It goes without saying that carpets are some of the dirtiest parts of our cars. Because we need to wash them so frequently, not wanting to break out a cleaning machine every time is completely understandable. Fortunately, there are plenty of homemade cleaners that will make your car carpets look as good as new.
Besides, car carpet cleaning machines are much too bulky to keep on hand. They also cost about $30–$50 to rent for a day. That’s definitely pretty steep for something you could easily improvise with a wet/dry vacuum.
Many people also use drill brush attachments to get stubborn stains out. If you ask me, those would only be a good investment if you’re unable to handle a nylon scrubbing brush. But if you’re able to scrub manually, you’ll regret the purchase — especially if you’re already struggling to find a place for your tools.
On the other hand, cleaning your carpets with one of the homemade cleaners I’ll talk about doesn’t require anything except the things you probably already have in your house. But, before you start mixing these solutions, you should decide on the best approach for you to take, considering your situation.
Choose the Right Approach
I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person who likes to have an action plan before diving into a DIY project. When it comes to cleaning carpets, I like to start by asking a few questions:
- What’s the general state of the carpet? Are we dealing with a small area or do we need to clean the whole thing?
- Is the carpet removable? Many car models only have removable floor mats, but the carpeting underneath is permanent. The answer to that question will affect your approach.
- Are we working on a fresh spill or is the dirt baked into the carpet?
- What are we cleaning? Is it mud, food, or chemicals?
I’ve actually already written about how to deal with gasoline spills in your trunk and remove milk stains from your car seats. Many of the tips I’ve already shared in those articles should work for your carpet as well. However, you’re much more likely to get mud on your carpeting than spill anything. That is, if you’re not prone to spilling liquids in your car.
Fortunately, if you’re only dealing with mud, you should have a pretty easy time cleaning your carpeting with simple homemade cleaners. Conversely, if you’re dealing with stubborn stains, you may use a stronger cleaner. But then, there are plenty of homemade solutions that can handle those discolorations as well. Obviously, you’re going to want to get to them while they’re relatively fresh, as every additional day allows them to bake into the carpet more.
Of course, one of the other concerns you may have is the collection of filth coming from water pooling on the floor. If you want to prevent those rivulets from carrying all of the dust to your floor, you should waterproof your car as soon as possible.
How Much Cleaning Solution Should You Use?
Many people, including myself, are of the opinion that you shouldn’t use too much of whatever cleaner you end up making. So spray bottles are great because they regulate the amount of liquid you can disperse. However, I’ve also come across people who insist that you have to soak the carpet in order to lift all the dust and sand. On the one hand:
- The water could exacerbate any rust that’s started to develop on the metal floor of the car underneath the carpet.
- It could also cause mold and mildew growth if it doesn’t dry completely.
- Additionally, some manufacturers put foam pads under the carpeting that emit odors when wet to warn drivers about leaks.
But, of course, flooding the carpet might indeed help dislodge the tiny sand particles. Not to mention:
- Even professional car carpet cleaners flood the carpet with water. However, they have a strong vacuum that suctions it away before it can cause damage.
- If you dry the carpet properly, you probably won’t endanger the metal underneath or cause mildew.
- This metal should be able to withstand a bit of water, anyway. After all, cars are made to be driven in all sorts of weather.
Ultimately, you can decide for yourself as to what technique you want to use. When the time comes, you can do a patch test on your car. Or if you’ve already had issues with your car smelling odd after you washed it, you should keep the moisture at a minimum.
Before Washing the Carpet
Obviously, it would be much easier to deal with a carpet that’s fully removable. However, most cars have removable floor mats and non-removable carpeting. That’s why I’m going to assume that we’re dealing with a fully upholstered car floor.
Don’t worry if you can’t take off the carpets and mats easily: just grab what you can. However, if you’re washing non-removable carpets, just make sure to thoroughly dry them afterward. I’d even consider using homemade dry cleaners in that case.
