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Best Practices for Steam Cleaning Car Interiors and Exteriors

Steam cleaning a vehicle is an excellent form of preventative maintenance. Dirt and grime build up in a car’s buttons and knobs. It settles in the vents and works its way into the crevices and cracks that you can’t get to with normal detailing equipment. Steam cleaning a vehicle can remove some of the worst upholstery stains, obliterate terrible odors and take care of the dust and dirt that builds up with day-to-day use.

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How to Choose the Best Car Steam Cleaner

It’s important to understand that a household steam cleaner isn’t designed to tackle the heavy-duty stains and potentially hazardous materials you’ll come across when cleaning the exterior and interior of a vehicle. Get a steam cleaner designed for vehicle use for the best results.

Before you buy a car steam cleaner, you’ll want to do some research. Look for a heavy-duty commercial-grade model. If you have a large garage with an easily accessible power source, go for the biggest and most powerful steam cleaner you can afford.

While you can rent a car steam cleaner, it may be less expensive in the long run to purchase your own cleaning unit. Many steam cleaners come with cleaning pads and scrubbing attachments that require extra care. If you use a rental unit, there may be left-over debris in the attachments that could cause damage to a vehicle’s surfaces.

Pre-Clean a Vehicle

While a steam cleaner is a powerful tool, you’ll need to clear away loose dirt, dust and debris before firing up the steamer. Vacuum the car’s interior surfaces and wipe down the dash, buttons and knobs. Wash the car by hand or run it through an automatic touch-free car wash so you can see the areas that require special attention.

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Tackle the Dirtiest Areas First

If there are certain stains or areas that are particularly bothersome, tackle those first. After removing the majority of the worst stains, you can give the entire vehicle a once-over with the steam cleaner to finish the job.

Upholstery Stains

Whether the vehicle has leather upholstery or cloth seats, a car steam cleaner with the right attachment and a good-quality detergent should be able to clean up the mess in just minutes.

Dye stains on leather seats are especially frustrating, but steam cleaning the area should take care of the problem. Use a triangular attachment with a soft microfiber cloth with the steam setting on low. If possible, set your steamer to use the least possible water if you have suede inserts or water-sensitive fabrics like alcantara. It’s safest to start with the lowest setting and move up if needed.

Window Cleaning

Steam cleaning the inside and outside of a vehicle’s windows is the fastest and easiest way to get a streak-free shine. You may not even realize how dirty the car’s interior window surfaces are until you use the steam cleaner.

Spray steam directly on the window and use a dry microfiber cloth to wipe away excess moisture. If your steam cleaner comes with a squeegee attachment with a window tool, use that first and then wipe down the glass with microfiber if necessary.

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Ventilation System Steaming

Steam’s high temperature is one of the only effective ways to kill dust mites and remove common allergens from a vehicle’s ventilation system. High-pressure steam blown directly into open vents for just a few seconds should take care of odors, as well. Be sure to keep the steam cleaner moving. Depending on your machine’s level of power, it’s possible to damage surfaces if you hold a steady stream of steam on a small area for more than a few seconds.

Carpet and Car Mat Stain Removal

The car’s floorboards are most susceptible to stains from road salt, mud and grease. Remove car mats and vacuum thoroughly. Vacuum the car’s floorboards, as well. If your steam cleaner has a wet and dry extraction setting, use it for the floor mats and carpeted surfaces. 

Steam cleaning helps crushed areas of the carpet fibers stand up. Allow the floor mats to dry thoroughly before installing them in the vehicle. Make sure you vacuum the carpet inside the car after steaming it to make it look brand new.

Exterior Steam Cleaning

The car’s clear coat may be caked with tree sap, tiny flecks of grease from the road and brake dust. Steam cleaning a vehicle’s exterior surfaces helps dislodge even stubborn materials. Steam lifts off the exhaust and diesel fuel debris and helps return the car to like-new condition.

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Use the detail steam cleaning attachment on the highest setting to clean the brakes, rims and wheels of the vehicle. If your steam cleaner allows the use of high-powered boiling water, this is a great time to test its effectiveness.

Clear coat, designed to protect a car’s paint, has pores that absorb dirt and dust over time. Steam cleaning a vehicle’s exterior surfaces helps the clear coat release dulling debris. A thorough steam-cleaning session will help a car shine.

Finding the best car steam cleaner is the easy part of thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting a vehicle’s interior and exterior. Look for a highly rated model with positive reviews from actual users. Read professional reviews, as well. Search reviews for deal-breakers like heating elements that fail quickly, shorter-than-advertised steam times, short power cords or badly designed attachments.

While there are steam cleaners for every budget and task, look for a model with useful and versatile attachments, variable speed control and more than a half-hour of steam cleaning time per session. It’s also nice to have an extra-long power cord, a large capacity tank and a decent manufacturer’s warranty.

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