10 Money-Saving Interior Detailing Hacks For Your Car

7 min. read By Kevin Joshua Ng on

(Editor’s Note: These car interior-detailing tips, which is part of our DIY Car Maintenance series, is meant to serve as a guide for cleaning the inside of your car. If you are worried about damaging your vehicle’s interior, it is best to leave the job to an auto detailing professional.)

A clean, shiny-looking car will definitely catch some looks, regardless of its age or make and model. There’s just something about it that’s eye-catching. But that effect can suddenly turn the wrong direction if the interior looks worn, tired, and messy.

As a matter of fact, pre-COVID, studies find that we spend more time inside our cars now than ever. Filipinos, on average (and before the quarantine), spend 4.3%, or 16 days a year, stuck in traffic.

So really, while how the car looks outside matters, how the car looks and feels inside is equally important—maybe even more. Here, we give you DIY interior detailing tips to make your car clean inside out.

What is interior detailing and how much does it cost?

Detailing a car interior is way beyond just rubbing down the dash, applying a protector on the dash, and wiping the seats. No, it’s a total in-depth cleaning of the car’s cabin. The aim is to make your car look and feel as close to new, from the ceiling down to the floor.

A typical interior detailing session can take hours because it’s a more complicated process. Unlike exterior detailing and engine detailing where components are usually left where they are, interior detailing deals with a lot of moving components: seat covers need to be removed properly and the seats themselves need to be unbolted from the floor.

And with the amount of stuff we leave inside our vehicles—putting it back together is like a puzzle.

This is why most interior detailing services are priced between ₱2,500 and ₱4,500, depending on what you want done and the kind of vehicle you have.

At some point, you may want to have your car undergo serious interior detailing done by professionals and shell out a few thousand pesos, especially when problems pile up.

DIY tips for interior detailing

However, there are small fixes that you can learn to DIY and help you save money for that interior detailing fund. Here they are:

1. Fix tears in leather and vinyl.

Upholstery shops can charge thousands to fix tears in your seats, and even more if you want to have all your car seat covers replaced. You can do it yourself in a few hours with a vinyl and leather repair kit from any hardware or online store.

You’ll have to get the color mix right and it might not be a perfect match when you’re done, but it’s a heck of a lot better than driving around with torn seats.

Start by gluing reinforcing fabric onto the underside of the torn vinyl or leather. Then mix the heat-set filler to match your fabric color and apply it to the tear. Next, find a textured mat that most closely resembles the texture of your vinyl or leather and place it onto the liquid filler.

Heat the patching tool with a clothes iron and press it onto the textured mat. Remove the patching tool, but leave the textured mat in place until the patch cools. Then peel it off.

2. Replace your cabin air filter.

A clogged cabin air filter can severely hamper your air-conditioning system’s ability to deliver cool air into your cabin, making it work longer and harder, taking its serviceable life down a notch.

Not only that, it can damage your car’s blower motor too. It can make your drive miserable, especially during hot summer days here in our country.

Cabin air filters are easy to access and replace and you’ll save on labor by doing it yourself.

First, you need to buy a replacement cabin air filter at any auto parts store. Cabin air filters are usually located in the air ducts behind the glove box in late model vehicles.

However, some car makers locate them in the cowling or console area. If you’re not sure where it is located, consult your car manual.

Just remove the access covers and slide out the old filter. Note the direction of the airflow arrows so you can install the new filter in the proper orientation. Then reinstall the covers and you’re done.

3. Fix a leaky sunroof.

Rainfall can be torrential in this tropical climate of ours and if that gets into your car through the sunroof, that can cause serious damage. If this happens, you don’t need to worry about replacing the whole sunroof assembly.

It’s probably just because your sunroof drains are clogged. Here’s how you can unclog them.

Open the sunroof and look for drain holes in the front and rear corners of your sunroof.

Once you locate the drains, duct tape a small rubber or plastic tube to the end of your shop vacuum and suck out any debris stuck in the drains. Then dribble water into each drain and check under the car to see if it’s draining onto your driveway or garage floor.

If the drain is still plugged, buy a speedometer cable from an auto parts store. Insert the cable into the drain and gently push it down the drain as you spin the cable with your fingers. Don’t push too hard because you can puncture the drain tubes and they’ll dump water into your dash area.

Flush the drain after snaking it with the speedometer cable. If it now runs free, you’re done and shouldn’t have any more raindrops falling on your head.

4. Brush out the air vents.

Probably the best and cheapest way to clean your interior is by brushing out the air vents. Your car’s AC louvers are a real magnet for dust. Once dust accumulates, they’ll be blown off all over your interior by the car’s AC, making your car smell stale. An effective way to clean your air vents is to take a small paintbrush and give it a few sprays of furniture polish. Work the brush into the crevices to collect the dust. Wipe the brush off with a rag and move on to the next one.

5. DIY car mats

Cars usually come with a factory-installed car mat when they’re first bought. But honestly, these barely get the job done. An easy hack would be to buy new car mats, but since this is a money-saving article, we’ll tell you how you can save a few bucks. You can buy uncut carpet squares from the hardware and use them as car mats in your back seat.

6. Clean your carpet properly.

Deep cleaning the carpeting and upholstery can make a world of difference it the way your car interior looks. Use a carpet cleaning solution that you can find in auto accessories shops. This can get into the dirt and grime that settled deep into the fibers of the carpet, which vacuums can’t suck out. Scrub your carpet with a brush and hose it down afterwards.

7. Lubricate window tracks.

When older vehicles experience stuck or dragging windows, it’s mainly because of dirty window tracks. Dirt can accumulate on window tracks over time and if they don’t get cleaned, window regulator cables and the motor can get damaged.

You can avoid the problem entirely by lubricating the window tracks with spray silicone or dry teflon spray lubricant.

Lower the window and shoot the spray right into the front and back window track. Apply enough lube so it drips all the way down the track.

Then operate the window through several open and close cycles to spread the lube along the entire track. Use glass cleaner and a paper towel to remove any spray that lands on the glass.

8. This is how you vacuum.

Vacuum the seats, remove the mats and vacuum the carpet. Slide the seat all the way forward and vacuum up all the mess that accumulated underneath.

Use a brush attachment for the dash and door panels. Don’t forget to clean out and vacuum those handy door pockets as well.

You may even be surprised by what you find down there: pens, cards, and enough coins to make this money-saving hack worth it.

9. Clean and condition the seats.

After a few years, you’ll notice that the color of the leather or vinyl seats will have faded out and they no longer match that of the rest of the interior.

Recondition the leather by spraying on a leather cleaner and rub vigorously with a clean terry cloth towel.

To avoid rubbing the grime back into the seats, keep flipping the cloth to expose a fresh surface. Let the seats dry for an hour and then rub in a leather conditioner to keep the leather supple.

10. Fix your power door locks.

When power locks get busted, it’s usually caused by a broken actuator. You can replace it yourself with a few basic tools and a replacement door lock actuator.

While most car owner manuals don’t state how you can DIY it, a quick Google search with your car make and model can help you replace your door lock actuator.

About the author

Kevin Joshua Ng

Kevin Joshua Ng Kevin Joshua Ng is a digital marketing professional and car enthusiast who has written for In The Garage, a trusted resource for car owners in North America.