Best car upholstery cleaner

Keep your cabin’s fabrics in top trim with these spray-on cleaners

You could be forgiven for thinking you can drop an upholstery cleaner from your valeting arsenal, because so many cars now come with leather trim as standard. But while specific cleaners and conditioners are needed for hide, cars with leather seats still have fabric carpets, mats, boots and kick panels.

You ignore tackling the interior at your peril, because sitting in a grubby cabin that’s been neglected as you head off on a long-awaited break isn’t a pleasant experience. 

The first step to a clean interior is to use a glass cleaner to shift the oily grime that builds up on the inside of windows – you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes. Carefully vacuum mats and seats to remove the grit and crumbs that inevitably build up during winter and meals on the move. It’s hard surfaces next, and our pick of the trim cleaners – Dodo Juice’s Total Wipe Out concentrated refill – is effective and very easy on the pocket once it’s diluted. Finally, you can tackle the fabrics in the cabin.

If you do have leather upholstery in your car then a specialist cleaner is required, and our current test favourite is Dodo Juice Supernatural Leather Cleaner, crowned Best Buy on multiple occasions.

How we tested them

To find the best cleaner we sourced a bench seat and smeared it with ballpoint ink, ground-in chocolate and butter. Using limited wiping we assessed the progress on the marks each of our 14 contenders made once the seat had dried. 

To assess general grime removal we concentrated on one section, wiping for 30 seconds before allowing it to dry, then checking how much dirt was left. Price played a relatively small part in the overall result.

Verdict 

  1. Diamondbrite Upholstery & Carpet Clean

Reviews 

Diamondbrite Upholstery & Carpet Clean

We have two new faces in our top four, including first-time winner Diamondbrite. Despite its name, the company claims this can be used on most surfaces including vinyl, plastic, chrome and glass. 

The large volume of foam generated requires careful control, but it certainly works, dealing well with the ground-in grime and tricky butter in particular. It had a tougher time with the ink, but a keen price secures the win.

Buy now from Diamondbrite

Gyeon Q2M Fabric Cleaner

We’ve been impressed by Gyeon’s Q2 Fabric Coat in our upholstery protector tests, and here the cleaner catches our eye. It has a slight edge for cleaning, scoring well on the butter and ink, but it wasn’t quite enough to overturn our winner’s price advantage. It’s easier to use because it lacks the big foam of our champion, but it’s not as versatile.

Buy now from Amazon

Simoniz Upholstery & Carpet Cleaner

Like the Halfords entry (below), this former winner has to settle for a recommendation, pipped by two newcomers. As with our winner, the foam is tricky to control, but it only needs a few seconds to work, unlike the Diamondbrite. For tough grime you can use the built-in brush, but it’s pretty aggressive. This is a top performer for ground-in dirt removal.

Buy now from Amazon

Meguiar’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner

Meguiar’s claims this product has ‘pro-cleaning power’ and removes odours. We didn’t assess the latter, but the thick foam certainly has a pleasant floral perfume. We did test the former and the results suggest the ‘professional’ claims are justified. Ballpoint ink is consistently the toughest stain for upholstery cleaners to shift, and there was little more than a trace left after our first attempt with the Meguiar’s. Second time around and it was gone.

Results for the other marks were much closer, with Meguiar’s topping the overall clean results, too. The foam goes on in a narrow spray and builds quickly before dying back. It needs to be left for 30 seconds or so to work before being agitated and blotted dry. We used a microfibre cloth to provide a level playing field, but the brush built in to the cap had a tendency to fall off. You get a relatively big pack, but the cleaning advantage narrowly failed to overcome the higher price tag.

Buy now from Amazon

CarPlan Stain Valet

We’ve tested Stain valet previously and, much like the company’s No1 sealant, it finished in the middle of the results table. This time round the product was right at the top, either because our very grimy seat suited Stain valet or CarPlan has tweaked the formula. In the same way as our winner, Stain valet scored well across all our marks and proved particularly effective on the ballpoint pen ink and the chocolate. Add in a keen price, and you have our runner-up in a closely matched test. 

Buy now from CarPlan International

Halfords Upholstery Cleaner

For those on a budget, this is the one to pick, thanks to its clear price advantage. You sacrifice little in the cleaning stakes because it matched the best in the general grime removal, and it only slipped down the order due to a stubborn ballpoint ink mark and a tad more grease left on our test seat. Good cleaning at a great price, though.

Buy now from Halfords

McLaren Fabric Cleaner

Launched to coincide with the British GP in July 2019 in a tie-up with Halfords, the comprehensive range is being discounted at the time of writing, with this cleaner down from £11 to around £8.

The McLaren link may smack of a triumph of marketing over performance, but this spray works well. It was a touch behind our winner overall, yet had the edge on the ink mark. It was also effective at digging out the embedded grime in our mat but needed two goes at the butter to make decent progress.

Buy now from Halfords

Auto Curators Gentle Interior Cleanse

Another impressive performance from Auto Curators’ Interior Cleanse, which was among the top performers in our last plastic trim cleaner test. Unusually in this company, a dry cloth is used to remove grime after the product is sprayed on and left to work. Only the ink caused it trouble because across the rest of the marks it was among the best, and proved particularly effective on the overall appearance and difficult margarine. Not the cheapest option, but marginally the most effective cleaner on test.

Buy now from Amazon

Black Diamond Super Clean

If you buy only one interior cleaner, consider this bargain from Black Diamond. It gives best to more specialised products, picking up a commended award, but remains a very effective all-rounder. As with our winner it excelled at general grime removal, but crucially made good inroads on the chocolate, butter and ink. Versatile and easy on the pocket – a great combination.

Buy now from Amazon

Chipex Factory Finish Interior and Dashboard Cleaner

This new product faced a tough challenge when it took on our top upholstery cleaners. Its task was made tougher as it’s designed to tackle hard and soft surfaces, instead of specialising in one. Chipex is applied by spraying on a cloth then wiping, and this counted against it when compared to Halfords' winner here.

A fair bit more chocolate was left, but only a little extra margarine. On the floor mat, its lack of dwell time didn’t help it loosen the ground-in grime. Chipex has an edge with its claim to leave an anti-static finish to slow dust build-up, plus we liked its ‘new car’ smell.

Buy now from Chipex

Are your leather car seats looking a bit dirty? Check out our best leather cleaner group test here ...

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