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Best car upholstery cleaners 2023

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

When cleaning interior fabrics, there’s a balance to be drawn between scrubbing hard enough to remove marks and stains, and sufficiently gently to avoid damage, because unlike with leather trim, which has a ‘painted’ coating, you work directly on the fibres. 

The need to avoid fluffing up the surface where tough stains have to be removed makes investing in an effective cleaner key. And you don’t have to spend much, because top performers can be had for well under a tenner. Many marks can be removed by an all-purpose cleaner (APC), but our test focused on more specialised products, including foams.

How we tested them

To find our favourites, we sourced a tired carpet, and added felt tip and make-up on top of the usual ballpoint ink, butter and ground-in chocolate. Each cleaner was used to its maker’s instructions and made 10 passes.

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We also rated how much grime had been removed after a reapplication and a further 30 passes. Cross-contamination was avoided by using a separate cloth for each contender. The final factor was price. 

Verdict

  1. Magic Valeting Strong Arm
  2. Halfords Upholstery Cleaner
  3. ValetPRO Classic Carpet Cleaner

Reviews

Magic Valeting Strong Arm

New to our tests, Magic Valeting is the brainchild of father-and-son team Mark and Jamie Perkins. The pair are professional valeters and have used their expertise to create their own car care range. And Strong Arm is impressive. It needs diluting, which will put some off, but it does mean it’s highly cost-effective. with a bottle making at least three litres. It was among the leading group on all the marks, and a winner on its debut in our tests.

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Halfords Upholstery Cleaner

  • Price: around £4  
  • Size: 500ml
  • Contact: halfords.com
  • Rating: 4.5 stars

Halfords’ car care range has taken a backseat recently, but Upholstery Cleaner is still around and performing well. It has had a new livery since our last test, but the essentials seem the same and it takes a recommendation yet again. After working for just 30 seconds, it can be removed with a damp cloth. It was among the best at lifting general grime and made good progress on the tricky felt tip.

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ValetPRO Classic Carpet Cleaner

  • Price: around £9
  • Size: 1,000ml
  • Contact: valetpro.global
  • Rating: 4.5 stars

Not everyone wants to dig out a spare trigger bottle and measuring jug to dilute cleaners, but doing so can cut your costs dramatically. Carpet Cleaner can be used diluted 1:20 for spraying and 1:80 through a machine, making it very cost-effective – particularly since the concentrate is by no means the most expensive on test. It still cleans well, with top scores across all our categories, and only the make-up causing it real problems.

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Simoniz Upholstery & Carpet Cleaner

  • Price: around £6 
  • Size: 400ml
  • Contact: holtsauto.com
  • Rating: 4.5 stars

Another regular top-four finisher returns and is our pick of the foam cleaners. Like the Halfords, this former winner has gone through several liveries, but its performance seems unaffected. It delivers a big foam that gradually reduces as it sinks in to the surface. It’s great for large spaces, but hard to control on tighter ones. There’s a pleasant citrus fragrance and it claims to remove unpleasant odours, as well as grime from fabrics.

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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. It’s easier to use because it lacks the big foam of some rivals, but it’s not the most versatile.

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Mclaren Interior 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.

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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.

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That's the interior taken care of, now check out the best ceramic car shampoos to buy...

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Products editor

Kim has worked for Auto Express for more than three decades and all but a year of that time in the Products section. His current role as products editor involves managing the section’s content and team of testers plus doing some of the tests himself. 

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