How To Clean Car Carpet Stains: Best Proven Steps

Clean car interior

Cleaning car carpet can be a tricky and time-consuming task. However, it is essential if you want your vehicle’s interior to look pristine.

We’ve all been there, thinking that the carpet can go another week or two without any attention, until that time when you sit in your car and look down and notice the dirt in all of its inglory.

In this guide, we are going to breakdown the phases of cleaning car carpet and recommended approaches.

Whether you want a straightforward method without the fuss of using machines, or you’re an enthusiast that is interested in trying out different gadgets to get you car interior flawless, we have you covered. 

Get your gear ready.

A bin liner: To throw any rubbish and swept up dirt, junk, etc.

Disposable latex gloves: To protect your hands from dirt and cleaning products

Vacuum cleaner: It can be portable or corded if you are near a power point, but make sure it is a good one. It can be frustrating when the vacuum cleaner is clearly not picking up any dirt. The task just ends up being thankless, and a waste of time.

Dustpan and brush: To help loosen any ground in dirt

Carpet cleaner: There are a plethora of carpet cleaning products that can do the job. If you are happy with what you currently use, then stick with it.

Brush: Ideally a soft bristle brush, to work in the carpet cleaner effectively while also preventing damage to the surface.

Mask and safety glasses: To prevent being overwhelmed by dust, if required.

2. Remove Removable Parts

You’ll need to remove anything removable that can get in the way like mats, bins, most things.

Any floor mats can be taken out. This will be an opportunity to get give them a proper clean.

Cup holders, portable trash cans, seat covers, child seats, all need to be removed, to make space if nothing else.

If you are also doing the trunk, you’ll need to empty this as well. If you followed our guide on how to keep your car clean then this shouldn’t be too much work.

3. Prepare The Surface

Scan the floor for any bits of rubbish, large debris like coins, toys, stones, crumbs, etc, and throw them in the bin liner that you have set out already.

To avoid having to spend a lot of time on this task in the future, try using organizational compartments. We also have tips on how to prevent rubbish and random objects from accumulating in your car.

4. Vacuum

Give the floor a good thorough vacuum. Use the attachments to get right into any crevices that look like they need attention. We suggest moving the car seats to increase access to some hard to reach parts.

Be careful not to damage any components and wires that may be hiding down there. There are some good car vacuums out there that help to access these areas.

A good vacuum cleaner will ensure that there will no debris getting the way of the deep cleaning phase of this job.

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5. Brush

Give the floor a good brush with a dustpan and brush or use a brush end vacuum attachment. You should aim to get any ground in dirt loosened from the upholstered carpet. 

Stick at it. This preparation will return great results when the job is complete.

6. Vacuum Again

Vacuum the floor again after brushing. This will help remove any leftover dirt. Run the process as described in the previous vacuum step.

7. Spot Check

There will likely be some noticeable stains that should be attacked first. Have a look around and use a carpet pre-treatment product to spray on these localized stains.

There are quite a few pre-treaters out there for this, so we suggest following the instructions that come with the product. They tend to need to be applied to the problem area and left to stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

We have information on which products there are for this type of work, and which products work best for certain types of stain.

Organic-based stains

Oil-based stains

Make sure that the cleaner is pH balanced, and stick to purpose-made carpet cleaners instead of experimenting with less familiar solutions.

8. Scrub The Carpet

Now, there are several methods you can use for this phase of cleaning:

Hand Scrubbing

Spray the carpet cleaning shampoo on the carpet and leave it for the recommended amount of time – according to the product instructions. Then work in the shampoo with your brush.

Don’t be afraid to use some elbow grease, to really agitate the dirt. To help work in the shampoo better use circular motions when scrubbing.

Use a wet cloth to rinse the carpet cleaner out.  Try not to get the carpet too wet. This will help the drying process at the end and prevent mold from building beneath the carpet.

Repeat these steps on any stubborn areas.

Tip: Buy a carpet brush that attaches to a cordless drill. After you spray the carpets with your cleaner, use the brush head on the drill to clean the floor mats in minutes instead of scrubbing with a handheld brush for longer.

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Machine Scrubbing

Get a spray bottle and fill with hot water and a carpet cleaner of your choice.

