Best car upholstery cleaner 2020
Which is best for shifting nasty spills and stains from plastics and seats? Our upholstery cleaner test reveals all…
Winter is tough on trim, seats and carpets because they often get wet, there’s more mud and grit tracked inside, plus there’s the risk of damp from condensation.
The first job is to remove loose grit and other small debris with a vacuum. Our pick of the mains-powered vacs is the Nilfisk Buddy II T, which can also help dry cleaned seats with its wet mode. Can’t get mains power to your car? Our cordless choice is the Vax Blade 2.
With the dust shifted, it’s time to tackle the hard trim with our interior cleaner Best Buy, Dodo Juice Total Wipe. If you are fortunate enough to 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
Our cleaners had to tackle not just ground-in grubbiness but also common stains. We added ballpoint ink, chocolate and margarine to a long-neglected rear seat rescued from a scrapyard. Each cleaner was applied to the maker’s instructions, but we used limited wiping with a microfibre-wrapped sponge applicator to ensure even pressure across each section. We then assessed progress once the seat had dried, plus factored in price.
- 1. Simoniz Upholstery & Carpet Cleaner
- 2. Meguiar’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner
- 3. CarPlan Stain Valet
Simoniz Upholstery & Carpet Cleaner
Price: Around £4Size: 400mlRating: 5 stars
As we’ve seen before, Simoniz has got the best balance between performance and price. On cleaning alone, Meguiar’s had the advantage, but it was close to three times the price.
While it struggled on the ink compared with its rivals, Simoniz made the best job of lifting off the butter and was close to the best at removing general grime. The foam goes on in a wider spray than the Meguiar’s and the brush is more firmly fixed. Another win, but Meguiar’s was very close.
Meguiar’s Carpet & Upholstery Cleaner
Price: Around £13Size: 545mlRating: 4.5 stars
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.
CarPlan Stain Valet
Price: Around £6 Size: 600mlRating: 4.5 stars
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.
McLaren Fabric Cleaner
Price: Around £8Size: 500mlRating: 4 stars
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.
Halfords Upholstery Cleaner
Price: Around £4 Size: 500mlRating: 4 stars
Multiple winner from Halfords has to settle for third place in this test, but it was mighty close. The cleaner goes on with a low-foaming action from the trigger spray and has to be left for 30 seconds before being removed with a damp cloth, in a similar fashion to most of its rivals. Where Halfords’ product really had an edge was on shifting the ingrained dirt, leaving a panel that was noticeably cleaner than most. It had more trouble with the tricky ink, although it shifted all the chocolate.
Auto Curators Gentle Interior Cleanse
Price: Around £14Size: 1,000mlRating: 4 stars
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.
Diamondbrite Upholstery Cleaner
Price: Around £5Size: 500mlRating: 3 stars
Foam cleaners have always been popular for fabrics and two make it into our top four. You need patience to get the best out of this product, which goes on in a thick foam with a sharp lemon perfume. It then needs to be left for 10 to 20 minutes to work on the grime before you wipe off with a damp cloth. It’s worth the wait as it worked well on all our test stains, the butter and ink in particular.
Black Diamond Super Clean
Price: Around £4 Size: 500mlRating: 3 stars
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.
Chipex Factory Finish Interior and Dashboard Cleaner
Price: Around £13Size: 500mlRating: 3 stars
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.
Are your leather car seats looking a bit dirty? Check out our best leather cleaner group test here ...