look at steam cleaning car interiors in more detail, including the benefits, the downsides, and the surfaces to avoid.

Read our guide below to learn more about steam cleaning your car interior. Alternatively, click the links to dive straight into each section.

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Can You Steam Clean Your Car?

Steam cleaners are safe to use on some surfaces in your car, including upholstery and carpets. They quickly dislodge dirt, grease and stains by producing dry, superheated steam.

Steam cleaning the interior can offer a deep clean, especially concerning seats and upholstery exposed to daily wear and tear. They’re also great for killing germs and reaching those hard-to-get-to areas, provided you have the right tool.

Closeup side view of a young man using fine brush and cleaning AC vents during car interior detailed cleaning.

That said, you do need to be careful when using a steam cleaner on certain surfaces, including leather and some plastics. These tools generate a lot of heat and steam, so it’s vital that you read instructions carefully and test it on a small, hidden surface first (or avoid them altogether if you’re in any doubt).

It’s also worth remembering that some steam cleaners can be hot and cumbersome to work with, so they’re not ideal in a small, enclosed space like a car. Make sure the doors and boot are open when using a steam cleaner to maximise ventilation.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Steam Cleaning a Car’s Interior?

A steam cleaner provides a quick and convenient way to achieve a deep clean inside your car, but they’re not without their problems. Here we look at the pros and cons of steam cleaning your car so you can decide if it’s worth your time.

The Pros of Steam Cleaning a Car

  • It eliminates the need to use harmful chemicals found in some carpet and upholstery cleaners
  • It can penetrate deep into the fabric and upholstery, not just tackling surface-level dirt
  • Steam softens and lifts dirt, meaning you won’t have to scrub at stains for hours
  • It can be handy for cleaning upholstery in typically hard-to-reach places
  • Steam cleaners are great for killing germs and bacteria

Detailing the car. Cleaning the car interior with steam. Car detailing service deep interior cleaning.

The Cons of Steam Cleaning a Car 

  • Steam cleaners are not safe to use on all surfaces inside your car, including leather, which they can cause to dry out and perish more quickly.
  • Unless you use a special product, steam cleaners don’t leave you with a clean smell like other interior cleaners.
  • Steam isn’t effective against some stains, which require powerful cleaning agents to remove.
  • Steam cleaners can be dangerous, particularly when used in enclosed spaces like a car. Take care to avoid steam burns if you decide to use one.
  • Since a lot of steam cleaners need to be plugged in, they’re not as convenient for general cleaning as other car care products.

Steam Cleaning Carpets and Fabric Upholstery in Your Car

Decided that steam cleaning is right for you? Here are a few essential tips to help you get it right.

Follow the steps below to steam clean your car’s fabric upholstery safely and effectively:

Step 1 – Vacuum the upholstery and the carpets 

Just like you would when using other cleaning products, ensure that as much dirt as possible has been taken care of before you start steam cleaning your car.

Step 2 – Attach a brush to the steam cleaner

A bristled tool will work well to agitate the carpet or fabric, lifting out any dirt that the steam loosens from deep within the upholstery.

Step 3 – Steam the carpet using the triangular brush attachment

Rub the bristles over the carpet as you move the tool over the surface. Go slowly to allow the steam to penetrate deeply into every carpet fibre.

Step 4 – Steam clean your fabric seats

Using the brush tool on your steam cleaner, make overlapping passes with the bristles across the seats. We’d recommend vacuuming the carpets and seats again after this step to remove any dirt or residue that the steam cleaner has brought to the surface.

Our guide to looking after car upholstery can give you more in-depth detail about how to clean different surfaces inside your car.

steam cleaning and disinfection of the car interior and air conditioning with a steam cleaner

Using Steam to Clean Other Car Interior Surfaces

It is possible to clean other areas of your car’s interior with a steam cleaner, but as we said earlier, read the instructions and test on an inconspicuous area before you start.

Here are a couple of essential tips for cleaning plastic and vinyl surfaces within your car’s interior with a steam cleaner.

Step 1: Use a cloth or foam attachment on your steam cleaner

A cloth or foam tool works best for delicate surfaces as it does not cause scratches and traps dirt in its fibres, so it doesn’t spread around.

Step 2: Clean plastic and vinyl

Pass the attachment lightly over the plastic and vinyl parts of your car’s interior, including the dash, radio, cup holders and the area around the gearstick. Don’t hold the cleaner in the same place; keep it moving to prevent burns and ensure a consistent and thorough clean. 

Top Tips to Steam Clean Your Car Interior

Now you know how to look after the inside of your car using steam, here are our top tips for using it to its full potential:

  • Vacuum first to remove loose dirt and debris. Also, it’s worth vacuuming afterwards to remove any other debris that has come loose from steam cleaning.
  • Use the correct attachments depending on which upholstery material you’re working on – steam cleaning can be done on seats, floor mats and carpets, but other surfaces will need a different attachment and more care and attention.
  • Use a triangular-shaped brush attachment – this will loosen and lift out any dirt from deep within the upholstery while making it easy to access those hard-to-reach areas.
  • Move quickly and ensure the steam doesn’t collect in one place long enough to make the surface wet – this can cause mould issues if it is too damp to properly dry.

For more car interior cleaning tips, check out our interior cleaning guide.

We hope this guide has inspired you to try steam cleaning your car’s interior. For more motoring and car care advice, head to the Simoniz blog or check out our complete product range.