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How to Naturally Wash Your Car and Clean the Interior & Upholstery


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Now that winter is (hopefully) almost over, chances are that your car is looking a bit worse for wear. If yours is anything like mine, there are salt stains on the hood and doors, the windows are grimy, the inside is crusty with salt and sand from winter boots, and there might be quite a bit of trash and clutter scattered around.

I haven’t cleaned my car all winter because it’s simply been too cold here in the Midwest. But now? The sun is out, and the air is just warm enough to haul out the vacuum without risking hypothermia.

If you’re ready to do some deep cleaning in your car, you don’t need to buy a bunch of expensive “car cleaners” to do it. In fact, most commercial car cleaners (and most regular cleaners, for that matter) contain plenty of dangerous chemicals you don’t need to be breathing in. Using natural cleaners is not only safer, but it’s also healthier. I’ll be using eco-friendly cleaners to clean my car this spring.

So how can you naturally clean your car? Here are 7 tips you can start using right away.

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1. Use a Bucket
When you wash the outside of your car, don’t let the hose run the entire time you’re scrubbing. Use a bucket and sponge, and turn the water off while you’re cleaning. This simple change of habit can help you conserve a lot of water.

2. Use Plant-Based Soap
It’s also important to use a natural, plant-based soap when you’re washing your car. The reason is because everything you rinse off will eventually find its way to your local watershed. If the soap residue is plant-based (versus petroleum based, like most commercial soaps including Dawn) then you don’t have to worry about impacting the local environment.

3. Use Toothpaste to Clean the Interior
If you have leather or vinyl seats, you can use toothpaste to get out any mild stains. Make sure you do a small test area first just to make sure the toothpaste won’t affect the dyes used in the material.

4. Use Alcohol
If the stain on your leather or vinyl seats won’t come out with toothpaste, then lightly dab it with alcohol. Again, do a test area first to make sure it won’t affect the color. Use a Q-tip  and gently apply the alcohol to the stain.

Keep in mind that the more alcohol you use, the more likely it is that the dyes in your seat will rub off. So do a test area first and then try to use the least amount of alcohol possible to get the job done.

If you don’t have any specific stains on your leather or vinyl, you can mix one part vinegar with one part linseed oil and clean your interior with that solution. This is a great mix for removing dirt and grime, and it leaves the leather with a pretty sheen.

5. Green Clean Your Windows
Don’t bother with Windex! Instead, use this eco-friendly, frugal cleaner. Mix together:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup alcohol

in a spray bottle and gently shake. This is an awesome window cleaner that really does a good job getting off grimy winter dirt. It’s also important when green cleaning your car to use reusable cloth wipes instead of paper towels. I use microfiber towels when doing my own windows and they work great.

6. Freshen Up with Baking Soda
Baking soda is a miracle product. I use this stuff for dozens of different uses around the house. It’s an amazing deodorizer so if you find your car smelling a bit musty, then sprinkle the baking soda on your cloth seats, and/or on the cloth floorboards. Leave it on there for a few hours, or overnight, and then vacuum it up. You can also add some fragrance by sprinkling some dried herbs (like lavender or dried roses) in with the baking soda.

7. Naturally Clean Fabric Stains
If your car interior is fabric, there are many natural ways you can remove stains.

First, mix equal parts vinegar and water and spray the stain. Let it soak for a few minutes, and then blot with a wet cloth.

You can also use a natural detergent if you have that on hand. Again, mix equal parts of detergent and water, and lightly soak. Blot up with a wet cloth.

If you have grease stains on your car’s floor mats, sprinkle the stains with cornstarch. Let it sit for 15-30 minutes, and then vacuum it up.

Final Word

With all the natural cleaning ingredients you have at our disposal, there’s no need to go out and buy a basket full of specialized car cleaning products. As I mentioned before, most of these contain dangerous chemicals that you’re better off avoiding. Using natural ingredients like baking soda and vinegar is not only eco-friendly, but it will save you money as well.

Have you washed your car recently? What types of cleaners do you typically use?


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Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.