Got your vehicle’s carpet floor mats gunked up with sand, salt, grease, gum, stains or everyday dirt and need a cleaning fix stat? Well, here’s how to clean them up real nice and get your car looking at its best for the next drive you take.
This guide is one of the biggest online and is solely dedicated to tried and true carpet cleaning methods and questions you’ve been wondering about for ages. The best part is most of the tips below can be applied simply and effectively with things you already have laying around the house. So all that’s left is for you to do is get cleaning.
What do you need to clean from your car mats?
Proven Ways To Clean Carpet Car Mats:
Things you’ll need
1. A vacuum
2. A firm/stiff bristled brush
3. A clear, open air space away from your car to lay your mats down
4. A little elbow grease ?
1.Remove carpet mats from car
2. Beat the underside of each mat in an isolated area away from your car using your hand or something firm. This will lift to the surface ingrained sand buried deep in the mat fibres
3. Lay each mat on the ground and, using a firm / stiff bristled brush, brush in long strong strokes in both directions. This will further help to lift ingrained sand to the surface
4. Vacuum each mat on the highest suction setting. Use the plastic nozzle end or, better yet, fit the vacuum ‘crevice’ (the plastic narrow fitting for corners) to increase suction
5. If after vacuuming for a time you still hear sand being sucked up, repeat step 3
6. DON’T wet or use liquid based cleaning products. This will only push sand particles deeper into the fibres of your carpet
Why this method is effective for removing sand from your mats:
Just because we love the beach, doesn’t mean our cars carpet floor mats feel the same way. Sand is particularly bad for our floor mats as it has a knack for burrowing itself down into the mat fibres, resting above the base, and hiding itself away from a simple vacuum job. This presents problems, not only for the health and lifespan of the car mat but also for the health of passengers (asthma sufferers in particular) who may suffer when sand particles get kicked up into the air as people move in and out of the car. Not good.
This cleaning method is not only easy, it also cheap and effective in removing sand from your car’s carpet floor mats. The basic premise is, if sand gets trodden into the fibres of the mat you need a solution that lifts it from the deeper parts of the mat to deal with it properly. A vacuum alone won’t do this. Nor will trying to treat it with water and chemicals at the car wash or at home (if fact, that will only make things worse). Instead, you must bash the underside of the mat to lift the sand and give yourself the best chance of removing it with a vacuum later.
If you don’t have one already, the part of this venture that will cost a couple of bucks is the stiff bristled brush. But really, this is a once off buy that can stowed away in the side wings of the cargo area, down with the spare tyre or thrown into a boot organiser for safe keeping.
Now if all this cleaning business doesn’t take your fancy, you can either A) plan to buy a car mat set each year, every year you frequently go to the beach, B), stop going to beach, or C) put your pennies and cents together for a raised edge, non-carpet mat. Commonly referred to as an all-weather or deep bin/dish mat, they are made from various forms of rubber (so no carpet) and feature a raised edge to keep the sand on the mat and extend protection to the carpet within the car itself. Cleaning rubber car mats is particularly easy as you skip the bashing the underside step and get straight to the vacuum and dust part.
Things you’ll need
1. Stiff bristle brush
2. Empty spray bottle
3. White vinegar
4. Cloth or (for faster results) wet / dry shop vac
5. Fabric cleaner
- Remove the carpet floor mats from your car
- Brush mat to loosen up debris, then use vac to remove
- Mix equal part white vinegar and water in the empty spray bottle
- Evenly spray vinegar and water solution on salt stains
- Let it sit for 2-5 minutes. The solution will break down the crystalized salt in the carpet fibres
- Blot the mat with a cloth or use shop vac (DON’T use a normal vac) to lift stains and excess moisture
- Repeat steps 4 to 6 until you’re happy with the results. Note, depending how long the stain has been there it might take a few runs before it is removed.
- Once you’re happy with the salt removal, spray a light mist of fabric cleaner to remove smell
- Scrub with stiff bristle brush in long strokes in both directions and blot with cloth or wet vac to remove excess
- Allow to air overnight
Why this method is effective for removing salt from your mats:
How can something so pretty (snow) create nasty white stains on your car’s carpet floor mats? It’s just water at the end of the day, right? Well, the answer is ‘pretty simply’ and ‘not really’. The snow and slush we walk through on winter roads and driveways is usually mixed with table salt and calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate – the ingredients required to quicken the melting time and keep the wheels (literally) turning in world; people getting to work, trucks moving packages, customer access to business etc.
