How to Clean Car Mats – Vinyl, Rubber or Carpet, We Cover Them All

There is one thing the interior of your car has in common with your home. The floor is where the bulk of the dirt ends up.

Fortunately, your vehicle’s floor coverings serve to protect the fabric underneath. They’re exposed to everything from dirty shoes to accumulated dust and debris.

Therefore, every so often, they’ll need meticulous cleaning, and we’re going to discuss exactly how in this guide on how to clean car mats.

Man cleaning car mats with a steam cleaner or vacuum

How often you clean your vehicle’s floor mats will depend on your activities. Those of you with kids and pets may find you have to do it more frequently. The same applies to people who like to snack on the road.

The good news is this is a simple task that anyone can do. You probably already have most of the equipment you’ll need sitting at home.

Below, you’ll learn everything you need to know on how to clean your car mats. We’ll discuss how to wash the different types, from start to finish.

We’ve also covered the alternatives to handwashing. We understand that some of you won’t always have the time for a DIY scrub down.

Skill Level: Beginner.

Time to Complete: 30 to 45 minutes.

Tools Needed:

  • Vacuum.
  • Tarp or old sheet.
  • Bucket and access to a water source.
  • Scrubbing brush.
  • Cleaning product (either plain detergent or carpet cleaner).

Get Your Tools and Equipment Ready

This is one of those automotive maintenance tasks that is easy as can be. You won’t need any specialized equipment or tools.

All you’ll have to get is:

Vacuum

A vacuum is essential if you have fabric mats on your car floor. It’ll make cleaning rubber or vinyl much easier too.

Tarp or Old Sheet

You don’t want to place your mats on the ground outdoors. Using a tarp or an old sheet will keep them from getting filthy again as you work.

Bucket of Water or Hose

Have an accessible water source nearby. You may need to refill your bucket more than once if they’re long overdue for a cleaning.

Appropriate Cleaning Product

The right cleaning product will depend on the material you’re washing. For vinyl or rubber, any detergent should be fine.

You can use dish soap or any gentle detergent. As for carpeting, you’ll have to buy a designated cleaning solution.

Scrubbing Brush

Hard bristles are suitable for vinyl or rubber, but not for carpet. It might pull out fibers—in this case, choose one with softer bristles.

What Type of Car Mats are You Cleaning?

There are two broad categories of materials car floor mats can be made of. They’re either going to be fabric (carpet) or plastic (rubber or vinyl). You can find numerous examples of each in our guide to the best car floor mats, and here’s a brief description fo each:

Carpet Style

The fabrics can come in near-limitless styles, textures, and colors. Some are ribbed for capturing dirt, whereas others are smooth.

Yours either came with the purchase of your vehicle, or you bought them aftermarket. Most are made from cheap, resilient materials like polyester.

Vinyl or Rubber Mats

The full name for vinyl is polyvinyl chloride (PVC). It’s the second-most produced plastic in the world.

It’s found in everything from raincoats to upholstery and—you guessed it—floor mats. Aside from being inexpensive to produce, vinyl has lots of other benefits.

It’s durable, temperature resistant, and doesn’t stain easily. Rubber is slightly more costly but somewhat tougher than PVC.

How to Clean Carpet-Style Car Mats

Let’s get your carpets looking new again. Follow these steps:

Remove from Vehicle

Gather all four mats out of the vehicle. You may have to detach the ones on the driver’s and passenger’s side from hooks or clips in the floor.

Be careful not to rip them out, especially the driver’s side one. The hooks or clips keep it in place while you’re driving.

Shake Out and Bang Off Solid Debris

Shake out each one individually. Do this at a distance from your vehicle, keeping your face turned away. Inhaling dust isn’t the best way to start this project.

If there’s solid debris stuck to them (e.g., pine needles), you might need to get aggressive. Bang or beat the mat with your hand to dislodge as much as you can.

Set up Your Tarp or Sheet

Position your tarp or old sheet on the ground. If it’s a windy day, you may want to weigh it down with a few rocks or other heavy items.

Vacuum Both Sides

One by one, set each mat onto the tarp or sheet and vacuum it thoroughly. If the fabric is textured, pass the vacuum over at different angles.

Flip it over and repeat the process. You want both sides to be as spotless as possible before the next step.

Use a Carpet Cleaning Product

Bring out the product you’ve purchased and your scrub brush. Use the solution as directed on the fabric.

