Steam cleaning cars and trucks is a professional detailer’s secret weapon.
Steam cleaners are amazing for cleaning many things quickly and easily without the need for harsh chemicals. They can make getting difficult to reach jobs super easy. Also, you can easily clean areas you thought would be a nightmare.
In this article, I will explain how to use steam cleaning techniques on a variety of interior parts as well as the all-important engine under the hood.
If you implement these cleaning techniques into your upkeep schedule, you will see how your car or truck will be cleaner thanks to the cleaning power of steam.
Why should I clean my car with steam?
No Harmful Chemicals!When you use a steam cleaner when detailing your car or truck, you get the best possible clean without using a single chemical. The cleaning power of steam cleaners is the heat that will kill 99.9% of all bacteria, germs, and even dust mites. Using steam allows you to skip the inhalation of toxins which could cause preventable health problems down the road.
Penetrates DeeperUsing steam cleaners in your car cleaning process replaces the more superficial cleaning of surfaces with a wipe or a spray. Just wiping the surface won’t give you the best clean due to it missing microparticles that the steam will loosen and grab.
Hard to Reach AreasSteam cleaners can reach further back into crevices inside your car where your hands might not be able to reach by using a cloth.
Cost-EffectiveSteam cleaners use water and heat to make the steam which thus cleans the vehicle. There is no requirement for any extra cleaning supplies for steaming interior surfaces making this the best option for a clean car.
VersatilityUsing steam cleaners to clean your car or truck allows you to use one method for all surfaces. The steam cleaner can remove dirt from a variety of areas all with the best possible clean.
How to use steam to clean an engine
Do you have grease, gunk, grime, or some kind of questionable substance on your engine? Do you remember what your engine looked like brand new?
Cleaning your engine is an essential part of vehicle maintenance that’ll prolong the life of your engine and help you steer clear of costly mistakes further down the road. It’s also a safety matter.
Once your engine is clean, it makes finding leaks that could lead to devastating fires and corrosion a simple task and allow you to notice them faster.
Cleaning an engine can be a pain, but have you ever tried steam cleaning? Grab a steam cleaner (one is recommended below) and let me show you a way to use it to clean your car to its full and best potential.
The Tools needed:
You will need plastic bags in order to protect the areas from water that should avoid getting wet. Although you are using steam and not a heavy flow of water, the steam will cause water to bead up on areas surrounding the car.
The areas to focus on covering from the steam cleaner will be anything electrical around your engine block. Any type of plastic bag that you have around your house or garage should do the trick.
You should use an engine degreaser such as Citrol Cleaner and Industrial Degreaser in order to get a head start on loosening problem areas on the engine block which will make your steam cleaning job a lot easier. Some stains have the capabilities to really get stuck.
Give yourself a break by adding some degreaser! The recommended degreaser can cut through a wide range of stains, is water-soluble, and even biodegradable, which pairs perfectly with steam cleaner projects.
The most important part of this entire project is the steam cleaner itself! The Vapamore MR-100 Primo Steam Cleaning System is what I always recommend to anyone with a steaming project.
This particular system is quite versatile and comes with a variety of attachments such as a Jet Nozzle tool, which you will find yourself frequently using in this DIY, and extension tubes in order to get to hard to reach places. This product also features a flow rate of 40 gallons a minute which results in a timely clean.
You should use a microfiber cloth such as the ones by The Rag Company in order to dry off your engine block from the steam when the steam cleaning process is complete. A good microfiber towel will prevent any unnecessary scratches.
An air blower of some magnitude will be needed to blow off loose debris from around the engine bay. This will allow you to complete a full clean of the engine without the burden of leaf bits and random daily driving dirt pieces.
A drip pan is essential if you aren’t looking to permanently stain up your workspace. Chemicals and dirt will drip off of the engine while degreasing and using the steam cleaner. If you were to even catch half of the substances coming off the engine, it will save you a lot of time during clean up.
A metallic wax is optional, but it will give you that professional sparkle at the end. By applying wax, you take a simple DIY appearance to an expert level.
Step By Step Engine Steam Cleaning:
When you are dealing with anything around an engine, you need to take extensive measures to protect yourself from chemicals and dirt that could fly out while using the steam cleaner. Wear eye protection and old clothing that covers the majority of your skin. Also, due to the steam cleaners being used in this project, you will want to disconnect the negative terminal on the battery in order to avoid possible electrocution.
