Over time, the carpeting in your car collects large quantities of dirt and dust, and worse yet, it will likely suffer from unsightly stains. Having a car carpet cleaner on hand and using it regularly ensures your car’s interior stays clean and in good condition for years to come. The best car carpet cleaners come in many forms, including shampoo, steam cleaners, vacuums, and sprays. The cleaners usually contain powerful ingredients that work to remove dirt, deodorize foul smells, and sometimes sanitize.
Read on to learn how to choose the best car carpet cleaner, and understand how removing unsightly debris from upholstery can be as easy as a spritz of carpet cleaner or the suction from a handheld vacuum.
- BEST OVERALL: CarGuys Super Cleaner – Effective All Purpose Cleaner
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Febreze Heavy Traffic Carpet Foam
- UPGRADE PICK: Dupray Neat Steam Cleaner Multipurpose Heavy Duty
- BEST FOR CARPETS AND MATS: Turtle Wax T-244R1 Power Out! Carpet and Mats Cleaner
- BEST FOR UPHOLSTERY: Chemical Guys CWS_103 Carpet & Upholstery Shampoo
- BEST FOR ODOR REMOVAL: Woolite Carpet Upholstery Cleaner
- BEST FOR DIRT AND DEBRIS: BLACK+DECKER dustbuster Handheld Vacuum (HHVI320JR02)
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Car Carpet Cleaner
When shopping for the best car carpet cleaner, there are a few essential considerations to keep in mind. These include the type, ingredients, scent, and stain and odor removal properties, among others.
The market offers many types of car carpet cleaners, such as sprays, shampoos, deodorizers, vacuums, and steam cleaners. In addition, many portable carpet cleaners can be stored conveniently in the trunk of a car.
- Spray car carpet cleaners typically come packaged in a bottle with an aerosol or spritz nozzle for easy storage and targeting of specific spots. Spray carpet cleaners can clean the entire carpet surface or spot treat stains.
- Carpet shampoos typically have concentrated cleaning solutions that car owners must mix with water and apply with a carpet-cleaning machine. However, some carpet shampoos come in spray bottles for spraying directly on carpeting and scrubbing clean with a soft-bristle brush.
- Carpet deodorizers eliminate odors and can effectively clean away dirt and grime while leaving behind a fresh fragrance.
- Vacuums with a handheld design or those meant to clean wet and dry surfaces typically work best for cleaning car carpets, especially when paired with long and narrow attachments that fit into the nooks and crannies between seats and the floor. Vacuuming usually serves as the first step in cleaning car carpets before applying a liquid carpet cleaner.
- Steam cleaners use the power of heat and water to pick up what vacuums leave behind, like ground-in mud or sticky foods. Steam cleaners can clean hard-to-reach surfaces and adequately get into carpet fibers for a deep clean that also sanitizes.
Car carpet cleaners might contain harsh chemical ingredients such as ammonia, acid, acetone, formaldehyde, pesticides, or disinfectant that can be dangerous to inhale. When using cleaners with these chemical ingredients, do so safely outside, within a well-ventilated space, or while wearing a mask.
Other car carpet cleaners have formulations without harsh chemicals for safer alternatives. These safer car carpet cleaners usually contain a water base plus less-harsh ingredients, such as surfactants and natural enzymes.
Car carpet cleaner formulas often include fresh scents that linger after use. The fragrance left behind might be a fresh floral or pleasant citrus scent, or it might even restore that classic new-car smell. Every car carpet cleaner smells different, and some products tout scent-free formulas. If fragrance is important, be sure to carefully read over the label to ensure the car carpet cleaner has a preferred scent (or no scent at all).
Stain and Odor Removal
Car carpets see heavy foot traffic and can quickly become covered in stains from dirty shoes, food, pets, and more. Most car carpet cleaners remove stains effectively and eliminate the odors that often result from stains.
Car carpet cleaners that remove stains and odors can come in a variety of styles such as foams, sprays, shampoos, or steamers. A tough stain might require applying the preferred cleaning method a few times, or the cleaner might need extra time to allow the cleaner to soak into the stain (usually for up to 10 minutes) before the user scrubs it with a bristle brush or microfiber cloth. Some cleaners might need to be rinsed with water, while others have rinse-free formulas.
While car carpet cleaners are highly effective at cleaning away dirt and stains, not all car carpet cleaners have antibacterial properties. However, cleaners that eliminate bad smells work to kill odor-causing microbes for a fresh clean.
Steam cleaners kill bacteria most effectively. Using the power of steam’s high temperatures can quickly and thoroughly eliminate pesky germs, leaving behind a clean, dirt-free surface.
When using car carpet cleaners, the drying time depends on the cleaner and how deeply it saturates the surface. Carpets soaked with a cleaner or steam can take a few hours to dry completely. However, many car carpet cleaners have quick-drying formulas so that surfaces feel soft and clean shortly after application.
The best car carpet cleaner can freshen more than just car carpeting. Many of these vehicle cleaners also work on other upholstery or fabric surfaces, such as car seats, mats, seat belts, and the dash. These car carpet cleaners also might suit cleaning of other outdoor or indoor surfaces. Be sure to properly read the user manual to ensure safe usage as directed by the manufacturer.
