A Pro Guide to Removing Makeup From a Car Interior

So you’ve got a few makeup or lipstick stains on your car’s interior? The good news is that unlike grease or other substances essentially impossible to remove, you can usually remove cosmetic products rather easily.

In this blog post, I’ll break down what to do if you are an auto detailer or just someone looking to clean makeup stains from your dashboard, seats, or carpet. While there are a lot of ways to remove substances, these are methods that I would expect many professional auto detailers to perform to remove these products.

Today I’ll share a few ways to remove makeup or makeup stains the right way using products you probably already have.

First things first: Act quickly to avoid stains from setting

No matter where the stain is (whether it be lipstick or any other oil-based stain), it’s best to act quickly to prevent makeup from drying on a porous dashboard or setting into upholstery or fabric.

Try to scrape as much of the lipstick, foundation, or other cosmetic chunks or particles off before attempting to apply any pressure to the surface. Most of the time a damp microfiber towel dipped in water will remove fresh makeup if it is fresh.

Makeup types and fabric types

When it comes to cleaning makeup stains off of a vehicle’s interior, it’s important to know what type of fabric you are dealing with with, whether that be leather or something more porous.

I highly recommend a dedicated leather cleaner (like Lexol) for cleaning stains or makeup off of leather. This won’t damage the fabric, and can be followed up with their leather conditioner to protect your seats or leather trim in the future.

It’ also a good idea to understand what type of makeup (whether it be oil or water-based) you have. Some makeup (like mascara) can be more difficult to remove from lighter-colored cloth seats compared to a lighter-colored water-based foundation.

Before you begin: tools that can help

Depending on the severity of the situation, and whether or not you have cosmetics on the dash or upholstery, there are a few tools that really can help remove most makeup stains when used correctly.

Here are a few of my favorites that can help remove most makeup stains that may require more agitation.

  • Interior detailing brushes
  • Soft bristle brushes
  • Microfiber towel
  • Carpet extractors

Removing basic water-based stains

For water-based cosmetics, dipping a soft cloth in warm soapy water usually will be able to remove the stain or the makeup if relatively fresh. I would spot clean the affected area, instead of spraying down seats. You never want to use cleaners on areas that aren’t dirty. If you do purchase a stain remover (they make several) be sure to only use it on stains, and a less aggressive cleaner for unaffected areas.

The reason you want to use warm water is that molecules move faster when heated, which allows the warm soapy water to really attack the stain and work to dissolve it and remove it.

Removing makeup stains on upholstery

clean seams in between seats

While I am no expert in makeup, again I would start with warm water mixed with a drop of dish soap (like Dawn) for most plush upholstery (not leather or vinyl). This acts as a degreaser, and usually does a good job at removing most cosmetic products.

Regular dish soap usually works great for removing oil-based makeup stains like Mascara or lipstick from seats.

Use brushes to help remove set-in makeup stains

Since many stains may already be set, using a small upholstery brush (or even a clean toothbrush) brush can help remove staining that is lodged in the fibers of a seat (for example).

For dashboards and other hard surfaces, I highly recommend using auto detailing brushes dipped in soapy water or a diluted degreaser, but you can also use these on seats.

Set-in stains: Baking soda and ammonia

For extreme cases, you may want to treat the affected area with baking soda. This can help to absorb the oil in some makeup before proceeding to applying anything in liquid form.

For deep stains, you can also use an ammonia-based solution diluted 10:1. Simply dip a cloth in the ammonia solution and treat the stain. Repeat if necessary.

Removing makeup from dashboards or headliners

For firm headliners (not cloth), usually, a diluted APC (all-purpose cleaner) like Purple Power when applied with a damp cloth should be able to remove most stains.

For vinyl dashboards, any interior detailer should do the trick since staining is usually the main issue. For porous surfaces, I would highly recommend using a large interior detailing brush since the fibers in the brush can really clean in textured areas much better than by hand.

If you’ve ever tried to wipe makeup off of a porous surface with a wet cloth (and the stain remains), try using a wet detailing brush.

Check out this post where I outline exactly how to use these interior detailing brushes to remove substances like makeup.


In conclusion, it’s best to try to wipe away as much makeup as possible with no water before proceeding to a water/soap mixture. For rough stains, an all-purpose cleaner or ammonia-based solution can be effective.

With any stain in general, be sure to be careful not to apply too much pressure to avoid damaging the material. The cleaning agent should do most of the cleaning, and heavy scrubbing by hand should be avoided for something like makeup.

Too extreme? The carpet cleaning and extracting option.

For extreme cases, just have a detailer use a steam-cleaning device as part of their interior detailing package. This will most of the time will remove dirt, makeup, and any other staining for most upholstery or carpet.

I hope this has been helpful! Let me know if these tips worked for you.

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