Spray the area that you are cleaning. Be generous and leave for about 5-10 minutes.

Attach a brush head to your drill or orbital buffer and begin to brush the carpet at medium speed. Be sure to get even coverage.

Repeat this process for the remaining carpet.

Once complete remove as much of the moisture as possible using a rag.

Note: This process will work for floor mats as well

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Hot Water Extraction

This method might be geared more towards the professional detailer or enthusiast, and as such getting the correct equipment might cost substantially more than the products we’ve described thus far.

However, the truth is, this is widely accepted as one of the most effective cleaning methods for cleaning your car carpet.

If you go this route, we recommend following the manufacturer’s instructions.

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Steam Cleaning

Another step that is used more by professional detailers, and is a common method to use and is beneficial for those who are sensitive to dust and chemicals.

You will require a steam cleaner to do this. Consult the instructions for every stage of this process.

Generally, you will have to fill the cleaner with water, put a towel on the end, and apply to every area you want.

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9. Drying

This step is particularly important to prevent damp odors from developing.

Leave your car doors open and let the air travel through the vehicle. This will be especially effective on a warm and breezy day in the sun.

You will need to leave this for a few hours, and until the carpet is no longer damp to the touch.

10. Floor Mats

While you are leaving your car carpet to dry out, now is a good opportunity to tend to the floor mats. The process will be similar to the carpet cleaning process.

Give the mats a good shake. Get the dust and ingrained dirt out of it, as much as you can.

Clean the underside with a detergent, be sure to use the foaming action to agitate the dirt. Rinse with water.

If the mats are upholstered, use the carpet cleaner used earlier and apply as described above. Again, using the brush in a circular motion to agitate and clean the mat as effectively as possible.

Rinse the mats with a water hose if possible or a wet cloth.

Dry any excess water with a dry absorbent cloth.

Allow to dry by hanging the mats on a washing line.

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11. Add Stain Repellent

This step is important if you want to prevent future stains from easily occurring. Thankfully, there are plenty of fabric protector sprays which can do this job very well.

12. Preventative Measures

Some of you may have already read our extensive guide on how to keep your car clean, but those who haven’t here’s a quick recap.

Car trash cans

  • Check your shoes before stepping into your car, request your guests to do the same as well.
  • Clean up after yourself
  • Keep eating food inside the vehicle to a minimum

13. Admire Your Work

Pat yourself on the back, crack open a beverage and admire your hard work.

Hopefully, this feeling will inspire you to keep on top of things going forward. 


By carrying out the steps detailed above will hopefully have allowed you to realize how effective cleaning your car carpet at home can be if done correctly. Also, there is huge satisfaction gained by achieving this yourself.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Put A Car Carpet In The Washing Machine?

Technically, yes you can. The problem is that most people do not own a washing machine big enough to contain such a large load.

Also before washing anything, you should check the washing instructions, and most car carpets don't come with such instructions unless they are specified in the car manual.

Another thing to consider is whether it is worth the hassle to remove the carpet, as they are usually factory fitted and would require some level of advanced to professional know-how to safely remove and re-install the carpet.

In this case, you may feel more comfortable hand washing the carpet or using a carpet washing machine. There are many options.

Does Cold Air Dry Carpets?

Air with low humidity dries carpet the best. The temperature is probably the second most important factor (along with air circulation).

The warmer the better, so long as there is plenty of air circulation happening. So keep your doors open for maximum effect.

How Long Does It Take Car Carpet To Dry?

I can take 6-12 hrs. This is dependant on how saturated the carpet is and how dry and warm the atmosphere is at the time.

For the carpet to dry quickest, you want the atmosphere to be dry, warm, and airy. For example, leaving your doors open, in a warm breezy but dry day, instead of humid still day where not much breeze will travel will yield the best results.

Can You Put A Car Mats In The Washing Machine?

Again, technically yes you can. And while car mats are more likely to fit into a normal household washing machines, you should still check the washing instructions.

Generally speaking, if your mats have rubber trims on glued sections on them, then you probably shouldn't wash them in the washing machine. It's a similar reason to why it is usually not recommended to wash trainers in the washing machine.

If the car mats are factory fitted then such instructions may be specified in the car manual. Aftermarket mats may already come with separate washing instructions.

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