Question(s) about DIY * CAR DETAILING *

Hi! I may be inheriting a car which the inside of has been sort of destroyed. The car has literally been lived in, smoked in, ash burns all over the place, and just needs a wicked detailing.

(By the way, I’m not insane, it’s worth it. It’s a 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid that I’m getting for an insane price.)

I’ve never PAID anyone to detail my car before (I’m more than happy to do it myself) but the worst stain I’ve ever had to deal with is chocolate milk.

a.) Can I handle this?

b.) I have a spot cleaner (Bissell Little Green) that I usually use to clean our cars, and our vacuum with attachment - will that do?

c.) Anyone have secrets for me that will help?

I figure that either I can successfully do it myself, or otherwise, at least take some cost off of someone else doing it by doing basic things myself.

Also, I plan on buying car seat covers and new rugs to hide cigarette burns.


Are you a cigarette smoker? If so the smell won’t bother you. If not, you’ll have a hard time getting rid of the cigarette odor.


Good luck, odors can be tough. If it was me, here’s what I’d do. I’d 409 all the hard surfaces multiple times until the paper towels came off clean. Do the same with the windows (windex or the cheap aerosols). For the seats spray them down heavily with car upholstery (sp?) cleaner, brush it in, then use the Bissel with just hot water in it to clean out the soap while it’s still wet. If the rinse water is dirty, repeat. Same approach for the carpet. Let it dry, see how it is, then maybe try some Febreez. I’m no expert, just what I’d do.

You’re unlikely to be able to do as good a job as a professional detail shop with their industrial chemicals and high powered equipment.

You may be able to just have the interior done and it may not be as expensive as you think. Call for some prices.

“ash burns all over the place”

In addition to the stated difficulty of removing the tobacco smoke odor, there is no way to remove burn marks in the upholstery. Detailing will help, but it is not a miracle process.

Oh I know that the burns won’t be coming out. I was just trying to detail what the interior is like etc. Like I said, I’ll be getting covers and new rugs to cover those. I don’t plan on reselling it so… I just want to make it presentable.

I am not a smoker, so the odor would bother me some. I’m not highly offended by cigarette smell or smoke, I just don’t want to be around it constantly when I don’t even smoke.

That’s I think going to be the hardest part is the smell. I guess I’ll just bombard it. I know white vinegar gets anything out, but I think I may have a hard time removing the vinegar completely with the vac part of the spot cleaner. Then my car would just smell like pickled cigarettes :slight_smile:

Do you know what types of upholstery cleaner I would need? I mean, would they sell it at an auto store or Wal Mart? I.E. would I have access to those?

I’m going to price it, I’m just afraid of the answer :slight_smile:

In that case, don’t purchase the vehicle. It’s not a good deal if you’ll never be happy with the vehicle. And you won’t be.

When you purchase a vehicle from a smoker, that smell permiates every part of the interior of the vehicle. This means the seats, carpeting, the vent system, the headliner, the insulation in the doors and other parts if the vehicle. Even the metal and glass gets a layer of smoke residue on it that will emit an odor forever.

And remember, when you drive a vehicle with this odor, this odor ends up in your clothes. So you smell like an ashtry everytime you exit the vehicle.


I would agree with the same mountainbike. Drop by a few detail shops for an estimate and you may find that it may not be as big a financial hit as you think.

While I did not get too deep into detailing cars (an utter screaming bore IMHO), I used to have part of a shop set aside for detailing and had someone doing this for me.

Considering the cost of some cleaners, equipment, and the elbow grease involved in a good detailing it would be more cost effective to have someone do it for you.
Many detail shops use strong cleaners that are not available at K-Mart, steam cleaners, etc. and it works far better than the DIY at home types.

Sure, go to Walmart, get some Woolite (or something like it) spray upholstery cleaner.

But I gotta agree with Tester, you’ll never get all the smell out.

A little off topic, but if the interior was that abused then how well was the car maintained. I think it would be wise to spend a little extra to have it checked out thoroughly by a mechanic if you haven’t already done so.

Good luck,

Ed B.