Assess the Engine
Does your car engine actually need to be cleaned? There is no right timeline to when you should clean your engine according to professional auto body shops. If you browse the Internet, you can see suggestions from 3- 6 months, every season, or even just let your favorite garage take care of it when you take it in for services. However, I would say that the rule of thumb should be: If it looks dirty, clean it! As a bonus, cleaning off dirt with a steam cleaner will take hardly any time at all.
Prepare the Area
After allowing your engine to completely cool, you should cover up anything electrical around it, including but not limited to: the alternator and any fuses to avoid steam from causing damage. Next, take your blower and blow all the debris that could be gathered around the engine. Place the drip pans under the engine bay to prevent any chemicals from staining your work area as they are removed by the steam cleaner.
Degrease the Engine
Apply a degreaser to the engine’s surface which will allow heavier stains to be broken down that the steam cleaner may not otherwise pick up. The parts that you should focus on are areas such as the starter which comes into contact with petroleum-based fluids on a regular basis. Without this, you may not get as professional of a finish or the best results. As a side note, avoid getting any degreaser on your car’s paint as this can damage the paint.
Begin to Steam
Spend time to read the instruction manual that came with your steam cleaner. This is essential so that you don’t do more harm than good. Maneuver the steam cleaner in such a way that you start from the top and work your way down the engine block. By doing it this way, the dirt and grime won’t dirty the areas that you have already cleaned. Apply the steam to the area until you see the clean engine underneath.
Rinse and Wipe
Allow the steam to rinse off the remainder of the engine bay. Dirt and debris can collect in this area while you are cleaning the engine. It is essential that you make sure that all of the cleaning products and grease have been removed from the engine.
Once you are certain that the engine is clean, wipe off any extra water with a microfiber cloth that could have gathered on the engine. If you can’t get all of the water off the engine or you aren’t sure if you did, it’s okay! Just leave time to let it air dry before starting up your vehicle again or hit the area with your blower that you used in Step 3.
If you are a fan of the professional and shiny aesthetic, a good finishing touch is to use a metallic wax. A wax will create a barrier between your engine and staining materials in order to make the job next time a lot easier. As a bonus, your engine will look brand new. Lastly, reconnect your negative terminal to your battery and your car is ready to go!
How to Steam Clean Car Interiors
Regardless if you use the utmost caution in keeping your vehicle clean–things happen! Rain can cause dirty footprints, lotion transfers from hands to steering wheels, floor mats can roll up by accident, and dust can settle in from just about anywhere.
No matter the level of dirt or buildup in your car, a steam cleaner can help. A steam cleaner can clean deeper into surfaces, get in hard to reach areas, sanitize without intense and harmful chemicals, soften hard build-up, and even provide you with a professional clean from your own garage.
What if my car interior has leather?
This is perfectly fine and you can still use a steam cleaning method. If you are well versed in leather care, you know that leather and water do not typically exist in harmony. However, when you are using a steam cleaner, you aren’t pouring water onto the seats to soak. You are applying moist heat.
This is the perfect way to bring older leather back to life, disinfect the seats, and keep the interior looking newer for longer.
To perform interior steam cleaning, you will need:
A good shop vac is essential to clean your seats before you start the steaming process. If you try to use the steam cleaner before vacuuming, more dirt will sink its way into the fabric resulting in wasted time.
I recommend the Vapamore MR-100 Primo Steam Cleaning System to steam the car seats. This particular system is quite versatile and comes with a variety of attachments such as fabric tools and a triangle corner brush that would be quite useful with this project. This steam cleaner also gives you 60 minutes of operation time per water tank which will save you time from not having to continuously refill the vessel.
Your car’s carpets get the rough end of the stick in terms of dirt. The carpet interacts daily with everything you bring in from the outside on your shoes and is typically the dirtiest place in your car. You will need a vacuum and the triangle brush attachment for your steam cleaner.
Step By Step Carpet Steam Cleaning:
Vacuum the carpets thoroughly which will pick up the majority of loose particles such as dirt clumps, paper pieces, and loose strings that have gathered in your floorboard. Make sure to get into the corners and under the seats to get as many of the loose particles as you can. Also, don’t forget to show your trunk some love! The trunk of the car often gets forgotten because we aren’t seeing it on a daily basis, however, things can get pretty nasty back there.
