Drying a Wet Car Carpet — What You Need to Know

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally left my car window open. Even if I left it while the sun was out, somehow, the rain would start pouring every time and I’d come back to a wet interior and soggy car carpets. Considering how often this happens to me, I’ve had to learn everything there is to know on how to clean and dry wet car carpets.

If you’re clumsy or forgetful like me, or if you’ve washed your carpets but now don’t know how to dry them, this guide is just right for you. So without further ado, here’s everything you need to know on drying a wet car carpet.

How to clean and dry wet car carpets.

1. Move Your Car

First things first, get your car out of the rain or water that it’s been sitting in. The more time your carpet and car spend soaked, the harder it’ll be to clean them later.

If you can, move your car to your garage or any closed area where you can keep it dry. As soon as you’ve moved your car from the rain or water, open all the windows and car doors. By doing so, you’ll be helping some of the moisture evaporate.

If it’s stopped raining and there is sunshine or a dry breeze out, I recommend leaving it outside. There’s almost nothing as effective in drying your car as sun rays.

Of course, if you’re leaving the doors or windows open, make sure that your car’s in a safe place. But if you can’t move the car and it’s still pouring outside, close the windows and turn on the AC. It won’t be quite as effective at getting rid of the moisture, but it will still get the job done.

2. Soak up the Water

Your next step is to soak up all of the water around your carpets and interior. For this job, I recommend using a microfiber cloth instead of paper towels, for example. But if you have puddles of water in your car, I suggest getting a couple of old towels to sop it all up.

You can start by taking your towel or cloth and pressing it on the areas of your carpet that are wet. If your carpets are detachable, take them out, and sop up the water that’s under them.

Also, check if your vehicle has drain plugs in the floor. If it does, open them up to get rid of any excess water.

3. Vacuum the Area

Once there are no more puddles in your car, you should vacuum the whole thing with a wet-dry vac. It’s important to remember to use a vacuum that’s specifically made for water, and not one with bags or trays. If you go ahead and use a regular vac with bags and trays, you might get electrocuted when you try to vacuum water.

So, take your wet-dry vac and set it on the “wet” mode before you start going over the carpet. My two favorite vacs are Shop-Vac 2036000 and Shop-Vac 5895200. Both of these are pretty compact, and you can use them in your car or around your home.

How to Vacuum

Even though vacuuming water isn’t really rocket science, I thought it’s a good idea to go over it one time. First, check your vac’s instruction manual because you might need to remove the filter before using it.

Then, attach the correct hose, turn the settings to “wet,” and start vacuuming. Once you’re done vacuuming, make sure to clean out the tank to avoid attracting mildew.

Vacuuming Alternative

If you don’t have a dry-wet vac or don’t want to spend money on one, you could use cat litter to soak up the water. Run down to your nearest pet store, grab some super-absorbent cat litter, and get to work.

Put down a thick layer of cat litter over your carpet and car interior and leave it there for two to three days. After the litter has done its job, take a normal vacuum, and clean it all up. Not only will your carpet be dry, but you’ll also get rid of any odors that the water has made.

4. Clean the Carpets

Since your carpet’s already wet, why not make the best out of a bad situation and clean those stains and dirt that you’ve been meaning to get to for months? My favorite home remedy for cleaning car carpets and getting the grime out is a baking soda and water paste. 

You can start by putting a quarter of a cup of baking soda into a cup of warm water and mixing it until you get a paste. Then, take the paste and start applying it to your carpets and the upholstery around it. I recommend using a coarse carpet brush for this job, as those can penetrate the grime and dirt.

If you don’t have baking soda around, you can also use 3% hydrogen peroxide and toothpaste. Take these two ingredients, mix them into a paste, and apply to the areas with dirt. You should leave this mixture to work for a couple of minutes before cleaning it up with a dry rag.

Even though I think either of these solutions will do the job, if you want something stronger, you can get a cleaner from Amazon. My two favorite products are the Carfidant Car Cleaner and the Hoover Oxy Shampoo.

5. Dry the Car and Carpets

Now that your car is all nice and clean, it’s time to evaporate moisture and generate airflow. The best way to do so is with the help of a fan. You can use either a standup model or a window unit in the open car door space.

To get rid of the moisture and humidity, you should leave the fan to run for a couple of days continuously. You can move it around from time to time so that you get every spot in your car.

If you don’t have access to these fans, you could use a dehumidifier for the job. But keep in mind that it’ll take more time to dry everything if you just use a dehumidifier. In fact, if you can, I suggest running both devices at the same time for the best results.

Dry the Foam Underneath

When your car carpet gets wet, the water seeps underneath it and goes straight to the foam backing. If the foam stays wet for a while, it’ll attract mildew, and it’ll be almost impossible to get rid of later.

First, you have to get access to the foam by using a screwdriver to prop up the sill. Then, you’re going to need something firm and sturdy, like a brick or wooden plank to create an air pocket.

Your car might even have a plate along the bottom edge that you have to pry off to get to the sill. But if you still can’t get to it, you might need to remove the seats before you can see the sill.

Once you have access to the foam, take your fan and point it there. Again, it might take you a few days before you can get all of the moisture out.

For extra protection from moisture, I recommend using the DampRid Bags. You can hang these bags on the handles above car doors or the headrests to suck up the moisture in your car.

But if you can’t get your hands on the DampRid Bags, you can always use baking soda. All you need to do is put a couple of opened boxes or jars of baking soda around your car for the full effect.

6. Keep the Mildew Out

If you can already smell the mildew growing in your car, use a water and vinegar solution on your carpet. You can put it in a spray bottle for easier application and leave it to rest for about 20 minutes. Then, scrub the solution with a brush and clean it with a dry towel or cloth.

If you hate the smell of vinegar, you could also use dishwashing soap or even tea tree oil instead. However, before you put any solution on the carpet, do a patch test first to ensure it doesn’t leave a stain.

Final Thoughts

Cleaning and drying a car carpet, albeit exhausting, is not as difficult as it sounds. All you have to remember is to be thorough when cleaning and patient when drying. That way, you won’t have to worry about mildew spots, and your carpet will look spotless for a long time.

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