Interior Care

How to Clean Car Carpet Without a Machine? – 8-Step Process

Written by Howell Crist / Fact checked by Sam Howard

how to clean car carpet without a machine

Keeping a car clean doesn’t mean focusing solely on the body. Clean seats and stain-free carpets look just as good as shiny paint jobs and a squeaky-clean windshield—especially when you invite people to ride with you!

This is why it’s important to know how to clean car carpet without a machine. Having a dedicated car vacuum or upholstery cleaner is great, but not everyone has the space or resources for it. Plus, keeping one can eventually prove to be costly and impractical.

Ways to Clean Car Carpet Without a Machine


Thankfully, cleaning a car carpet without any sort of machine can easily be done with the objects you probably already have at home. Typical everyday household items like rags, brooms, and dustpans, and even toothbrushes can be used to get dirt out of car carpet.

Keep in mind that a big part of the cleaning process is choosing the right approach. According to the experts at Car Roar, it’s essential to consider your carpet situation first.

How long has the carpet gone without a wash? Do you need to clean the whole carpet or just get rid of a stain? Are the substances you’re cleaning up safe and relatively harmless (like food, juice, mud, etc.)? Or could there be unknown chemicals involved?

Answering these questions will help you refine your approach to cleaning your car carpet by hand.

Once you know what needs to be done, you can then move on to gathering your tools.

What to Prepare

  • Broom & Dustpan
  • Car Carpet Cleaner/Solution/Shampoo
  • Both commercial and homemade carpet cleaning solutions will do.
  • Toothbrush/Nylon Brush
  • A toothbrush is best for spot cleaning. A nylon brush is better for whole carpet scrubbing.
  • Spray Bottle
  • Microfiber Towels
  • Rag

The 8-Step Process to Clean Car Carpet Without a Machine

Step 1: Pre-cleaning: remove all loose items

Before you begin cleaning car interior carpet, take out any loose objects and miscellaneous detritus in your car. Things like:

  • empty plastic or paper bags
  • papers/documents/receipts
  • books/maps/pamphlets
  • trash (i.e., empty pizza boxes, empty takeout containers, etc.)

They all can get in the way of the cleaning process. Plus, empty bags and containers may have debris in them (i.e., crumbs, leftover food, liquid) that could dirty your carpets again.

Even if some of these items – like maps, books, or documents – need to stay in your car, you should still take them out to keep the process streamlined.

You can always place them in the glove compartment or console for safekeeping while the cleaning is on-going.

Step 2: Remove the car carpets

In order to thoroughly clean the carpets in your car, you first need to take them out of the vehicle.

Leaving them in means working around all the typical curves and bumps of a vehicle’s interior which, as one might expect, makes carpet cleaning much harder.

Take note: don’t just yank the carpets out! Roll them up before carefully lifting and moving them from the vehicle. This keeps any loose dirt on the carpet from falling and dirtying your car’s interior.

Step 3: Sweep the car carpets

Once you’ve taken the carpets out of the car, lay them on a flat surface and start cleaning. You should tackle the dry debris first; dirt, pet hair, dust, small pebbles, dried flecks of mud, etc.

People typically use a vacuum for this part, but a broom and dustpan will work just as well. It’s a little more labor-intensive, but not by much.

Since you’ll be performing this step without vacuum, try to be as thorough as possible. Repeat this step twice or thrice if you can—especially if it’s been a while since you performed a general cleaning on your carpet.

Step 4: Spot clean difficult/prominent stains with your chosen car carpet cleaner solution


If there are obvious, visible stains in your carpet, you’ll want to focus on getting them out before tackling the whole carpet.

There are different types of stains that can happen to your carpet, and they’ll require different cleaning solutions.

  • For instance, tough stains (or set-in stains) may feel permanent, what with how stubborn they are. Experts recommend mixing 1 cup of warm water with baking soda (about ¼ cup) to deal with it.

This will create a fizzy shampoo or paste that you then leave on the stain for 30 minutes. Afterwards, wipe it off with a rag.

  • Caked stains, on the other hand, are hard and crusty. They’re not permanent, but they’ll require a good amount of elbow grease to get rid of.

Professionals suggest attacking it with carpet cleaner made of hydrogen peroxide and regular toothpaste. Allow this paste to sit on the stain for a while before scrubbing.

  • For grease and oil stains, try applying a bit of paint thinner to the area. Afterwards, sprinkle it with salt or cornmeal. This mix will eventually lift the grease after a few hours, allowing you to easily sweep it away.

Alternatively, if you’re using a commercial car carpet cleaner spray or solution, check the benefits and indicators. While most carpet cleaning solutions are for general purpose, there are a good number that are specially formulated for specific stains.

Step 5: Clean car floor carpet with cleaning solution


Now that the stains have been dealt with, you can move on to cleaning the whole carpet.

Spray your chosen cleaner solution all over the surface of the car carpet. This will take care of light stains, dirt, and smells.

Be thorough with the spray but don’t go overboard! The moisture may lead to mildew if the carpet doesn’t dry in time. And a carpet’s drying time is significantly longer without extractor or vacuum.

Let the solution sit for about 2 minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step 6: Agitate the car carpet with a brush


Gently but thoroughly brush the damp carpet with a toothbrush or nylon brush. This method is also referred to as “agitating.” It breaks down the specks of dirt ingrained in the carpet and detaches them from the fibers.

If you need to clean heavily soiled car carpet, it’s best to follow up spot cleaning with a round of general car cleaner and agitating.

The experts at Car Detailing Planet recommend making a few passes through particularly dirty or stained areas.

Step 7: Rinse carpet with microfiber towel


When you’re finished thoroughly scrubbing your car carpet, you need to rinse the solution out.

Do not hose the floor mats down! Pressure washing car carpet may seem like a good idea but remember; you don’t have a vacuum or extractor. It will be difficult to dry your carpet without one.

Instead, experts suggest taking damp microfiber towels and dabbing at the carpet to remove the shampoo.

Step 8: Leave carpets to air dry

As mentioned earlier, it’s important that your car carpets dry as quickly and as safely as possible. If left alone, a moist carpet can develop discoloration and/or mildew.

Lay your car carpets down and allow them to air dry. Try to look for a sunny spot, as the heat combined with the open air will keep the clean car carpet smell as fresh as possible.

Do You Need to Buy a Carpet Cleaning Machine?

With so many steps to go through, is it worth investing in a car carpet cleaning machine?

Generally speaking, a car carpet cleaning machine offers convenience. If you prefer to steam clean car carpet stains or you don’t have the patience to wait for car carpets to air dry then, yes; it’s worth buying a machine.

But if you don’t mind achieving clean rugs by going at it “the old fashioned way” – with shampoo car carpet, a nylon brush, and a bunch of microfiber towels – then the extra expenses aren’t worth it.

You can still achieve perfectly clean and fresh floor mats with some choice homemade cleaning solution and plenty of elbow grease!


Knowing how to clean car carpet without a machine is part of proper automobile maintenance. While using a machine or hiring experts to do it for you is certainly easier, it’s significantly more costly.

Plus, the feeling of successfully getting rid of carpet stains with your own bare hands is quite satisfying.

With the right supplies, the right timing, and a can-do attitude, I’m confident you’ll be able to clean your car carpets like a pro!

5/5 - (2 votes)

Our chief editor is Sam Howard. The vast market of car care necessitates extensive research. He entered the market, experienced the service, and reported customer feedback in order to provide the best advice and content to car owners. We have faith in him to turn our website into a reliable resource for all car owners.

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