How to Clean Car Mats

Rubber car mats with water droplets on them.

The mats in your car are designed to protect and keep the interior free from debris from shoes, spills, or windows. The nasty combination of dirt and water can cause major damage, resulting in odors or, even worse, rust erosion and damage to the frame. Luckily, cleaning your car mats is a relatively easy and quick DIY job. Here are a few ways to clean your car mats, no matter how badly soiled they are.

Machine Wash

It’s possible that your specific carpet car mats are machine washable if they’re made completely out of carpet and do not have a hard, plastic backing. For heavily soiled mats, you can pre-treat with an upholstery cleaner or spray a mixture of Borax and baking soda into any tough stains prior to washing, just like you would for clothing stains. (Baking soda will also sop up any moisture if you sprinkle it on the car mat and leave it there for about 20 minutes—this will also combat pet and other unpleasant odors). When using the washing machine to clean your car mats, make sure you use a low tumble cycle to prevent the mat from getting beaten around too much, and wash them either on their own or with similar items like old towels, rags, and household floor rugs. You may be able to put them in the dryer afterward, but you could also let them air-dry.

Hand Wash

Someone hand washing a carpet car mat with a brush.

Hand washing is a fairly easy and effective way to wash mats, whether they're plastic or fabric. First, shake out any dust and dirt and use a shop vacuum to remove the remaining debris. This will make your job easier and more successful (do this step before any kind of cleaning). A canned upholstery cleaner and scrub brush will properly clean your carpet car mats, especially if you are merely spot-cleaning. Laundry detergent would suffice as well, but may take more rinsing to eliminate the suds, which if left to dry will only attract more dirt. Whichever you use, start with a sprinkle and add product as needed, vigorously scrubbing out any stains and dirt as you go. If it’s a warm, sunny day, rinse them and allow them to dry in the sun. Otherwise, do your dirty work in a laundry sink and hang to dry.

Steam Cleaners

Most rental carpet steam cleaners come with an upholstery attachment, which includes a rotating brush that will steam and scrub the mats simultaneously. This will get the mats very clean and with little effort since the machine does the majority of the heavy stain lifting for you. The downside is the expense, however, you can search for deals or combine a day of cleaning other areas like carpets and upholstery items in your home to make the cost worth it. On average, you can rent a steam cleaner for around $30 per day, but look for mid-week deals that give you a second day for free. You can purchase your own basic household steam cleaner for between $100-300 or invest in a professional product for closer to $500 if your mats require a lot of deep cleaning on a regular basis.

Gas / Car Washing Stations

Spraying down car mats with a power washer at a car wash.

Some gas stations have powerful vacuums made for removing the filth from the interior of your car. Run these powerful suctions over your car mats to remove unwanted dirt and dust. If grime or stains remain, some car washes will have handheld power washers available to use for a thorough cleaning of the plastic or carpet material.

Professional Services

While the majority of any dirt or stains can be eliminated with a little elbow grease, there are always professionals who can do the job for you and with great results. Call around and get quotes for the specific job, or see if the car cleaning services have package deals where you can get the whole interior of your car done. It might be wise to get a one-time professional treatment, and then keep up with your own car mat and carpet cleaning habits going forward. It could be worth the one-time investment to get your car’s carpets and mats back to looking brand new.

Just like the exterior of your car needs proper attention to keep it looking its best, the interior of your car will benefit from the same habits. Cleaning your car mats on a regular basis will prevent the interior floor from becoming heavily soiled, which can then lead to rust, an expensive and difficult thing to remedy once it starts.