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A Pro Guide to Removing Makeup From a Car Interior

Have a few makeup or lipstick stains on your car’s interior? Unlike grease or other substances that are difficult to remove, you can usually remove cosmetics easily. Most makeup contains organic substances and minerals that are water-soluble, so likely won’t need harsh chemicals. That said, some oil-based products require a different approach.

Without further ado, here’s the best way to remove common makeup stains from your dashboard, seats, or carpet. 

Quick Tip

Act quickly before stains set in, especially for lipsticks or oil-based products. Wet makeup will be easier to remove with water when wet, especially on porous surfaces. If the makeup is relatively fresh, dip a camp cloth or cotton pad in warm or slightly hot water with a drop of fabric-safe soap or cleaner.

Products you’ll need

Here are a few products you may need outside of any cleaning products you choose.

  • Short-bristled brush for interior detailing (or old toothbrush)
  • Microfiber towel(s)
  • Nitrol gloves (optional)
  • Empty spray bottle and warm water
  • Spot cleaning machine (if makeup is everywhere!)
Caution!

Avoid trying tons of different products and home remedies; start with water, soap, and mild cleaners first. Adhesive removers, hydrogen peroxide, and ammonia can fade or damage certain surfaces, so don’t throw the kitchen sink at the problem by creating chemical reactions! Use our makeup removal chart as a starting point.

Makeup Removal Chart for Auto Detailing
Type of MakeupRecommended ProductHow To Remove
Foundation or blushFoaming All-purpose or fabric cleaner or diluted Super Clean degreaser (5 parts water, 1 part degreaser)Leather or vinyl: Spray on an APC or degreaser and wipe off with microfiber towel; Fabric: spray-on, agitate with brush, and wipe off
LipstickDiluted degreaser or liquid dish detergent; baking sodaLeather or vinyl: Spray on, agitate, and wipe off; Fabric: Apply fabric-safe cleaner or diluted degreaser and agitate with brush. If stain remains, apply small amount of baking soda overnight to absorb the grease. Repeat if needed.
MascaraLiquid dish detergent; diluted degreaserLeather or vinyl: Spray and wipe off with towel; Fabric: apply drop of dish liquid and agitate with towel
Nail polishCitrol 266Leather, vinyl, cloth: After diluting 4:1 (foam or liquid), apply a small amount to a cloth and rub gently to remove.

Before you begin

Start by wiping up any loose makeup before it has a chance to smear or create a stain. For the powdery stuff, use a vacuum with a crevice tool if necessary. Use wet wipes (or whatever you have) to wipe off fresh makeup from hard surfaces before they dry if possible.

For oily substances that may smear, you’ll want to absorb these (rather than agitate them).

Removing makeup from leather or vinyl

For leather seats, we recommend a dedicated leather cleaner and leather conditioner like Lexol. Simply dislodge dried makeup with a soft-bristled toothbrush if needed and wipe up with a microfiber towel. 

Most modern vehicle leather contains a thin protective coating, so human-grade substances in makeup should wipe off easily without staining. However, chemicals that are too strong can damage the coating if undiluted; always start with a high dilution ratio.

Check out our tutorial on how to clean leather seats to learn more.

Removing makeup from fabric seats or carpet

clean seams in between seats

For upholstery like cloth seats, sun visors, and headliners, start with a gentle degreaser like Super Clean mixed up 5:1 in an empty spray bottle. I like Super Clean because it’s safer than most and can be used on leather, vinyl, cloth, and carpets. It may not remove every type of makeup stain, but it’s a good starting point.

Check out our post on how to clean car carpets for beginners if needed.

Super Clean Cleaner and Degreaser

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If you’re wondering, regular dish soap can help remove a mascara stain or oil-based makeup stain (like lipstick) from seats, but use a VERY small amount. Dish liquid is extremely difficult to remove completely, which is why I recommend spray-on degreasers over detergents.

Suds from dish liquid can be sooo hard to remove completely and sometimes leave behind a film when dry 😬.

Use brushes for set-in makeup stains

Since many stains may already be set, use a small upholstery brush (or even a clean toothbrush) to gently agitate the stain; repeat as needed.

For oily substances that may smear, you’ll want to absorb these (rather than agitate them).

Use Baking soda or Citrol for oil-based stains

For hard-to-remove makeup stains, one option is to treat the affected area with a small amount of baking soda and leave for a couple of hours. Remove the baking soda with a microfiber towel and apply water using a spot cleaner or wet/dry vacuum to remove the residue

Baking soda absorbs oil, so you may be able to fade the stain over time.

For the most stubborn makeup stains, I recommend a product called Citrol 266, which works well on oil-based substances like paint. Dilute Citrol 4 parts water to 1 part solution at minimum and proceed with caution. It’s not the strongest chemical in the world, but you can up the dilution to be safe on darker colors that could fade. I’ve never seen it be a problem though.

Citrol 266 Degreaser Cleaner

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Removing makeup from plastic and trim

For plastic trim, door handles, or any hard surface, any interior detailing spray specifically for plastics or rubber should do the trick.

You can technically use a diluted degreaser like Super Clean or an all-purpose cleaner for this application if any stains remain. If you’re on-the-go…a wet wipe or a few makeup wipes are better than nothing.

Use a spot cleaner for extreme cases

If the makeup is powdery (but everywhere), I recommend getting using a handheld spot cleaner. These devices allow you to spray warm water on the affected area while simultaneously sucking up all liquids you’ve used to pre-treat the surface. It’s the most basic form of carpet extracting (without the steam).

Any standard microfiber towel will lift and remove makeup particles just fine…but to completely cleanse a fabric surface of all makeup residue you need to extract it.

I have a small Hoover spot cleaner and recommend one if you’re just getting into detailing. These small units are affordable, great for beginners, and ultra-portable (unlike others).

Hoover Cordless Carpet Spot Cleaner

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Hoover Spot Cleaner for Car Carpet

If you’re still having trouble with larger stains that won’t come out, check out our step-by-step stain removal guide which covers more than just makeup!

Of course, if have large stains or a lot of them, any good auto detailer should be able to take care of it if you’d rather go this route.

Good luck!

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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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