But before you can clean the carpeting, you should take out the floor mats. Carefully roll them up, lift them from the car and shake them out. Then, lay the mats on a clean patch of concrete, if you can find one. Or, you can lay them on a work table.
All you’re going to need for washing the rubber mats are a bit of dish soap and a water hose. And, if you want to get them squeaky clean, you can also use a sponge or even a brush to scrub away the dirt.
Make sure you get both sides of the mats, then set them away to dry. However, if the mats have fabric on the top side, you can wash them with one of the homemade carpet cleaners I’ll talk about now.
The Best Homemade Cleaners for Car Carpets
As I have mentioned before, one of the best ways to avoid the adverse effects that the sun and heat can have on your car is to simply regularly wash it. While your floor mats are drying, you can start cleaning the car’s interior. You can even Windex your dash while you’re in there, before getting to the carpet.
When you get to the floor, you can break out the vacuum cleaner. Or, if you don’t have one, you can just sweep any debris before you start washing the carpet. Once you’ve cleared away the junk, you can get a spray bottle and start mixing up your homemade carpet cleaners. If you don’t have a spray bottle, you can get a regular bottle and poke a few holes in the cap.
Now that we’ve prepared the car carpet for a good scrub, let’s see some homemade cleaner options you can use.
1. Baking Soda and Warm Water
Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the most effective. As it turns out, all you need to get even the toughest stains out of your carpet is a bit of baking soda and some warm water. More specifically, you can put a quarter-cup of baking soda into a cup of warm water.
You should end up with a runny fizzy paste. Once you’ve got your paste, you can go ahead and apply it to the worst stains on your carpet.
After you give the stains a good scrub with a nylon brush, let the mixture sit for about half an hour. Once it’s had a chance to do its thing, you can wipe it away with a clean rag.
I actually mentioned baking soda in my articles about dealing with gasoline and milk spills as well. Another way to use it is to sprinkle it directly over a fresh spill after you have patted the excess liquid away with a paper towel or a rag.
You can let the baking soda sit for a few hours or even overnight, and then just vacuum it off afterward. It works wonders for lifting stains and eliminating some of the odor as well.
2. Hydrogen Peroxide and Toothpaste
A similarly effective trick for getting rid of tough stains would be to use a hydrogen paste. If you have 3% hydrogen and a regular foaming toothpaste, you can mix about equal parts of each to create a paste. Then dab the mixture on stains that have been caked into the carpet.
Allow the mixture a few minutes to work, then scrub it with a toothbrush or use a sponge or a larger nylon brush. When you pick up the excess foam with a rag or a paper towel, the stain should be gone. However, if your primary concerns are regular dust and stale odor removal, there are other solutions you can try.
3. Paint Thinner, Glass Cleaner, and Starch
These three items are also particularly useful for getting various stains out of carpets. Paint thinner works miracles on grease stains, while the glass cleaner can get coffee and milk stains to dislodge. Similarly, laundry starch and water will blast away any blood stains you may have gotten on the carpet.
For grease stains, you can rub a bit of paint thinner over the area and pour some salt or cornmeal over it. The paint thinner and cornmeal will lift the grease in a few hours. Afterward, you can sweep or vacuum it up and continue with your day.
As I’m always saying, all you need to clean your car from top to bottom is some Windex. If you’ve spilled your coffee on your carpet, you can soak the spot with the glass cleaner and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it away.
Lifting blood from the carpet may seem like a more challenging task, but it’s really not. Simply mix a bit of laundry starch and cold water into a paste, then put that over the stain and let it sit. Once the mixture dries, you can vacuum it and repeat the process until the stain is completely gone. But if you’re unable to identify exactly what type of stain you’re dealing with, a vinegar mixture should do the trick.
4. White Vinegar and Dish Soap
Another mixture you can use to get stains or odors out of your carpet requires a gallon of hot water, a cup of white vinegar, and a bit of dish soap. You can tweak the amount of each liquid according to your needs, but that should be enough to cover the whole carpet. Mix these ingredients together in a bowl and transfer the mixture to the carpet with a sponge or spray it on. Many people recommend soaking the carpet completely with this solution.
