Is It Best to Shampoo or Steam Clean a Car Interior?

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As car enthusiasts we all appreciate a pristine clean car interior, but paying for a detailer every time can get pricey. That’s why we have to take things in to our own hands. But, with so many methods and techniques to choose from, it’s not always that simple.

As you’ve found this article, you’re probably wondering whether it’s better to shampoo or steam clean your car interior?

Well, shampooing is best for cleaning a car interior on a regular basis as it provides a quick and effective clean. However, if you have stubborn stains and nasty smells, then you will benefit from steam cleaning which provides a much deeper clean and can be used on all materials.

In the rest of this article, we’ll run through each method and how each can be used to clean your car interior. We’ll share the pros and cons of each and link you to some recommended products.

Can You Shampoo a Car Interior?

Shampooing is one of the most common methods of cleaning a car interior, after vacuuming. This involves using a shampoo that has been formulated for use on fabrics in the interior of the vehicle, a brush and some good old fashion elbow grease.

This is a simple cleaning method and is perfect for cars that are regularly detailed and don’t need a deep clean. You don’t need any dedicated machine for shampooing, although if you happen to have a carpet cleaner, you can use one of these which will essentially do the same job, but will leave the upholstery much drier afterwards as the suction removes the moisture.

Go easy on the shampooing – seats and carpets only!

It is a great idea to shampoo the fabric with a car’s interior such as seats and carpets, but that’s about it.

For instance, you shouldn’t use shampoo on the dashboard and central console, these areas should be wiped with a microfibre cloth using a dashboard cleaner or something similar.

Windows should also be avoided, as the car shampoo will cause an unpleasant smeary look to the glass, it’s better to use a glass or window cleaner instead of the shampoo.

Car shampoo is not for use on leather materials

Car shampoo isn’t designed to be used on leather upholstery, as leather is a natural material that requires specialist care to keep it in tip top condition. So, if you are planning on shampooing the interior of a car which has leather seats, avoid shampooing these. You can instead use leather cleansing products such as lotions or wipes, to keep the leather looking fresh and clean.

Step by Step Shampooing Guide

  • Declutter and vacuum first- This may seem like a no brainer, but a neat and tidy interior will make the shampooing process easier.
  • Remove car mats from floor, shampoo these separately and leave to dry.
  • It’s best to spray on the car shampoo with a light covering and then scrub with a nylon brush.
  • If you are shampooing fabric seats, you can safely do this by using a damp cloth with some car shampoo applied to it. It’s important to not go overboard with the dampness, as nobody wants to have to deal with overly wet car seats that take days to completely dry.
  • Leave the car to dry naturally with the windows and doors open, or you can use a microfibre drying towel to speed up the drying process.

Pros and Cons of Shampooing

It's a quick and effective way of cleaning a carIt can take a long time to dry (unless you have a dedicated carpet cleaner or wet vacuum)
It helps to keep an interior of the car hygienicNot suitable for use on all materials in a vehicle
No dedicated equipment is needed - just a brush and some shampooTake a lot of work to remove deep stains

Can You Steam Clean a Car Interior?

If your car requires a little more attention, maybe you haven’t had it cleaned for a long time or have stubborn stains and odours, then a steam cleaner is a better choice.

Unlike car shampoo, a steam cleaner can be used on any type of material. So, if you have leather in your car, a steam cleaner can be used to safely clean it.

Don’t be fooled – a steam cleaner is not the same machine as a carpet cleaner.

For this method, you do need a dedicated piece of equipment; a steam cleaner. This is a multipurpose cleaning tool that acts very differently to a carpet cleaner. Water is heated until it turns to steam and pressure is used to force it through the nozzle. The high temperature easily loosens dirt and removes odours without the need for any chemicals.

How it’s done:

  • Like the process of car shampooing, its essential to declutter and vacuum the vehicle first.
  • Steam cleaners have various heat settings, but it’s best to begin with a low heat setting which won’t be too harsh, and to use a dedicated attachment for carpets.
  • You can also use the steam cleaner on the plastic and vinyl areas, but we’d recommend using a cloth-covered attachment so as not to cause damage.

Pros and Cons of Steam Cleaning

Effective at removing deep stains and odoursDedicated equipment must be purchased or hired
It’s eco-friendly, as no chemicals need to be usedIt’s time consuming and it may take a few goes to get the best results
Once you have a steam cleaner, it can has many uses beyond a carUnsuitable for those in flats as steam cleaners must be connected to a power outlet
Safe to be used on most materials within a vehicle

Which is Better? Shampooing or Steam Cleaning?

Both shampooing and steam cleaning are valid methods to clean your car interior. Shampooing is best for regular treatment and where there is light to moderate dirt.

If there are areas of the interior which have stubborn stains and nasty smells, then steam cleaning will be the better option. This does require dedicated equipment so you’ll either need to rent or buy a steam cleaner.