Professional car detailing runs around $200. Today I’m showing how to detail your car’s interior at home with items you may already have (or can use at the gas station)

This post contains Amazon affiliate links to the items I used.  For full Amazon affiliate disclosure, please see the sidebar or bottom of the page.

Oh guys, it’s been a terrible, awful few days.

Our dog, Lacey, had to be put down on the weekend and the days leading up to it were wrought with horrible guilt.  The days following have been empty and sad.

Add to that the divorce that never seems to end, and I’ve been feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Finding the mojo to take on my office built-ins has stalled.  Instead I’ve had to channel my attention, and grief, into cleaning…  Miss Lacey was completely incontinent and had been for about 2 years.

I decided to start with my car.

I know – weird place to start, but it was dirty, dog soiled, and of a size that I thought I could manage fairly easily.

Add to that my recent Instagram obsession with @G.T.Detailing. 😂

SO, if you have a cheerio-wagon, or a trunk full of soil and gravel, let me show you what household cleaners will make detailing your car at home almost as thorough as professional detailing.

  1.  A shop-vac. I’ve used our home vacuum for cleaning the car as well, and it did a brilliant job – but home vacuum cleaners are so much more expensive than shop vacs and I’m always nervous about it breaking.  My Rigid Shop Vac had more than enough suction to power through wood, dirt, pet hair, and gravel (dust).  With the extra attachments, you can get right into the crevices of seats and into those narrow (French fry magnet) sections between the seats and the doors and/or the seats and the centre console.
  2. A portable carpet cleaner.  Not the big ones you use for entire rooms, but like this BISSELL Little Green ProHeat Carpet Cleaner where you can spot clean.  They aren’t too expensive – less than the cost of hiring out one car detailing – and they do a really decent job of getting deep stains out.
  3. A drill brush.  This you might not have, but at about $9 it’s a pretty good investment.  You add the Drill Brush Power Scrubber to your drill and then use it to loosen dirt and get the soap deep into the fabric of your seats and carpeting.
  4. Blue dawn dish soap.  I went with a drop or two (almost nothing) of the dawn dish soap because Dawn Liquid Dish Soap seems to clean everything; dirt, grease, oil, stains – this stuff is awesome!
  5. You don’t have to do this step, but once you see the images of my seat belt below, you’ll definitely consider a Heavy-Duty Steam Cleaner.  (I have the HomeRight Steam Machine, which I believe has been replaced with the link inserted)

Let me show you what I started with:

dirty car trunk


After a recent dump run to get rid of my old arbour which had rotted everywhere, I had bits of wood (and the funky brown, smelly stuff) that the arbour had left behind.

dirty jeep trunk

The front seats don’t show that much dirt, but beyond the visible pollen and dust you see, I knew there were pet stains in the passenger side, and sweat stains in the driver side.


dirty car seat

I went through a bit of a crunchy granola bar phase which is super-evident against the black console – but what’s worse is that frozen drinks and spilled tea had made my cup holders sticky too.

dirty car console

The backseat was dirty and stained as well, surprisingly more than I realized until I started detailing my car at home.

dirty jeep backseat

Detailing your car at home

I started with the shop vac and picked up as many large bits, granola bar crumbs, pollen, pet hair and abandoned French fries as I could.  Your little carpet spot cleaner won’t be able to handle sucking up anything larger than sand.

Right shop vac

Next up I used warm water and a drop or two of blue Dawn dish soap and sprayed the car seats.  This pre-spray starts to loosen the dirt in the fabric.  I used my Bissell Little Green ProHeat as my sprayer but didn’t use the suction and let the solution saturate in.

Bissell Little Green ProHeat

I’m not sure whether to recommend this to you or not?

It did a great job cleaning the car, but the hose had a leak near the body of the machine and the ProHeat didn’t heat anything up?  Perhaps I just got a faulty unit, but I’ve since sent it back and am looking to replace it with the less expensive version:

Bissell Little Green machine

Now that your fabric is wet, it’s time to bring out your drill brush:

scrub brush attached to a drill

This drill brush is great for so many things – I’ve used it to scrub the shower floor, the grout in the kitchen floor and now the fabrics in my car – so it’s not a one-use tool.

Press gently when using it though or you might burn your drill out.  I went over the seats and created some suds and then used the spot cleaner to rinse and extract as much liquid and dirt as possible.  Pay particular attention to the sides of the seats where people slide in and to the front of the seats where the back of your knees rest.  The water from these areas was considerably dirtier than the rest of the seat.

Want instant gratification?  Watch this video:




detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car


The car seat with the pollen and sweat?  No more pollen or sweat!

I used the Little Green machine to clean my seat belts, visors and head rests as well.

I also used the drill brush to scrub some rusty areas in my car – it loosened any flaking pieces, removed dirt and grease, and with a quick wipe with a cloth made everything sparkle.

detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car


detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car


detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car

Okay, yes there’s still rust – but my Jeeper is a 2012, so sparkling given her age and abuse. lol

detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car

At this point all I’ve used is a shop vac (but regular vacuum will work), a carpet spot cleaner, and a drill brush for detailing your car at home.

If you don’t have a shop vac or carpet spot cleaner, I believe gas stations have wet-dry vacuums available for a small charge.  Bring your spray bottle of blue Dawn and hot water and your drill and drill brush and do the clean up there!

Okay, this next step is SO GRATIFYING!

HomeRight steam machine

I did not buy the Homeright steam machine for detailing my car – I’ve had this for a couple/few years and use it for cleaning grout lines, the gunk in window sills, and steaming floors.

BUT, it does a spectacular job getting gunk and bacteria out of your car as well:

detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car


I never thought about how much sludge and skuzz get into your seatbelt buttons!  That’s gross!

A little steam from the steam machine and it all just melts away.  Dry it with a clean cloth and feel better knowing that high-touch areas have been sanitized.

detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car

The sticky granola gunk and French fry oils are gone from my centre console, I was able to get into the tiny nooks and crannies in my dashboard, steering wheel, vents, and speakers.

detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car

Every little ridge and line and seam was thoroughly blasted with the steam cleaner and it feels so good knowing that it’s truly clean.

detailing your car, car detailing, cleaning your car

I will say that detailing your car at home isn’t as good as a professional detailing; they have high-powered extractors and some companies even remove your seats to shampoo every inch of your car.

That would be amazing – if I could afford it, I’d be all over it – but this is a pretty close second and I didn’t have to invest much more than 5 hours of elbow grease to get a really well-cleaned car.

Almost all of the stains are gone, certainly the smells are gone, and my 2012 looks at least as clean as a 2019. 😂

I’m waiting on a special plastic trim restorer to finish out my detailing – you can see the YouTube review here – but it looks really promising!!


If you are looking for my suggestions for exterior detailing, check out my post on What is swirl remover?


Sometimes distraction is the best form of therapy and this certainly kept my tears at bay for an afternoon.

Have a great one.