Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned

The harder it is to clean a car, the more satisfying the end result.

My $600 Hyundai was disgusting inside. But you all knew that, right? I sure as hell knew it while purchasing it. Whilst repairing the wheel bearing, I decided to take a weekend and get some hard interior detailing work done, in the midst of temperatures in the mid-teens.

Here’s what we started with. Nasty. Gross. The car reeked of the visible cigarette butts littering the interior, mixed with “Black Ice” air fresheners to cover it up. Bottles of fireball littered the interior, and every surface was sticky. I knew this would have to be a seats-out interior detail.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

To start, I removed all of the big trash pieces. Papers, old parking meter receipts, cigarettes, and bottles of Fireball, some open and half-consumed, some completely closed. Then, armed with a 14mm socket and a Phillips-head screwdriver, I got to work taking apart the interior. First out, was the seats. They weren’t too stained, surprisingly – although they did reek of the previous owner’s, um, activities. Four 14mm bolts hold each seat in, and there are a couple of electronic clips for the seatbelt and side airbag that need to be removed as well. I opted to leave the back seat in place.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

The center console was pretty gnarly. Filled with loose tobacco, sticky with Fireball whisky probably, I just took the whole thing out. I needed to replace the parking brake cable anyways, so it would have had to come out either way.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

Wow. There was even a bottle of fireball underneath the parking brake cable, somehow. I wondered why my parking brake had such a hard time going down. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
I pulled nearly 40 of these mini bottles of Fireball. Some were full, some were empty, or half empty.

I found nearly 40 of these mini Fireball bottles in various parts of the interior.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

Alrighty, now the fun stuff. The seats were out, so I removed all the big debris, like coins and stuff too big to be sucked up by the vacuum.

Then I got my shop vac and went to work. Some of the crumbs were pretty tough in there, so I used a firm brush to agitate the fibers. This is a technique I learned from watching a lot of Youtube detail channels, namely The Detail Geek.

After about 30 minutes of vacuuming, I got most of the big crumbs removed.

Once I was done vacuuming, I switched to my portable extractor and my spot steamer. The Bissell Spot Clean pro I’ve learned is an open secret tool that a lot of semi-professional (and professional) detail guys use. It’s a hot-water extractor, albeit a lot smaller than what you’d find in a detail shop. Bissell markets it towards small home pet clean-up, but plenty of YouTube detail guys use it to shampoo and extract car upholstery. As you can see, it works pretty fantastically. I use about a one part cleaner, to about five parts water solution. I saturate the carpets and seats as much as I can, then I used the extractor to remove the water. Then, the carpets must be allowed to dry. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

The Nesquik looking greywater was pretty gnarly.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

I used my steamer to get hot steam in the vents, in theory, to disinfect them from the tar and cigarette residue. This may have been entirely futile, as I completely forgot to remove and replace the cabin air filter. The steamer also was used to warm up and blow off some stuck-on gum on the back seat.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams
Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

The dashboard itself was not very dirty or stained. It and all of the hard surfaces were easy to clean. First, I wiped them down with a mild warm water + ammonia mixture. Then I sprayed them down with Meguiars interior cleaner. Lastly, I sealed them with the Meiguars interior plastic protectant. I find that this combo of stuff works well, gives a good finish that isn’t greasy or super shiny. It smells nice too, without being overpowering. 

After about two days of work, I got something that looked like this. I wish I had taken better photos, but you’ll still get the gist.

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned
Image: Kevin Williams

I ran an Ozone generator inside the vehicle for a few hours in hopes of removing all smells. It kind of worked, but as I said above, I completely neglected to remove the cabin air filter.

When I did remove the cabin air filter, I was greeted with this thing, black with cigarette smoke, dust, and leaves. 

Don’t Be Afraid to Dismantle Part of Your Car Interior to Really Get It Deep Cleaned

Currently, the car smells 300 percent better than it did when I first got it, but I’m not completely happy with it. Because I did the extraction in below-freezing weather, it took forever for the interior to dry, and as a result, I feel as if it didn’t work as well as it should have. My efforts to remove the smells would have been more effective if I had removed the cabin air filter before I had done any of the interior cleanings. Also, I’ve been using the Tiburon for errands and other daily activities, so it’s kind of dirty inside again.

I think one more quick interior detail will remove any smells entirely, and make it aces for the next owner. Or at least, make it easy for me to drive.

Wish me luck. 

Kevin Williams

Kevin WilliamsKevin's been into cars his entire life, anything from the tiny kei cars in Japan, to the maybe not-so-good American barges of the 1980s. He's flipped more than 25 cars, only lost money twice, and has known how to make his dollar stretch as far as it can. If he ain't talking about cars, he's probably snacking on something sweet and cakey. Contact the author here.