How to Clean Car Carpet Without a Machine

Photo from Turtle Wax

This guide will teach you how to clean car carpets without a machine. Most people have their own particular routines for maintaining the outside of your vehicle, but what about its inside?

Cleaning your carpet is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy car interior. But what if you don’t have a vacuum or a carpet extractor?

Don’t worry! You can still clean your carpets with good old-fashioned elbow grease and cleaning solution. It might take more time, but it will also save you from all those expensive bills for electricity!

Why you should clean your car carpet?

One of the dirtiest places in the car is the carpet. It gets dirty easily and is also a germ magnet due to its proximity to the ground and your body.

There’s no telling what kind of germs are sitting on your carpet flooring now – from viruses to bacteria from pets or even human shoes and food crumbs you’ve just finished eating. During summer, sunscreen may spill on your interior and ruin your car seats and carpet.

If you think about all the people inside your vehicle, the germs are more than just alarming. If nothing was done to clean it up, your car could act as a disease-spreading machine!

Even worse, people frequently eat in their cars. Whether on the way home from work or running errands. That means that people often have food spills on their carpet and that constant contact with your shoes can be a breeding ground for bacteria.

How to clean car carpets without a machine?

Most carwash or detailing services offer different interior detailing packages. On average, steam cleaning with carpet shampoo could cost around $75. This is understandable since professionals invest in costly cleaning machines like vacuums, extractors, pressure washers, and even air compressors.

But did you know that many car care professionals avoid steam cleaners? Because car steam cleaner may damage your car if not used properly. Along with this, they are costly and bulky to use.

So, are there any alternatives to car steam cleaning? Yes! There are safer and cheaper ways of getting rid of germs and dirt from your car carpets.

Step 1. Acquire the Necessary Cleaning Materials

To clean your car carpet, you only need your bare hands (and a few small products, of course). You can find these items at home, while others are cheap items on car supplies or your local hardware.

1. Carpet or upholstery cleaning solution – Today, there are a variety of upholstery cleaners on the market. They cost $5-$20, depending on their key features. One thing that you should consider is disinfecting formula.

A closed environment such as your car’s interior can become a breeding ground of bacteria from food debris and dirt.

Tip: Also, look for a carpet cleaner with an odor-eliminating feature. The accumulated dirt and grime usually produce a mildew smell in your car.

We have a separate guide on getting rid of mildew smell. Moreover, look for products with “no water” or ready-to-use label, as you won’t be using a steamer or a carpet extractor.

2. Spray bottle – Depending on the cleaning solution that you purchased, some need to be diluted first. So read the label and instructions first before you proceed.

Some carpet cleaners like Turtle Wax Power Out! already come in a spray bottle. If that’s the case, you can just use it instead of buying another.

3. Sponge – This is optional and depends on the type of cleaning solution that you’re using.

4. Brush – For carpet cleaning, any kind of brush that is not too soft will do. Look for brushes with nylon brushes that can penetrate the carpet and remove grime. Brushes with harsher bristles can are durable and perfect for any cleaning solutions.

5. Microfiber cloth – The best microfiber cloths for car interior cleaning are made from terry cloth or flannel. These materials can absorb liquid and clean away spots on your car carpet. You can find them at any local store.

Alternatively, you can also use old towels since these are usually thicker than flannels and terry cloths you might find at home.

Turtle Wax Power Out! Carpet and Mats Cleaner and Odor Eliminator

-Power Out! Carpet and Mats Cleaner is a two-in-one cleaner that deep cleans carpets, rubber mats, and upholstery.

-With a specially formulated Odor-X odor eliminator to help remove odors caused by pets, cigarette smoke, food, and mildew, this spray leaves behind a soil repelling silicone shield of protection to stop odors from coming back.

-And with its detachable micro scrub brush that reaches deep into carpet fibers, you can clean in tight spots without worrying about scratches or residue on your materials.

Buy on Amazon

Step 2. Prepare your car for carpet cleaning

Cleaning a removable carpet is much easier. However, most cars have upholstered carpets. Don’t worry; you can still easily clean them, but make sure to dry them properly afterward.

Before you proceed, here are some preparations you need to do:

Make the steering wheel and gear shift accessible for easy cleaning.

Take all the trash and unnecessary objects from the car. This includes coins, food wrappers, and cigarette packs, among others.

Take out the floor mats carefully, roll them and shake them out outside the car. Lay the mats on the floor or working table.

Clean the rubber mats with soap and water and a water hose. Make sure to clean both sides of the mats and set them aside to dry.

Sweep the leftover dust and debris on the carpet before you start cleaning them. If you vacuum, your carpet will be a lot easier to clean.

Step 3. Mix your carpet cleaner

Before you start, make sure you have all the necessary cleaning materials available and a mild detergent solution that you can use to mix with your carpet cleaning solution.

Step 4. Spray the cleaning solution onto the carpet

Photo from Turtle Wax

Every cleaning solution is different. Read the instructions on the cleaning solution carefully. Dilute the carpet cleaning solution into your spray bottle if needed.

It is best to use distilled water to ensure no trace minerals are left after cleaning. Don’t forget to use warm water.