Homemade Carpet Cleaning Solution

Those of you who didn’t buy a product can make your own. Choose one of the following two homemade carpet solutions:

Detergent mix:

  • Add one teaspoon of dishwasher soap to one cup of water.
  • Mix the two together and add to an empty spray bottle.
  • Apply to the fabric you’re cleaning and start scrubbing.

All-natural solution:

  • Add one cup of vinegar to two cups of water.
  • Pour in two teaspoonfuls of salt.
  • For a pleasant smell, add a couple of drops of essential oil (e.g. lemon).
  • Mix all the ingredients together until the salt is dissolved.
  • Pour the formula into an empty spray bottle.
  • Apply to the fabric you’re washing and scrub away.

Rinse Off

Rinse the product (or homemade solution) off with your hose or buckets of water. Rinse repeatedly until the water runs clear.

Hang to Dry

Hang the wet mats to air-dry, preferably in direct sunlight. If the weather is bad, you’ll have to keep them indoors.

Vacuum Once More

Once they’re completely dry, place them one at a time back onto your tarp or sheet. Vacuum the mats on both sides as you did at the start.

How to Clean Vinyl or Rubber Car Mats

Vinyl and rubber are less maintenance-heavy than carpet. If you have one of these types, clean them as follows:

Remove from Vehicle

Take all four of the floor coverings out of your car. You may have to unhook or unlatch the driver’s and passenger’s mats.

If this is the case, take care not to break the hook or latch mechanisms. You don’t want the mat slipping and sliding while your car is in motion.

Get Rid of Solid Debris

Shake off solid debris off each one. For stubborn dirt (e.g., dried mud) don’t hesitate to get aggressive.

Hit or bang the covering around to dislodge whatever it is that’s stuck. Keep your face turned away to protect your eyes and mouth.

Rinse With Water from Bucket or Hose

Rinse each covering with water. This will be easier with a hose, but can also be done with a bucket full of water.

Wash With Soap

Get out your scrub brush and detergent. Unlike fabric, you can use some force when scrubbing rubber or vinyl.

Wash each mat one by one until all stains and residual dirt is gone. You may want to do a touch test to make sure there are no tacky or sticky surfaces.

Rinse With Fresh Water

Rinse off the soap with fresh water from your hose or bucket. If you’re using a bucket,

make sure the water is fresh.

Hang to Dry

Leave the coverings to air dry. If it’s bad weather outdoors, you’ll have to hang them inside. However, do not hang them directly in the sun as it can cause color fade and heat stress in the rubber.

Using a Steam Cleaner

If you have a steam cleaner for your car, this is a great time to put it to use.

First, beat off solid debris and vacuum each car mat. Once that’s over with, switch on the machine. Set the heat to the appropriate level for either rubber or vinyl; or fabric (carpeting).

Steam the coverings one by one, doing both the front and the back. Allow them to air dry, then vacuum once again.

Using a Machine

Those of you who don’t have a steam cleaner have another option. You go to your local car wash and see if they have a machine that will clean your coverings for you.

These gadgets will do the whole job, all you have to do is put your dirty mat as it is into the machine.

It’ll soap it up, rinse it, and dry it for you. Repeat with all the car floor mats you want to wash, and the job is done. It shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars.

If you want a demonstration on how these work, check out this video.

What About Using a Washing Machine and Dryer?

You may be able to run your mats through your washing machine on a delicate setting. This means cold water—hot water isn’t advisable.

Rubber and plastics (whether in carpeting or the form of vinyl) can end up melting. Or, they could shrink or warp, ruining the shape and appearance.

We don’t advise running car mats of any material through your dryer. You don’t want to be scraping melted plastic or rubber out of your machine.

Final Thoughts

Now you know how to clean car mats, there’s no reason to avoid doing so in the future. Set up a schedule for yourself and stick to it.

The need for their cleaning can vary dramatically based on your habits. You may have to do this as often as once a week or as infrequently as every few months.

Either way, the more often you clean your floor coverings, the better. Upkeep is always preferable to letting things get nasty enough to need an intensive scouring.

Do you have questions or tips to share with us? Please share your thoughts in the comment secrtion below. We’ll make sure to answer each and every one!

Kyle Palmer

From childhood go karting and motocross, to collecting and obsessing over scalextric, matchbox and radio controlled cars, I've always had an obsession with cars. Learning through manuals, books, trial and error, and more knowledgeable family members, I've also enjoyed tinkering with the mechanics and electronics of any vehicles I've owned. Now, over 3 decades later, I've started this site as a place for me to share my knowledge, to teach others how to care for and maintain their vehicles themselves, at home, so they can get the most of their vehicles and save a pretty penny compared to always seeking out professional help.

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