Other August 22, 2022

How to Clean a Car So It Looks Almost Brand New—in Just 10 Minutes

For such a small space, the car can turn into a big mess very quickly. Empty drink containers, stray makeup bags, discarded cleats … the car has a tendency to turn into a receptacle for all sorts of stuff that belongs somewhere else.

But with very little time and effort, your car’s interior can look (almost!) brand new, thanks to a focused approach known as short-burst cleaning. If you find that your car frequently looks like a tornado hit it, making you feel frustrated and overwhelmed, this 10-minute car cleaning routine is for you.

Car cleaning with handheld vacuum cleaner

What Is Short-Burst Cleaning?

Short-burst cleaning is the term for tasks or routines that can be done in a short, prescribed amount of time (usually 2 minutes, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes). Some types of short-burst cleaning can be attached to other tasks, especially those that have some built-in waiting time, like boiling a pot of water.

Some examples of using waiting time to complete short-burst cleaning jobs: wiping the bathroom sink ledge and basin while waiting for a hair styling tool to heat up; emptying the dishwasher or dish drying rack while a pot of coffee is brewing; returning five items to their proper place during a commercial break. With short-burst cleaning, you make the most of those tiny pockets of time that pop up throughout your day.

There are also routines that qualify as short-burst cleaning: discrete tasks that can be codified into quick, step-by-step routines. A trash day routine, for example, might involve methodically going into every bathroom and bedroom where there is a small garbage can, emptying and relining each one, opening the refrigerator to check for spoiled food, then taking garbage bags out for collection.

These types of routines can help to alleviate stress. Cleaning and organizing in small bursts provides a sense of control and achievement without the overwhelm or exhaustion typically associated with more traditional, larger-scale cleaning or organizing efforts. Additionally, establishing a routine that takes the thinking and guesswork out of cleaning will make these jobs more rote and less stressful.

The 10-Minute Car Cleaning Routine

Cleaning the interior of a car is more straightforward—and requires fewer cleaning supplies—than you might think. Follow this routine to make your car look (almost!) brand new in just ten minutes.

What You’ll Need

  • Microfiber cloth
  • A plastic laundry basket (or similar)
  • A handheld vacuum or shop vac
  • A timer (optional)

Step 1: Open All Doors and the Trunk

Unlock the car and open all the doors, as well as the trunk. This is a step of its own, so even though it may be tempting, do not combine it with other tasks. Just open the doors.

Opening the doors and trunk will allow you to get in and out of the car as necessary, and even 10 minutes of fresh air will do more than you’d think to relieve the car of stale, unpleasant odors. If you will be using a timer, set it for 10 minutes.

Step 2: Take out Anything that Doesn’t Belong

Starting on the passenger side and working clockwise around the car to end on the driver’s side, remove anything that does not belong in the car and put it into the basket. Don’t worry about separating items during this step: Simply focus on taking anything out of the car that shouldn’t be there. This includes trash, discarded clothing, shoes, accessories like umbrellas, scarves, hats, or bags, mail, and packages.

Is there something you’ve left in the car, such as clothes or household linens to be donated, with the intention of driving it elsewhere? Take it out of the car and set it aside for the moment.

Step 3: Wipe the Dashboard and Center Console

Using a microfiber cloth, wipe the dashboard and the center console to remove dust, hair, crumbs, etc.

Step 4: Vacuum the Seats and Floor Mats

Starting on the passenger side and working clockwise around the car to end on the driver’s side, use a handheld vacuum to vacuum the seats and floor mats.

Step 5: Shut the Doors and Trunk

If you took anything out of the car that should go back in the vehicle, such as clothes or household linens to be donated, put it back in the car and then close all the car doors and the trunk.

Step 6: Take Basket Inside

Take the laundry basket into the house, where its contents can be handled as appropriate: Start by putting trash in the garbage can and recyclables like water bottles and soda cans in the recycling bin.

Then, sort through whatever is left in the basket and return it to its rightful home. Books, shoes, toys, etc. should go to their owner’s room. Discarded socks and hoodies can go in the hamper, or directly to the laundry room.

Step 7: Make a Plan for Items Still in the Car (Optional)

If there are items still in the car (such as those to-be-donated clothes or household linens) that have, perhaps, lingered there longer than they should have, make a plan for them. Schedule a day and time for that task by entering it on your calendar, which will make it more likely that the job gets done.

Tips & Tricks for Cleaning Your Car

  • A plastic laundry basket is ideal for this task because it is lightweight, sturdy, and has handles that make it comfortable to carry. However, there are plenty of other options if you don’t have a plastic laundry basket and don’t want to invest in one for this job. A woven basket, medium garbage pail, large canvas tote bag, or even a grocery or trash bag are perfectly fine—you just want a receptacle in which you can toss a bunch of disparate items and carry them into the house.
  • Similarly, if you do not own a handheld vacuum and do not wish to buy one, you can use a dust broom or your hands to sweep car seats clean.
  • In place of vacuuming the floor mats, remove them from the car and shake or beat them.
  • Microfiber will leave a car’s dashboard and console clean without requiring the use of a separate cleaning agent. Microfiber can also be used to polish glass, without requiring glass cleaner. To remove sticky spills, dampen the microfiber cloth with water for more cleaning power.
  • The use of a timer is optional but recommended, especially for those with a bit of a competitive streak. You’re likely to find yourself racing through the job to “beat” the timer, turning the chore into a game. The use of a timer is also helpful for those who feel overwhelmed by cleaning tasks in general, as it helps to reset expectations around how much time and effort actually goes into performing dreaded tasks.