Our Top Picks
The best car carpet cleaner uses powerful ingredients and convenient application methods that effectively clean the soft interior surfaces of a vehicle. The best car carpet cleaners listed below offer various options for those with a vehicle in need of a deep clean.
This 18-ounce spray bottle of multisurface car cleaner by Car Guys effectively cleans carpet, upholstery, plastic, rubber, and leather without harsh ingredients like ammonia. It can help to lightly dust surfaces, plus remove tough stains on carpet and car seats when applied directly to the surface. Avoid using it on glass, though.
This cleaner has a water-based, no-rinse formula that is super easy to use. Depending on the amount of cleaner applied, most soft surfaces dry in a few hours. The bottle features a professional-grade spray nozzle with an ergonomic trigger for comfort and to avoid spills if it tips over.
Febreze heavy-traffic carpet foam is a great value that cleans, deodorizes, and dries quickly all in a budget-friendly four-pack. This foam helps remove dirt and protects car carpets from future stains with a formula that dries quickly and does not leave a sticky residue behind.
The powers of Febreze and Gain also work together to root out odors trapped in carpet fibers and leave behind a pleasant scent. It uses anionic and nonionic surfactants strong enough to tackle odors caused by pets, tobacco, food, and more. To use, spray the entire car carpet or affected area, scrub with a cloth or soft brush, and vacuum.
Dupray’s Neat Steam Cleaner is a powerful and multipurpose tool that uses hot steam to lift tough dirt and grime from car carpets while sanitizing and eliminating bacteria. When using a steam cleaner, carpets must air-dry for a couple of hours. The cleaner comes with 17 accessories that include two tube extensions, one cloth, three microfiber pads, five nylon brushes, one brass brush, two different triangular tools, one lance, one window tool, and a rectangular floor tool.
This machine heats up to 275 degrees in as little as 7 minutes. It can hold up to 54 ounces of water and has an integrated funnel for convenient filling. The steamer’s cord measures 16 feet, and the tube reaches 6 feet 6 inches for tight spots. A retractable handle lessens storage space but provides easy carrying.
The Power Out! Carpet and Mats Cleaner by Turtle Wax is a stain-removing foam that sprays directly on car carpeting for best results. This 18-ounce can of cleaner comes with an attached MicroScrub brush to quickly scrub away dirt. This cleaner’s formula contains Oxy brighteners that refresh the carpet with a professional finish. It also has Turtle Wax’s patented Odor-X ingredient that eliminates tough odors caused by smoke, pets, mildew, and food.
After this carpet and mat cleaner goes on the surface, a soil-repelling silicone shield protects carpets from future stains. For best results, vacuum carpets and mats before applying this cleaner.
For a hyper-concentrated car carpet and upholstery cleaner, consider The Chemical Guys’ upholstery shampoo. This quality pick tackles grime on carpets, seats, and floor mats. The professional-grade formula contains no detergents and has a low-moisture content for a quick-drying feel after each use. The cleanser has a high-suds consistency that is infused with oxygen to effectively lift and separate dirt particles.
This carpet shampoo also removes odors with patented enzymes that target odor-causing microbes, and it leaves behind a pleasant citrus scent. Dilute the concentrated cleaner with water in a separate spray bottle and mist surfaces with a light coat before scrubbing with a brush or microfiber cloth.
With its patented, odor-eliminating formula, Woolite’s carpet upholstery cleaner banishes stubborn odors, like pet urine, leaving a fresh scent on carpet and upholstery. Each 12-ounce can of cleaner features a convenient, fabric-safe brush and powerful cleaning agents like surfactants and peroxide to clean deeply and lift stains. This cleaner applies to surfaces as a foam that effectively targets stains without fully saturating the surface, so carpets dry quickly.
Black & Decker’s dustbuster handheld vacuum features a lightweight profile and long, slim handle that can target dirt and dust in tough-to-reach cracks and crannies in cars. The cyclonic action keeps dust from blocking the filter, so the vacuum delivers a continuously powerful suction. The transparent vacuum body easily shows when the bagless filter needs to be emptied or washed.
This cordless vacuum comes with a charger, a wall mount, an extendable tool, and a flip-up brush. It weighs 2.4 pounds, measures 12.5 by 7.9 by 5.3 inches, and holds approximately 20.6 ounces of dirt. It can run for about 30 minutes between charges.
FAQs About Car Carpet Cleaners
For further info about buying and using car carpet cleaners, read on for answers to some common questions about these products.
Q. Is steam cleaning good for cars?
Steam cleaning is suitable for cleaning cars when applied safely and appropriately. Steam effectively cleans dirt and grime from car carpets and upholstery, and it also sanitizes these surfaces with high temperatures that kill bacteria.
Q. How much car carpet cleaning product should I apply?
Apply enough car carpet cleaning product to soak the carpet or specific stain. Car carpet shampoos typically require about 6 ounces of shampoo per 1 gallon of water. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s user guide for exact instructions.
Q. Can I bleach a stain to remove it from my vehicle’s interior?
Bleach is a harsh chemical cleaner that is not safe for use on car carpets. Bleach can damage or discolor carpet, upholstery, and other soft surfaces in your vehicle.
Q. How do I get stains out of my car carpet?
The best way to remove stains from car carpet is by soaking the stain with car carpet stain remover for up to 10 minutes and then blotting or scrubbing with a towel or cloth. Repeat this process until the stain has lifted as much as possible.