Your car’s dash panel and windshield make up the frame through which a driver views the world. This area houses many important functions, so properly maintaining and cleaning this area is crucial. Cleaning a dirty dash may seem like a daunting task, but it is a relatively simple process. You only need to follow a few steps to properly clean your car’s dashboard.
To properly clean your car’s dashboard: identify the various materials that make up your dash, prepare the surfaces for cleaning by removing large debris, wipe down the main dash, detail the gauge cluster, clean any electronic screens, and protect appropriate surfaces.
Identify the Various Materials that Make up your Dash
A dashboard is often comprised of a variety of materials. Different materials require appropriate cleaning products and methods to ensure safe, effective cleaning. In this tutorial, we briefly touch on some of the most common materials found on the dashes of modern automobiles.
Rubber, Plastic, and Vinyl Dashboards
Most modern vehicles have dashboards composed of rubber or plastic. You will typically see rubber dashboards in utility and off-road vehicles, while plastics are commonly found in other cars. In contrast vinyl dashboards are less common, and typically found in older vehicles.
Rubber and plastic dashboards are hardy surfaces that can tolerate most cleaning products. While vinyl typically uses a similar cleaning process to plastic and rubber, vinyl benefits from some extra TLC. If you have vinyl, we recommend that you pick up some protective vinyl spray to apply at the end of the cleaning process – especially if you are cleaning an older car. Protective products will help restore and ensure the long-term beauty of the material.
Both natural and artificial leathers can be trickier materials to clean, as they may be more sensitive to soaps and chemicals. While modern vehicles typically use artificial leathers, older cars may contain natural leather – which may be more prone to drying and cracking.
Take time to read the cleaning solution’s instructions prior to use. Note any caution or warnings. Leather readily absorbs liquids, including excess chemicals. Limit how much solution gets on the dash to prevent any possible damage.
Suede and Alcantara
Higher end vehicles will often have suede or alcantara on the dashboard. We recommend picking up a specific cleaner for suede to address these areas. Alcantara must be cleaned gently and without too much pressure. It’s highly encouraged that you use a soft bristle brush, along with cleaner, to detail these areas. Soft bristle brushes are particularly great at lifting dirt from the surface. Suede and alcantara can be the more difficult surfaces to clean, so it’s important to not rush any cleaning. Do proper research or consult a professional detailer if you have any questions or concerns before conducting the cleaning process.
If you are unsure of your vehicle’s dashboard materials, check the owner’s manual.
Prepare the Surface for Cleaning by Removing Large Debris
Before you begin to apply cleaner to your dash, get rid of any larger debris by using any type of vacuum cleaner. Vacuum all large particles and debris, as they will hamper the cleaning process. If you use a household or shop vac, you will have the option of using attachments to vacuum difficult-to-reach areas of your dash and console. Smaller debris and particles can be addressed with a microfiber towel. A few wipes will take care of most dust and dirt that has lingered on the dashboard.
While you have the vacuum cleaner out, consider vacuuming the entire vehicle. Particles from the backseat and luggage areas can move around the cabin via air conditioning or open windows, and you don’t want all your hard work to go waste.
Clean the Main Dash
Apply a small amount of your cleaning solution to your cleaning cloth, rather than the dashboard directly to avoid saturating your dashboard with product. This method provides a safer, more accurate application. Begin by testing your solution on a small, discrete portion of your dash. Once you are sure that the solution is safe for use, proceed to clean the entire dash by working in small areas.
The top and right sides of the dashboard will be the easiest areas to clean, as they are typically open, relatively flat surfaces. We recommend using microfiber towels, as they are perfect for capturing small particles. You may use other use other household items, such as toothbrushes or toothpicks, to get into tight areas.
Most modern cars have infotainment and navigation screens that can get dirty quickly. Before cleaning, make sure to double check the owner’s manual to take proper precautions in cleaning these electronics. Consider using a microfiber cloth and distilled water when working with screens. As you did with the dash, moisten your cleaning cloth, not the actual screen. Wipe down the screen in a side-to-side or up-and-down motion, not in a circular pattern. This will prevent leftover residue or water streaks from clouding the surface.