Now the trick with these carbonates is that they are insoluble (that is it won’t break down) in water alone. Instead they crystallize and, if not dealt with, damage the fibres in the mat. For this reason, simply rubbing your car’s carpet floor mats with warm water won’t work. You need something more.
Enter the white vinegar and hot tap water mix. Vinegar contains acetic acid which will react with the carbonates to make this once insoluble chemical, soluble. It will break it down and make it possible for you to remove the salt stains from your floor mat.
The problem with the vinegar, though, is the smell. And a quick google search or chat with your neighbours will reveal a plethora of methods designed to remove or mask the smell e.g. adding lemon or other natural essences etc. The trick we recommend however is the use of fabric cleaner as the remaining smell is more ‘new car’/neutral scent and therefore less offensive to each individual’s ‘taste’. To use this method, simply apply an even mist over the car mat, scrub / agitate the carpet with a stiff bristled brush, and dry with a cloth or wet / dry vac (shop vac).
While there are different approaches to ending up with a car mat that smells nice, one rule remains the same. Clean and dry your mat overnight in a covered space that is OUTSIDE your car. The last thing you want is your car smelling like vinegar or damp. It’s not pleasant.
Now if cleaning this method is too much for you, there are a few options. A) accumulate damage to your car mats and open your wallet to buy a new set each year, B) move to a warmer climate ?, or C) buy an all-weather rubber floor liner. There’s a few options on the market which have unique pros and cons (a topic for another day) but share this attribute – they’re not carpet. A good floor liner will also have raised edges which will prevent damage to the surrounding carpet on the car floor.
Oil / Grease
Things you’ll need
- Paint scraper or butter knife
- Baking soda
- Liquid hand washing detergent
- White vinegar
- Bucket or pale (depending on which side of the hemisphere you’re on ?)
- Fabric cleaner
1. Remove the carpet floor mats from the car
2. Use paint scraper or butter knife to gently remove excess oil pooled on the carpet. Go easy at this first step, muscles, otherwise you’ll damage the fibres in the floor mat
3. Sprinkle baking soda over affected area and allow it to break & soak up oil for 10-15 minutes
4. Vacuum up the baking soda
5. Add one tablespoon of liquid hand washing detergent and one tablespoon of white vinegar with two cups of warm tap water. Sponge the grease stain with this solution until removed.
6. Rinse sponge in warm running water
7. Empty bucket, add two cups of cold water and sponge carpet floor mat to remove the detergent and vinegar solution
8. Spray a light mist of fabric cleaner to remove remaining vinegar smell and blot dry overnight
Why this method is effective for removing grease from your mats:
Ever heard the saying ‘oil and water don’t mix’? Well it’s true, which is partly why grease is so difficult to remove from your car’s carpet floor mats. Adding water only spreads the problem into an even bigger mess that, if you don’t get to quick enough, might require a complete redo of your floor mats.
Not so fun science fact: water molecules and oil molecules are actually kinda attracted to each other. It’s called energetics = two things being drawn together. But what this ‘relationship’ lacks is entropy, which is the ability of two molecules to mix together. Think of it like that person you were checking out across the room, but when said person opens their mouth you figure it’s better you went in a different direction. Yep, that’s oil and water. They just don’t mix.
There is another way though (assuming the oil / grease mark is fairly recent) and the best part is this fix requires only ‘ingredients’ you have laying around the house. But if you still don’t have the bits and pieces you need, we’ve added some links at the bottom to stores that do.
One of the core elements of the fix is baking soda, or bicarbonate soda depending on what school of life you went to. What bicarb does so well is break up acid and dirt which is why it’s so critical you get the bicarb on the grease affected carpet floor mat and allow it to do its thing.
The vinegar on its own will act a little like water – it won’t mix with oil. But when you add detergent (the emulsifier) the solution will encapsulate and lift grease / oil from the floor mat. Voila.
For the finishing touch, spray a nice and even coat of fabric cleaner over the floor mat to remove any lingering vinegar smell and blot dry any excess moisture.
