I love my extractor. This is not an ad, but my Bissel SpotClean Pro is an incredibly powerful tool for cleaning cars. It’s taken my flips to the next level; I can get near dealer-level interior details with it. Clean seats, clean carpets, clean plastics, can be that last little bit of sizzle that makes the sale for a customer on the fence. Or apparently, you can forget all that and just paint over the dirt. But if you do that, just know that I hate you. You’re gross, trifling, and lazy. Ha, I kid. Sort of.

Painting Carpets Can Work but You’re Usually Better Off With a Proper Deep Clean
Image: Buddy’s DIY (YouTube screenshot)

Manufacturers like Dupli-Color and Krylon solutions that can jazz up tired old carpets — it’s upholstery spray paint or dye. The process of applying is straightforward, you vacuum up all the big dirt particles, then you spray that junk on like you’re applying Aqua Net for the sophomore homecoming dance of 1985. It’s just as easy to paint a permanently stained car seat as it would be to paint an old plastic deck chair. But of course, some people looking to buy broken cars and resell them for a quick buck will skip the prep step and just blast a layer of color over crappy, dirty carpets. No wonder people are dubious of flippers.

I’m a “replace or ignore” type of guy. If a carpet is too stained to save, I’m inclined to replace the item, or ignore it, and hope the buyer doesn’t notice or care. Over the more than 30 cars I’ve owned, I’ve used carpet dye exactly one time, to get rid of winter salt residue from the carpets on a 2005 Cadillac CTS.

My extractor is a lot more effective than a simple brush or a vacuum, and the results tend to be a little neater than if you just spray painted over the problem. It uses a combination of a chemical and scrubbing action to eat up ancient stains (the grossest kind) and usually should leave a car’s carpet feeling nicer and more natural than one that’s been painted.

That said, when applied correctly, carpet dye can actually work really well, even if I don’t particularly like it myself. Fellow car flipper Buddy’s DIY did a Toyota Highlander flip you can see here, the car got a new lease on life and a seriously upgraded interior with just a few cans of carpet dye. Gone are the greasy discolorations, replaced with a nice, even, grey-toned carpet.

It’s not all fun and games, though. If you’re too heavy-handed with the spray can, you could make the carpet fibers stiff and gross feeling. Some claim that the carpet dye or paint doesn’t look very good or last too long, either.

The bottom line is if you’re going to do something like dying carpet, at least clean it properly first. And when you’re used-car shopping (especially around a lot that might seem a little unscrupulous) make sure you check the soft surfaces of the interior carefully to make sure they haven’t been treated with some lame corner-cutting “restoration” techniques.