Spray the cleaning solution onto the carpet and cover all the areas of the car floor. Be careful in applying the cleaning solution.

Just apply a small amount and start in a smaller area. Remember that this guide is about how to clean car carpets without a machine.

It means you won’t be using any steamer. Thus, it will take too much time to dry. You start at the driver’s seat and then go into other areas.

Step 5. Clean the carpet using a brush

Photo from Turtle Wax

After spraying the carpet with the solution, you should wait at least 2 minutes for the cleaning action to take effect.

Break down all the specks of dirt by brushing them. Make sure to brush the carpets thoroughly. You may need to agitate stained areas a bit more.

Photo from Turtle Wax

Using microfiber cloths, absorb the solution and any remaining dirt. Make sure to cover all areas of the carpet with the flannels.

Step 6. Let the carpet dry

After cleaning all carpet areas, open all doors and let them dry. Typically it would take up to 2 hours for the newly cleaned carpets to dry without using any machine.

However, the drying time may change depending on your climate and weather conditions. Another factor is the amount of cleaning solution that you have sprayed.

Congratulations! You have learned how to clean car carpets without a machine.

Remove Bad Smells From Your Car Carpet

As mentioned above, you should let them dry completely. If pets in your family peed on your car carpet, it could take up to 24 hours for the smell to disappear.

If there’s a lingering bad odor after leaving the car doors open for some time, try using baking soda and sprinkling it over the carpet.

Leave the baking soda for a day to let it absorb all the bad smells and moisture from your car. Then vacuum them out.

You may also use clean cloths instead of paper towels when cleaning because they are more absorbent and will help collect as much liquid as you apply on the carpet.

ANGRY ORANGE Pet Odor Eliminator and Carpet Cleaner Concentrate

You can also try ANGRY ORANGE Pet Odor Eliminator if you have pets. This product is designed specifically to remove all pet urine, vomit, feces, and other smelly debris from your car carpets.

It works effectively on any type of car interior materials, such as mats and carpets, without damaging them.

Prevent Tough Stains On Your Carpet

To prevent stains, you must ensure that your carpet is always clean. You can vacuum the carpet every week to keep them fresh. You may also try a good-quality mat where most people place their feet inside the car to keep it as clean as possible.

Another thing you must remember is not to let water stay for a long time on your car carpet. Make sure that you remove water spills immediately as they are more prone to get a stain from the wetness.

If your car carpet gets dirty fast, then brushing it often with a brush will help prevent bad odor and stains from forming. Frequent cleaning of the car carpet also prevents odors from mildew as they are more likely to grow when you neglect cleaning your carpets for a while.

How long does it take to clean a carpet without a machine?

Depending on your skills, cleaning all the carpets, including the trunk, may take less than an hour. Another factor is the dirtiness of the carpet. If you are a beginner, it may take up to 2 hours. Just be patient and do not rush. You will improve a lot over time if you regularly clean your car.

Reasons to Buy Car Carpet Cleaning Solutions

Enjoy a clean and fresh car. Cleaning your car is just as you would your house. It brings out a healthier environment for everyone. You and your passengers will surely enjoy the fresh air and clean surfaces of a clean car.

Maintain your car. As we have mentioned at the start of this guide,  basic car maintenance doesn’t stop with checking what’s under the hood or regularly changing the oil. Maintaining your car’s interior will increase its resale value in the future.

Clean up stains. No matter how we take care of our car, accidents happen (coffee stains, food stains, ink, pet stains), and we need to clean it up. You can clean all those stains with a good carpet or upholstery cleaner and a brush.

Home use. You can also use car upholstery cleaner at home. 

Should You Invest in a Car Carpet Extractor?

The answer is, it depends. Carpet extractors are powerful, but they cost a lot of money. If you need to clean your car more than twice a year, you should invest in one.

But if you only need to clean your car once or twice a year, you can simply opt for online carpet cleaning solutions and save money.

Either way, it’s important to invest in a good carpet cleaner, especially if you are consistently experiencing foul smell issues in your car. Regular clean-ups will keep your car fresh and looking great and extend the life of your carpet.

Should You Invest in a Vacuum Cleaner?

A vacuum machine would be a good investment to speed up the cleaning process. You can do most of the job using a vacuum machine and only use carpet cleaners when necessary.

However, do not use your household vacuum cleaner as it may leave scratches on your car carpet. We recommend you invest in a good portable or handheld vacuum.

Here is a Youtube tutorial from Detail Groove:


Have you ever noticed how cars smell bad when left for a long time? The carpet can get soaked with sweat, oil, and other liquids.

Carpet cleaner machines such as steam cleaners or extraction systems might be an expensive investment. But it is worth your while if your car has heavily soiled carpets!
If not, just use some good cleaning solution and brush to clean them out now and then.

This guide taught you how to clean car carpets without a machine. This can be frustrating work, but doing it right will result in minimal hassle and no odor afterward! You may also want to learn how to clean in between car seats and repair headliners to keep your car’s interior as good as new!
Remember not to go overboard with liquids when cleaning out your carpets.

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