Things you’ll need
Method 1 – Cold
1. An icepack
2. Paint scraper or blunt knife
Method 2 – Heat
1. A hair dryer
2. Plastic bag
Method 1 – Cold
1. Remove carpet mats from car
2. Place the frozen icepack over gum until the gum hardens completely
3. Use paint scraper or blunt knife to pry the gum from the mat. Just be careful not to pull out or damage the carpet fibres
4. If all fibres aren’t removed in the first pass, go back to step 2 through 3 until your mat is back to its original glory
Method 2 – Heat
1. Remove carpet mats from car
2. Power on your hair dryer and run heat over gum until it begins to melt
3. Carefully peel gum from the carpet cat mat using the plastic bag over your hand. The gum is hot so be careful not burn your fingers
Pssssst… our favourite is method 1. It’s cleaner, and in most circumstances easier than method 2.
Why this method is effective for removing gum from your mats:
Don’t panic. The gum can be removed from your carpet car floor mats. And no, it doesn’t matter it’s been stamped into the carpet a few times or that it’s been sitting around a long time. It can be removed. You’ll just need a few household items, the right solution, and a little patience to make it happen.
The method we recommend is the freeze method. It basically requires that you apply an icepack to the gum until it hardens / freezes (hence the name), becoming a little easier to work with. At this point the once sticky gum is so easy to work with, due to a little physics called the ductile-to-brittle transition, that the gum can be gently broken away (even shattered) from the carpet fibres. Think about it, brittle gum versus sticky gum. I know what we’d prefer to work with.
The lift away, use a paint scraper or blunt knife. Keep a close eye on things here though as you’ll want to make sure mat fibres aren’t being lifted with the hardened gum. Causing damage to your mats here obviously isn’t what you want so please be careful.
If it is still sticking after following through these steps, repeat until you’re happy with the outcome. Note: you may need to refreeze the pack if the gum fails to harden as quickly it did the first time round.
Mud & Dirt
Things you’ll need
1. A vacuum
3. Empty spray bottle
4. Dish washing liquid
- Remove the car mats from the car and lay in a flat area
- If the mud is still wet, allow it to dry. This will stop you spreading the moisture and mess further. If the mud is very wet try blot drying the mud to stop the muck entrenching itself deep in the carpet fibres and resting on the mat base
- Once dry, repeatedly run your vacuum over the dirt. Do so slowly as this will allow you to pick up as much dirt as possible and stop it being flicked up into the air.
When you hear the vacuum is no longer sucking up dirt, you’re ready to move onto the next step.
- Grab your empty spray bottle and mix one tea spoon of dish washing liquid into warm water
- Spray a light, even covering over the affected area(s)
- Blot the mat with your cloth. You should see the remainder of the dirt lifting from the mat.
- Once the dirt is completely removed, lay the mat out to dry to avoid a damp smell taking over your car ?. If you need it to dry quicker, run a shop vac over the area to lift the remaining moisture. See why you need to avoid moisture, here.
Why this method is effective for removing mud & dirt from your mats:
Dirt and mud under foot is a part of life especially in colder, wetter climates. It makes sense then that when things get messy the filth is tracked onto your carpet car mats as passengers enter your vehicle. The trick is removing the mess with little fuss and with only items laying around the house. Let’s go over our how we’d do it.
The basic technique described is broken up into three parts – Quarantine, Removal, and Dry.
Quarantine is for the muddy carpets. You don’t want the mud spreading or seeping into the carpet fibres, so the quarantine treatment is required to lift excess mud and moisture.
Removal is all amount lifting the dirt from the carpet using basic cleaning product and mild amount of moisture. And finally, Dry is about, well, drying and giving your mats enough time to air out.
Each step is so easy to follow but crucial if you want your carpet car mats looking their best.
Things you’ll need
1. Paint scraper or butter knife
2. Liquid hand washing detergent
3. White vinegar
5. Cloth x2
6. Fabric cleaner
- Remove mats from the car and lay in a flat area
- Remove any excess mess with a paint scraper or butter knife. If some excess remains, remove by blotting away with a corner of the cloth. Tip: don’t rub, blot.
- Grab your bucket and add one tablespoon of liquid hand washing detergent, one tablespoon of white vinegar, and two cups of warm tap water. Blot with the other corner of the cloth until removed
- Spray a light mist of fabric cleaner to remove any remaining vinegar smell
- Blot excess moisture and leave to dry overnight
Is it ok to put my carpet floor mat in the washing machine or hose it at the car wash?
Undealt with moisture, both in large and small amounts, is arguably one of the worst enemies your carpet car mats can ever face. If left untreated, it leaves that damp, musty smell and can even pose health risks to you and your passengers (but more on that later).
