Spiff Up Your Car With These Five Cleaning Hacks

by Katy on April 11, 2017 · 21 comments

This post first appeared over at ClarkHoward.com.

After your home, your car is likely the second most expensive purchase that you’ll make in your lifetime. And for that reason, it’s essential to treat it well. Keeping a clean interior should be on your priority list, especially since the average Americans drives 17,600 minutes (293 hours, 20 minutes) per year and your comfort is valuable.

Of course you could pay someone more than a hundred dollars to detail your vehicle, but with these simple tips you’ll maintain the look, comfort and value of your car for pennies on the dollar.

Unfog your vehicle’s headlights:

It’s normal for your headlight lenses to become cloudy after the thousands of miles that you spend on the road, so you may have been tempted to spend $19.95 on a cleaning kit.

Instead, grab a tube of toothpaste.

I’d heard that the gentle abrasive used in toothpaste works perfectly to clean and polish the plastic, so I thought I’d give it a try. I paired it with a soft cleaning cloth, as I didn’t want to scratch the plastic. I worked slowly and carefully in concentric circles, careful to not damage the paint.

Wow, what a difference! This photo does not do justice to how much better my headlights look after this super easy (and minty fresh) project.



Clean your windshield wiper blades with rubbing alcohol:

I’d read that rubbing alcohol does a good job of cleaning windshield wiper blades that are no longer at their functional best. And since you can pay up to $27 apiece for them, I figured this hack was also worth a try. Luckily, I always have a couple of individually packaged alcohol wipes on hand from my job as an RN, although you can certainly use a rag or paper towel moistened with rubbing alcohol.

This task took just a few minutes, as it was a simple as lifting the windshield wipers to an upright position and then just gently dragging the alcohol wipes down the blades a couple of times. This removed the grit and left a fresh like-new surface. Luckily, I live in Oregon and only had to wait a few hours until I could test out the result. I was rewarded with perfectly functioning windshield wiper blades without streaks or other issues.


Sweep, don’t vacuum the interior of your vehicle:

Although it’s always very satisfying to vacuum out your car’s interior, this chore involves either paying at the carwash or dragging your own vacuum cleaner down from the house. I’m a fan of using a simple hand broom to sweep off my car’s seats, as well as the flooring. Unfortunately, I don’t actually own a whisk broom. However, creating one is as simple as removing the handle from a traditional broom. (Please excuse the extreme scrappiness of my ancient Costco broom, but I believe that as long as an item is functional, it doesn’t need to be replaced.)

You’ll be amazed by how much better your vehicle’s interior can look after just a couple minutes of manual sweeping.


Throw your floor mats through the dishwasher:

Anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant knows that rubber floor mats can go through a dishwasher — and your vehicle’s floor mats are no different. (Of course, you don’t want to run any dishes though the same wash.) You’ll need to make room by removing the top rack of your dishwasher, but that’s as easy as removing two small clips.

I simply arranged the floor mats with their upper surface towards the water spray, added a bit of dishwasher detergent and set the machine on its shortest cycle without auto dry. (Didn’t want to accidentally bake the rubber!)

The mats looked so nice and clean afterwards, and my hands on time with this project was maybe five minutes, including finding my car keys and removing the top rack.

If you have carpeted floor mats in your car, check out this woman’s post about how she washed hers in the washing machine!

19 things you didn’t know you could put through the dishwasher.

Use Windex glass cleaner for upholstery stains:

My last car hack experiment was to try standard Windex glass cleaner to remove fabric upholstery stains. I gotta say that I was really nervous about this one, as I was worried that the Windex would leave a blue tinge. Luckily, such was not the case.

Here’s how to remove a coffee stain:

  1. Fully saturate the stain and then dab/lightly scrub at it with a white cleaning towel. Switch to a clean/dry area of the towel every 15 seconds or so, as to not grind the stain any deeper.
  2. Respray the area as needed, continuing to gently scrub the area until the stain disappears.

The Windex smell continued to be present while the area was drying, but has since dissipated.

These five car cleaning hacks will not only protect your investment, but should make your driving experience more enjoyable and comfortable. And since they’re practically free, you can even afford to fill up your gas tank!

Now your turn. What frugal things have you been up to?

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer April 11, 2017 at 1:09 pm

I am going outside to try the toothpaste right now, thanks!


Mariana April 11, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Ha! I will try it tonight too!


Jennifer April 11, 2017 at 3:19 pm

It worked pretty well, surprisingly well, actually!


kathy April 11, 2017 at 3:27 pm

I’m going to wash my floor mats in the washing machine and attack the upholstery with Windex.