Clean the Gauge Cluster
Gauge clusters are typically the hardest dashboard areas to clean, as they are filled with nooks and crannies that love to catch dirt, dust, and debris. To attack this area, wipe it gently with microfiber cloth. Anything firmer than gentle pressure may cause scratches to any clear plastic surfaces. Adding a bit of warm water to your microfiber cloth can also help with picking up dust or debris.
Next, use a clear plastic cleaner to shine surfaces. Clear plastic cleaners not only rid the surfaces of dust, but they provide protection designed to keep your cluster clear and streak-free. For example, our clear plastic cleaner offers streak-free cleaning that removes finger prints, smudges, smears, and more.
Wipe in an up-and-down or side-to-side motion when cleaning the gauge cluster, as this will limit streaking on the plastic. Invest a little time in routinely maintaining the gauge cluster and you will protect it not only from dirt, but yellowing, fading, and scratches over time.
Important: Some vehicles feature dashboards with LCD or electronic gauge clusters. These require different cleaning methods, which we’ll touch on below:
Clean any Electronic Screens
Most modern automobiles feature infotainment or navigation systems. That means a large screen at the forefront of your dashboard. This area is a magnet for fingerprints, smudges, and dirt, so proper cleaning is routinely required.
Make sure to read your owner’s manual to see if there are any specific recommendations about cleaning your infotainment screen. Different vehicles and systems may recommend specific products or processes.
To begin, focus on removing any light dirt or dust with an air duster or a soft bristle brush. Avoid using coarse or wire brushes, as they can easily scratch the plastics that make up your screen. Microfiber towels also work well to gently clean electronics.
Gel cleaners or cleaning putties have become a popular choice for cleaning car interiors. We recommend that you avoid these products for LCD screen cleaning. Cleaning compounds tend to leave behind filmy residue when used on screens.
Instead, use a glass cleaner, along with a soft/microfiber towel, to clean the screen. Make sure to spray the cleaning solution directly onto your towel, rather than the screen. Some cleaners may remove paint from dashboard buttons, so you want to avoid overspray. If you have an older vehicle, you may choose to dilute your cleaning solution with water to further protect older painted surfaces and buttons. Remember to use a cleaning motion that goes either side-to-side or up-and-down to avoid streaks on smooth surfaces.
Protect and Condition Appropriate Surfaces
The many materials that make up your dash benefit from protectants at the end of your cleaning process. Dashboards can develop cracks or fade with time, and leftover chemicals will accelerate this process. You may choose to use two- or three-in-one cleaning products that clean, protect, and hydrate vehicle surfaces, or you may choose to apply conditioners and protectants a la carte.
Protective dashboard sprays are inexpensive and plentiful. These sprays are particularly beneficial if you live in a hotter environment, because ultraviolet (UV) rays can harm dashboards over time. As UV damage is cumulative, it is important to consider protectants in both older and newer cars.
Leather dashboards may require more care than those made from other materials. Over time the natural oils found in leather will break down. This may lead to cracking or fading of the material. A bit of protection will go a long way in maintaining the beauty of your dash.
Alcantara and suede are one of the most delicate dashboard materials around and should be treated as such. These materials are much more susceptible to grease and long-term damage. Proper upkeep and maintenance can go a long way in ensuring that these materials stay plush and durable.
We recommend avoiding any products that leave shine on the dashboard. This can complicate viewing outside the windshield, as the sun can reflect off the dashboard and into the driver’s eyes. Shiny dashboards can also reflect onto the windshield which can distort or block viewership outside the vehicle. Target cleaners, protectants, or conditioners that are known for leaving a matte finish to avoid any possible safety hazards.
Incorporating these steps into a regular cleaning routine will ensure the beauty and longevity of your car’s dashboard. Each time you clean, employ these simple steps: identify the various materials that make up your dash, prepare the surfaces for cleaning by removing large debris, wipe down the main dash, detail the gauge cluster, clean any electronic screens, and protect and condition surfaces as needed. Developing a cleaning routine will help you to protect your vehicle’s dash from wear and tear, and ensure that you have a clean view to enjoy as you drive.