Speak to any professional carpet cleaner or car detailer and they’ll tell you their aim is to clean the top of the carpet fibre, not the base. They’ll avoid wetting the carpet backing / base as doing so will make it harder to remove moisture and risk a poor end result. It makes sense then that you should do the same. So avoid throwing your carpet into the washing machine… it’s a no-brainer… just don’t do it.
What about hanging up and hosing down my carpet car mats at the do-it-yourself carwash? Same rules apply. The hooks were only ever designed for rubber floor mats that love nothing more than rinse out. Your carpet car mats, however, don’t have the same feelings. Going ahead with a heavy wash will only saturate your carpet and push water (and the dirt it carries) into the backing of your floor mat. Not a good result.
“Why do my car mats give off a funky smell when wet / damp?”
Have you ever noticed how different your car smells in dry weather compared to the wet? It’s not a coincidence. The reason for it boils down to a little thing called evaporation. In this story, the smells of your car are neatly contained in molecules. And in the wet those molecules are dissolved and lifted into the air as the moisture evaporates. You, being a human, pick up this smell and think the car is somehow dirtier or smellier than before. The reality is the wet carried into the car has caused the smelling giants to rise from their slumber and create a funk. More on car smells here.
“How can wet / damp carpet car mats impact passenger health?”
If water is left in your carpet you are at risk of having mould and mildew. If present, the mould will be visible on either side of the mat and in these situations our advice is to throw them out and replace. The reason for this is simple. Mould disperse spores into the air and can agitate skin and trigger respiratory allergies in asthma and tuberculosis suffers, among others. The obvious repercussions here are rashes and difficulty breathing. Don’t muck around with it and risk breathing it in, throw them out and get yourself a new set.
“My mats are so dirty! I still think they need a heavy wash to clean them properly.”
The above article provides a bunch of time tested strategies to clean any mess from your car mats. If you haven’t tried one, go ahead and find your problem and read up on a proven solution (pssst… they’re super easy to use). If you have tried one and still think your mats could be better, chances are you just need to repeat the process to get the last 5-10%. If you have already repeated the process a few times and want a better result it could be time to think about replacing your carpet car mats. Continuing to clean your carpet mats will only result in either small improvements or put you at risk of adding too much moisture to your floor mat.
“I’ve already heavily washed my carpet car mats and wondering if there’s anything I can do?”
The best advice we can give is to either:
keep the floors mats out of the car and place them in a dry area. Give them as much time as is required to dry. Pulling the pin too early on the drying time will leave you with a bad smell
get a shop vac (wet / dry vac) and pull up the excess moisture. This is a good option if you’re short on time and need it dry sooner rather than later
do both steps A) and B) to pull up as much of the moisture as possible
Are some carpet car mats easier to clean than others?
Who would have thought that the type of carpet used to make your car mats would make it easier or harder to clean? Probably not many. But the fact is, it does.
Now the good news is most modern car mats can be cleaned simply and effectively using one of the methods above. The reason for this is the way in which they’re made, and more specifically the type of fabric used to make them.
Synthetic VS Wool Carpet
Synthetic fabric (think Nylon, Polyester) is the go to material for floor mat manufacturers and the car makers you know. It first became the fibre of choice for high volume car manufacturers back in the mid-1990s as wool and other natural fibres were leap frogged due their inherent weaknesses around stain resistance (particularly older stains) and slow drying time.
Wool won’t do as a good a job at repelling a stain as a synthetic fibre. Instead of resisting a spill, the oils in the spill can penetrate the fibre and make the stain irremovable. You won’t remove it using any of the techniques above. In contrast, a synthetic fibre ‘naturally’ fights against the spill making it possible for it be removed.
Despite being a great looking fibre that can last long, wool isn’t a great option if your car interior is likely to pick up dirt and spills. Basically if you have or plan to have kids, or occasionally track moisture or dirt or mud into your vehicle’s interior (so most of us), stay away from wool car floor mats.
Straight VS Hooked Fibres
Straight fibres are those that are inserted into the mat base and go vertically up. In other words they go straight up, where as hooked fibres have a bend or hook in them. Both have their advantages and disadvantages but for the purposes of cleaning, hooked fibres are more likely to trap in the dirt than a straight fibre. So if you’re looking to buy a mat, think about going for a straight fibred mat.
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