Sandy April 11, 2017 at 4:47 pm

We always say that a clean vehicle drives better!
Also, we don’t haul around unnecessary items as extra weight can affect gas mileage. upon returning home from any outing, we remove extraneous items.
We keep our vehicles for a long time. Keeping them clean is one of our hobbies!


Niki April 11, 2017 at 6:09 pm

Also, a magic eraser works wonders on getting out our kids’ scuff marks all over the back of the seats. Never had a problem with keeping my car clean until I had children. They can do some serious damage! Good thing they’re cute.


Marcia April 11, 2017 at 6:15 pm

My husband’s hobby is restoring and driving old cars, so he pretty much knows the best ways of cleaning everything, and I leave it all to him!! I did sew the inside door panels when he reupholstered the inside of his lastest show car. The seats and headliner (ceiling piece) were done professionally. He did everything else on the car himself, starting with removing the floor and putting in a new one. He has already started on his other old car, which has not been FULLY restored until now.


Tish April 12, 2017 at 3:50 am

I’m going to try the windex, I have a few areas of upholstery that could use it. I washed my floor mats last year in my old top loader machine. They came out looking great!


Suzanne April 12, 2017 at 7:12 am

I am excited to try these tips! Thank you! This might be one of my favorite posts yet!


Diane C April 12, 2017 at 11:12 am

Instead of Windex, try plain ol’ water and a sponge or clean rag first. It’s amazing what comes off. For floor mats, a sprayer on your garden hose + scrub brush + your driveway (or any flat surface) are often all you need. And a big shout-out to Niki about the Magic Eraser. Works great and I find them at the Dollar Store, for, well, $1.00.


Mrs. Daisy @ Dirt Road Daisy April 13, 2017 at 4:23 am

The Windex on upholstery is something I learned from my husband, a mechanic. Sometimes while working on vehicles, they would inadvertently get grease on the seats or floor mats. They kept a huge stock of Windex and it would clean the grease stains right off!

Another trick I like is using sticky putty to clean the dust and particulates out of all those small nooks and crannies.


Denise April 14, 2017 at 10:00 am

Wondered about sticky putty, then realised we call it blu-tack. That is a genius idea. We have four days off over Easter (Friday and Monday are public holidays), so I shall be trying the alcohol wipes, the blu-tack and the Windex tips on my car.

Anyone got any tips for the scratched front bumper on my car which may, or may not, have been caused by me driving into the garden wall. Very slowly. While wondering why on earth the parking sensor was going crazy. Oh yes: the wall. That’ll do it every time…

Last year I reversed into a lamppost. Even more embarrassing, because as well as a sensor, I have a wide-angled reversing camera. I just didn’t look at it.

Ooh. Frugal tip: when in doubt, I shall use my eyes.


tia April 13, 2017 at 8:17 am

WD40 and a soft cloth gets dried bug splatz off paint and chrome.


Terri April 13, 2017 at 11:23 am

If you have a cordless hand vacuum cleaner, like a Dust Buster, it’s super easy to vacuum out your car.


Mary in Maryland April 13, 2017 at 12:32 pm

I sweep out regularly. I cleaned the wipers on my way home from a blood draw this afternoon. I was preparing to use toothpaste on the headlights when I realized I’m a couple weeks away from the bottom of a tube. This would be a great project for cleaning out a cut open tube, and less long-term annoying than using it for toothpaste for two weeks.


Beth April 14, 2017 at 5:52 am

Okay, so this is not car-related at all, but it is cleaning related.

If you have an oily stain on your clothes (bacon grease, clear diaper cream, chapstick, butter, whatever), sprinkle baking soda on the area and rub it in a little with your finger. Let it sit a little while before you wash it (I’ve done anywhere from an hour to overnight). The baking soda will absorb the grease, leaving your item stain free.

*I generally do this after I’ve washed the item and notice the stain.

No toothbrushes, scrubbing, or dish soap mixtures. Just plain baking soda.


Vickie April 14, 2017 at 8:45 am

Thanks for those awesome tips! I need to do the headlight one right away. I have one that is very foggy!


C.W April 17, 2017 at 1:36 pm

I tried toothpaste and Off repellent. Off did a better job.


Max Jones July 7, 2017 at 8:31 am

I’ve been thinking about getting a headliner replacement for my car for a while because there are a few stains that have been driving me nuts. I’m glad I found your article though because now I can give your windex trick a shot before I go with a new headliner replacement. I’ll have to give it a shot when I get done with work tonight, and if it works then it’ll be great, and if not, I’ll just get a headliner replacement done! Thanks for the tips!


Araav March 4, 2018 at 12:42 am

Hi Katy,
Thanks for the tips on cleaning the car headlights.


Elsa Finch December 12, 2018 at 11:21 am

I often used these hacks. and the result, they are really works. Thanks for telling these to others who do not know.


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