Attach and Agitate
Attach the triangle brush attachment to your steam cleaner (the one that I recommended comes with one) and agitate the area that you plan on steam cleaning. Put in some elbow grease! Fine particles of dirt can work their way into the crevices between the fibers of the carpet. This will ensure that the steam cleaner can pick up any of the stubborn dirt and give you the best clean.
Use the Steam Cleaner
Use the triangle brush attachment to steam clean the carpet. Use overlapping passes in a pushing and pulling motion to be certain that you have covered the area with steam effectively. Don’t be scared to make multiple passes if your carpet has any deep stains. Make sure that you don’t leave the steamer in any one place for too long as this can oversaturate the area and lead to unnecessary damage. Leave the doors open to speed up the drying process.
Fabric Car Seats
Especially in the current time with an ongoing pandemic, steam cleaning not only removes unwanted dirt and grime from the upholstery, but it also sanitizes the locations that normally do not get sanitized. You will need a tool such as a triangle head attachment on the steam cleaner and a vacuum.
Step By Step Car Seat Steam Cleaning:
Prepare to run your usual vacuuming regimen to collect any loose debris from the area that you plan on steaming. Car seats have quite the amount of crevices in them, especially sans seat covers. You want to pay special attention from where the seatback meets the seat cushion as crumbs tend to collect here.
Prepare the Steam Cleaner
Make sure to read the particular steam cleaner’s instructions in order to fill the reservoir with the appropriate amount of water. Also, allow some time for the steam cleaner to heat up which can also vary depending on the model. Don’t rush this process or try to use the product before it is finished heating. This project isn’t one to be rushed and patience will ultimately pay off once you see the quality of your clean.
The First Pass
Use overlapping vertical pulling and pushing motions over the seats-one section at a time. As you are doing your passes, don’t forget the headrests where oil gathers. This is an often skipped area, yet it is one of the most important.
Evaluate the Area
Are there any deep stains? If so, you’re going to want to hold the steam cleaner on the stain for 15 seconds. The stain will become loose and begin to lift. Keep an eye on how much water you’ve applied to the seat, too much water could cause damage. If you feel that you need to go back over the area, don’t be afraid to do so, however, give the section a break in between 15-second increments.
Allow the seats to air dry
If possible, speed up the process by rolling down the windows.
Plastic, Vinyl, and Leather
The sections made up of plastic, vinyl, and leather, make up a significant amount of visible surface area in your car. If these areas are clean, they can make your car look years newer. If you have the steam cleaner that I recommended, it comes with a cotton cover for the triangle brush tool to avoid scratching these surfaces. A microfiber cloth would also work well for these same reasons. The fabric will collect all of the particles from the surface and pull them from these areas. Use this modified attachment on your steering wheel, your dashboard, and leather seats. Make sure to go over these areas gently as there’s no reason to scrub.
Crevices and Hard to Reach Places
Use a jet nozzle tool (inside the recommended system) which is used best for high-pressure cleaning or another tool made for crevices to get steam into places such as vents, pockets, cup holders, and seat belt latches. These are sections in which crumbs and dust tend to gather with no easy escape. After applying steam, wipe off the moisture of what you can reach with a microfiber cloth, to avoid pooling and aid the drying process. To finish off, vacuum the particles that the steam cleaner pulled up.
You may not even notice that your headliner is dirty because we typically never look up, however, dust easily collects in this area which we are constantly breathing in. To clean this piece, use a flat tool and either a cotton cover or a microfiber cloth to steam the headliner in your car. Due to this area being attached to the car with glue, you need to make certain that you go over this area twice as fast as you did everywhere else in order to avoid the glue loosening. When this happens, the headliner may fall or droop, which is very inconvenient.
Your car will go through a lot just from daily driving. Steam cleaners make keeping the dirt and road grime accumulated every day significantly easier to remove. Steam cleaners can be used in almost every area of your car or truck. Under the hood, carpets, dashboard, seats, and more.
You’ll be amazed at how powerful steam cleaners can make difficult detailing jobs a breeze. Step up your car detailing regimen and add a steam cleaner to your arsenal. I know you’ll find it to be one of the best tools