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How to Clean Car Carpet for Beginners (The Right Way)

Not sure how to clean your car carpet? Not to fear. Today, I’m going to walk you through the entire process from start to finish. If you’re a beginner, I’ll explain exactly what to do and the supplies you’ll need to see the best results.

There is no one-solution-for-everything approach to carpet; some methods work great for normal dirt, other methods should only be used for heavy dirt and/or stains.

Step 1: Remove large debris and vacuum up the crumbs

Before you apply any products, you’ll want to vacuum up any loose debris, anything visible. 

Quick tip!

A water blade can help centralize loose debris better than a brush can. Sometimes a brush is necessary for stuff stuck in the fibers, but a simple $5 water blade can help rake the debris into a debris field you can vacuum up. 

water blade for carpet detailing
Pull front to back to centralize carpet debris.

Once you’ve dislodged all the visible debris, use a portable car vac (with the brush attachment preferably) to suck up everything.  Be careful if you have cheap carpet with fuzzy or loose carpet fibers, as it can degrade pretty easily if you use brushes.

I have an aftermarket carpet kit in my Jeep, and it sheds this stuff pretty easily.

Step 2: Apply a carpet cleaner or all-purpose cleaner

For normal dirty carpet, simply dilute an all-purpose cleaner about 10:1, spray the solution on the carpet, and let it dwell for a few seconds.

A carpet foam works also, I’ve just found a good diluted degreaser to be the most cost-effective solution in the long run. 

I do love some dirt-trapping foam action though; foam helps to trap dirt a bit better than liquid, so I occasionally will use a foaming product on heavily soiled areas.

Use a brush and/or microfiber towel to dislodge dirt

Once you apply either a spray or foam to the carpet, work it in the carpet fibers with a nylon carpet brush where appropriate (not too stiff). You should start to see some foam. 

soft bristled brush cleaning car carpet
Use a soft bristled brush to agitate carpet stains.

A microfiber towel can help you mop up these dirty suds, but it’s not as effective as extraction. If you’ve deep-cleaned the carpet not long ago and don’t feel like using a wet/dry vac, you can stop here.

However, I like to extract all of that dirty foam with a wet/dry vac every time I clean carpets since it doesn’t take long. If you have hard-to-remove stains, you’ll need to lift and remove all the dirt and gunk from deep in the carpet fibers using a machine that can extract water.

Step 3: Tackle the tough stains

For tough stains, my go-to product for car carpets is Purple Power diluted at about 3:1 to 5:1 depending on the stain.

Purple Power Concentrated Degreaser

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Many degreasers like Purple Power have dilution ratio charts on the bottle so you’ll know what to do for wheels, carpets, etc.

Purple Power for car carpet
Treat set-in carpet stains with a fabric-safe degreaser like Purple Power.

Sometimes you can remove carpet stains with just a brush and spray-on product, other times you’ll need to use the power of extraction or steam.

Use a spot cleaner or carpet extractor

For stains, I recommend what’s called a ‘spot’ cleaner; brands like Hoover or Bissell make these devices, and they do a pretty good job for the money. They are around $100 and perfect if you just have the occasional coffee stain that requires pre-treatment and extraction.

Hoover makes a cordless spot cleaner kit ideal for vehicles, complete with brush attachments which is nice.

Hoover Cordless Carpet Spot Cleaner

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Hoover Spot Cleaner for Car Carpet

Be sure to use the right product for carpet stains

For set in-stains, always use the right product for the job. Here are a few common car carpet stains, and what you can use to remove them.

  • Ink or Paint: Use diluted Citrol or a dedicated ink remover
  • Grease: Pre-treat with baking soda to absorb the grease, and follow with deep cleaning with a degreaser
  • Coffee: Diluted degreaser or foaming carpet products

Step 4: Deep clean carpets if needed

Quick tip!

Detailers often use what’s called a carpet extractor or steamer to deep-clean carpets. If your carpets are a bit too dirty…consider calling your local detailer with experience using steam.

There’s regular carpet cleaning and then deep cleaning, which typically involves using a carpet extractor that uses steam to bring dirt to the surface and sucks up everything into a holding tank. While you can use a spot cleaner to deep clean carpet…it’s more efficient and effective to use more heavy-duty equipment designed for carpets.

best carpet extractors
Example of a professional carpet extractor

Should I shampoo car carpet?

You may want to apply carpet shampoo to freshen your carpet, but it’s not something you need to do often. If you bought a car with a smoky smell…shampooing and steam cleaning is a good choice. This type of treatment falls into the ‘deep cleaning’ category.

After you apply shampoo, you’ll need an extractor or spot cleaner to remove the foam.

Step 5: Air out to avoid mold and mildew

Once clean, air out the vehicle…and you’re done.  It’s a good idea to leave your vehicle outside to let the wet carpet dry out instead of closing it in a garage right away. Leave your vehicle in the sun with the windows open for a bit, and that should eliminate any dusty smells. You can even use a car moisture absorber like DampRid, which will collect moisture in the air, and make your interior smell a lot better too.

No matter what stains you’re dealing with, pick up our stain removal guide to pin up in your garage…so you’ll never have to guess what to use ever again.

Detail your interior in the right order 

I recommend you clean your cloth or leather seats prior to cleaning carpets since you won’t have to worry about dust or crumbs falling down into your clean carpet.

Be sure to check out my post on what order to wash your car to see the best results on both the interior and interior. It works for me, and hope it helps you too.

Baxter Overman is the founder of Carwash Country and has been been cleaning up dirty vehicles for nearly 20 years. Since 2017, he's helped thousands of beginners see better results by learning the fundamentals of washing and detailing. He's on a mission to make the car wash process more fun...and way easier.

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