I’ve already told you about the pros and cons of this technique, and my opinion about it. So deciding whether to soak the carpet or lightly spray it would be up to you. I certainly don’t recommend flooding it so much that it would be hard to dry. If you intend to soak it, have a hair dryer or a heater on hand. Or at least do it on a sunny day so that the carpet can air-dry quickly.
Whether you spray the mixture on or soak the carpet, you can, as always, scrub the area with a bristle brush. Circular movements work best for getting the grime out of the carpet. Once you’re confident that you’ve lifted all you could, you can blot the area with towels or even use a wet/dry vacuum, if you’ve got one.
As with most of these mixtures, you can repeat the process as needed until you get the carpet as clean as you like it. Most of these ingredients won’t affect the color or the quality of your carpeting at all. However, some, such as alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, may cause some fading. So be mindful of that when using those cleaners.
5. Soap, Borax, and Essential Oil
I’ve already talked about Borax in my article on cleaning gasoline in car trunks. Well, you can also use it to create the perfect car carpet cleaner. Just put two tablespoons of it into two cups of boiling water and add three tablespoons of grated soap, as well as a spoonful of essential oil of your choice.
The oils will not only make your car smell nice but also act as a conditioner. Meanwhile, the soap and Borax will get the gunk out of your carpet.
As always, you’ll want to scrub in the mixture using circular motions with a nylon brush and thoroughly dry it after you’re done. Again, whether you want to soak the carpet or spray it lightly is up to you.
6. Oxi Clean and Rubbing Alcohol
The reason why I’m so conflicted about the whole soak or spray debate is that I’ve seen a soaking solution work wonders. The video below shows how a man made a mixture of:
- Oxi Clean, a washing machine odor blaster and cleaner
- Rubbing alcohol
- Dish soap (with grease-dislodging properties)
- Window cleaner with ammonia
As always, the largest part of the solution is hot water, but the fact that soaking the carpet even worked is impressive. However, since we can’t see what the effects will be on the metal underneath, I remain skeptical. Still, it clearly works for the guy in the video below.
Actually, even I have to admit that the ammonia element might be a stroke of genius. So let’s talk about some other additives you might want to try.
7. Alternative Carpet Cleaners
First of all, you’d be surprised if you knew how many times I had been able to lift a fresh stain using only baby wipes. As a bonus, they don’t dampen the carpet too much.
Furthermore, it’s good to know what all of the ingredients I’ve talked about can do. That way, you can mix and match them according to your own needs. For example, dish soap is a great grease extractor, while white vinegar will help deal with both stains and odors.
Additionally, club soda is great for cleaning up vomit stains because it, too, is good at both stain and odor removal. Or, you can just make a vinegar and baking soda solution and be done with it. And, as I have mentioned, mixing ammonia with water can brighten the color of your car carpet as well.
More on Cleaning a Car Carpet Without a Machine
These homemade cleaners should keep your car carpet spick and span for years to come. As you can see, there’s no need to purchase a carpet cleaning machine to do any of these. In my experience, you should be able to get just about any stain out of your carpet without commercial cleaners. However, if no amount of vinegar and baking soda will do it, you can surrender honorably and get a commercial cleaning fluid.
And while you’re at it, you could also clean the exterior of the car as well. Even if you have some bugs stuck to the windshield or the roof, cleaning it will be easy. Just check out my article on easy home remedies for getting bugs off your car to find out how.
Ultimately, if you, like many people, often have to wash your carpeting because people keep dragging in mud, you may want to set some ground rules for your car. After all, protecting your carpet from muddy boots would certainly make it easier to clean it later on.
Unroll a plastic tarp on the floor when you know you’ll be driving someone, especially in rainy weather. This tip has actually helped me avoid having to clean dog feces from my carpet on more than one occasion. And you can save your car from yourself by keeping a plastic bag and fresh shoes in your car.