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Interiors, Part 1
By Prentice St. Clair

An Introduction to Detailing the Inside of the Vehicle

This is the first in a multi-part series dedicated to the cleaning and care of the interior of the vehicle. Last year's series on paint rejuvenation was well received, so I decided to provide the same level of in-depth coverage of the inside of the automobile.

The ability to clean and condition the interior of the car is as important as the ability to make the outside look great. Each interior detailing customer will have a different reason for spending money with you to have the inside for the car cleaned. For example, to some customers, like those who shuttle clients as part of their daily activities, the interior appearance is critical. Other customers simply like to have the interior of the vehicle as spotless as they keep their houses. Some customers simply want to maintain the value of the car.

Vehicles are becoming more like rolling family rooms, and interiors are becoming dirtier more quickly.

People are spending more time in their vehicles than ever. The state of our society dictates that most people don't walk anymore. Moms and Dads have become taxi drivers, shuttling their children from school to activity to home again. The trend is that vehicles are becoming more and more like rolling family rooms, with individualized listening stations, individualized temperature controls, and video entertainment for all.

As the inside of the car gets more use, it will become dirtier more quickly. Of course, there will always be that small percentage of customers who, despite having the resources to pay for professional detailing, do not have the appearance of the vehicle as one of their priorities. I have also experienced customers who demand that the outside of their car look perfect, while paying little attention to the inside. But our focus for this series is to care for those customers who understand the pleasure of a clean vehicle interior.


There are several aspects of interior detailing that we will cover in this column in the next few issues, including:

  • The customer interview and vehicle inspection
  • Initial interior clean-out
  • Treatment of the dash, door panels, and center console
  • Treatment of the seats
  • Treatment of the carpeting
  • Deodorization
  • Additional interior services
  • Marketing, sales, and pricing of interior services

As part of the discussion of "how to" perform interior detailing, we will discuss the proper equipment and chemicals for each step.

The Customer Interview and Vehicle Inspection

I have spoken for many years of the importance of "the first step" of any detail procedure - the customer interview and vehicle inspection. Talk with the customer about what is to be done to the vehicle and what special concerns the customer may have. Then look carefully at the inside of the car, noting any damage, special stains, and overly-soiled areas. Then, come to an agreement with the customer as to what services are to be performed and the price for those services.

Initial Interior Clean-Out

The next step in the interior detail is to get all of the excess junk out of the car. First, you have to get all of the customer belongings out so that you can actually work. Next, you need to get rid of the excess dirt, garbage, and debris. We will discuss the issues and techniques that come up in these first few steps of the interior detail.

Treatment of the Dash, Door Panels, and Center Console

Essentially, this part of the detail amounts to "how to clean and protect vinyl and plastic panels." But it's not as simple as it sounds. The dash and center console are among the first things that the customer looks at upon returning to the vehicle, so they have to look great. There are a number of special concerns and techniques that will be addressed to help you complete a great job.

Treatment of the Seats

Seats generally come in four categories of material: vinyl, leather, fabric (velour), and suede. We will discuss the special equipment, chemicals, and techniques necessary to properly clean and condition each of these materials.

Treatment of the Carpeting

The carpeting and mats get the most abuse in the inside of a vehicle. It can be a challenge to get them clean and looking as new as possible. We will talk about stain removal, re-dyeing, and flood treatment.


Even the most thorough detailing techniques cannot remove all odor problems. There are several sources of odors, including pets, mold, food and beverage spills, and a myriad of human-caused odors (you know what I mean). Sometimes a vehicle just develops odors over time and heavy use, like the SUV that taxis three kids all week long. The detail will help, but to get rid of that last remnant of odor, special techniques and equipment must be used.

Additional Interior Services

There are several opportunities to make extra money while servicing the interior detail customer. Interior repair techniques, for instance, allow you to fix damage to leather, vinyl, plastic, dashboards and armrests, headliners, fabric, and carpeting. For example, scuffing on the front leather seats is quite normal, and due to normal wear and tear. Interior detailing techniques will not fix this problem, but some simple chemicals, tools, and techniques can help you re-dye the area at a significant profit.

Other interior services include carpet dyeing, custom dash kits, replacement floor mats, application of liquid repellents, and deodorization. We will discuss these and other opportunities as appropriate within each column and then summarize all of the opportunities in a single column in one of the last of the series.

Marketing, Sales, and Pricing of Interior Services

Pricing of interior detailing is another issue of importance. It is amazing to me, after ten years of hands-on detailing and providing education to the industry, that there are still operators out there who price their interior packages for less than their exterior packages. In my experience (and everyone with whom I have spoken), most interior detailing takes longer than exterior detailing. Yes, an exterior detail that involves multiple steps of polishing will take a long time. But standard interior detailing typically takes longer than a standard wash-clay-dress-wax exterior treatment.

Your pricing should be based mostly on the amount of time it takes to complete the service. I recommend that detailers shoot for an average of $50 per hour. So if your interior detail on a four-door sedan takes three labor hours, a fair charge is around $150. When explaining the price to the customer, point out that you are using professional chemicals, equipment, and techniques to perform a service that most consumers do not have the capability to perform. It would take most consumers an entire weekend to do what you can do in a few hours.

Your equipment will include a powerful vacuum, a hot water extractor, deodorization machines, as well as a number of brushes and other small tools that make the job easier. Your chemicals will include multi-purpose cleaner, extractor solution, glass cleaner, leather cleaner and conditioner, vinyl and plastic dressings, and odor neutralizers.

Additionally, you will have professionally-designed procedures and techniques that allow you to combine your equipment, chemicals, and knowledge of the interior surfaces, to yield effective and efficient results. That is, you can make the interior of the vehicle look great (effectiveness) in a short period of time (efficiency).


My job is to educate the detailing industry. If I have done my job correctly in this initial introductory column, many of you will be saying to yourselves, "Wow, I never realized how complicated interior detailing can be." Hopefully, your curiosity is piqued so that you will read this column in the upcoming issues to learn more about interior detailing. Even those of you with extensive experience in detailing will be able to pick up a few tips, tricks, and ideas to improve your process and profitability.

Prentice St. Clair is president of Detail in Progress, a San Diego-based automotive reconditioning consulting firm. To contact him, e-mail or call (619) 701-1100.

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