Although a basic car wash will clean most of your vehicle, trim areas sometimes require additional cleaning to restore factory color and quality. This post shares steps for cleaning exterior and interior trim and explores why uncared-for trim may fade or even crack over time.
To clean exterior car trim: Apply a mixture of car soap and water using a wash mitt, rinse with water, dry with a microfiber towel, and apply a trim detailing product. To clean interior trim: remove large debris by hand or vacuum, dust the plastic trim with a damp microfiber cloth, and finish with a trim detailing product.
Disclaimer: Before using any new cleaning product, we recommend conducting a spot test. A spot test is a small-scale test that occurs in an out-of-sight area. Apply your new product and wait to see if there are any harmful or unwanted results before moving on.
How to clean exterior car trim
Exterior car trim takes the brunt of the damage from the sun, road, and elements. Fortunately, with routine upkeep and cleaning, you can keep your exterior trim looking fresh for the foreseeable future. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Hose or water bucket
- Car soap
- Wash mitt
- Microfiber towels
- Trim detailing product
*Note: If you’re dealing with stains or old coatings, you will need a prep wash or all-purpose cleaner – more on that below.
Apply a mixture of car soap and water via wash mitt
Before applying a trim cleaner, it’s crucial to rinse away any loose dirt or debris. Using a trim detailer on a debris-coated surface will result in uneven coating and unsightly spotting.
Apply a mixture of car soap and water to the trim area. Trim can run above the wheel wells, so we recommend that you work from top to bottom. Use straight passes with the wash mitt, going from side to side over the trim. Avoid using pressure; let the soap and wash mitt lift dirt to prevent potential scratching.
Dealing with stains and old coatings
Weather and daily road wear may cause old coatings to degrade, leading to staining residue. Factor in road grime, and you’ve got a recipe for an unsightly mess.
Before applying a trim cleaning product, you’ll want to ensure you fully clean off old coatings, along with any dirt or stains. Failing to do so will result in a textured, spotted, or uneven finish.
If you’re dealing with stains, treat them using an all-purpose cleaner or a prep wash. Either product will remove old coatings, stripping things down to bare trim, which can then be properly cleaned and protected. Your cleaner or prep wash provides enough cleaning strength to remove most stubborn debris without risking any damage to your trim.
Rinse with water
After cleaning your trim, rinse any lingering soap and lift debris using a hose or water bucket. Rinse thoroughly to remove any lingering solution. Remaining soap residue can leave spots behind and result in surface damage if you’ve used a particularly acidic cleaner.
Dry with a microfiber towel
Dry off your trim with a fresh microfiber towel. Wipe away moisture using a side-to-side motion to avoid potential water spotting paint areas surrounding the trim.
Trim tends to absorb water, so a microfiber alone might not be able to dry it entirely. If the trim seems damp, allow some time to air dry. Placing your vehicle in an area with partial to full sun will speed up drying.
Apply a trim detailing product
Now that the trim's surface is free of all dirt and debris, you can restore that deep trim color. If you need a trim detailer, consider Stoner Car Care’s Trim Shine. Trim Shine restores faded trim to make it look new. The product is easy to apply and requires no wiping; simply spray and walk away.
Apply trim cleaning products according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As a rule, most cleaners recommend that you spray several inches away from your trim and use a conservative amount of cleanser to start; it’s much easier to apply more product than wipe excess off.
Trim detailers often contain compounds that help prolong trim lifespan. The sun’s harsh UV rays and outdoor temperatures can cause your trim to fade or even crack. Detailers won’t just freshen up your trim; they will prolong its lifespan.
So, that’s all you need to do to clean and restore exterior car trim. Let’s move to your vehicle’s interior.
How to clean interior trim
Exterior trim faces the outdoor elements, and interior trim must battle whatever you track into your car. Over time, rocks, dirt, and debris can wear away your interior trim. Here’s what you’ll need to clean the trim inside your cabin:
- Microfiber towels
- Interior Detailer
Remove large debris by hand or vacuum
Car interiors can get dirty fast; odds are your floor area will house cinders, dirt, or crumbs. Remove large debris on and around the trim areas with a vacuum cleaner or by hand. The following step will address dust or other light debris; focus on picking up the large items that can get in your way.
Dust the plastic trim with a damp microfiber cloth
We specifically recommend using a microfiber towel to clean your trim. Microfibers house thousands of tiny fibers within each cloth that attract and trap dust molecules.
After removing sizable debris by hand, take a fresh microfiber towel and dampen it with water. You want your cloth to be only slightly moist, not dripping wet. Run the damp cloth over your trim to remove dust and small debris.
Finish with an interior detailer
Once your interior trim is wiped clean, you can use a trim detailing product to revive that deep color and shine. If you need an interior trim detailing product, consider Stoner Car Care’s Trim Clean. Trim Clean restores the true color of plastic trim and rubber floor mats. It will also work well on upholstery and carpeting to revive the color and remove stains. This product is easy to apply – making it an excellent choice for those seeking a straightforward clean.
Always read the back of any new product before use. Generally speaking, you can expect to apply your interior trim cleaning product, then allow it some time to sit before wiping it away with a fresh microfiber towel.
How trim wears down over time
Whether outside or inside, auto trim faces numerous contaminants daily. The factors below can contribute to trim fading or cracking over time:
UV Rays from the sun
Perhaps trim’s main threat is the sun. Your trim is exposed to the sun’s harsh UV rays whenever you travel or park your vehicle outdoors. Over time, these intense rays dehydrate and degrade the plastic, causing it to fade or even crack.
How can a solid like plastic become dehydrated? Plastics contain oils that eventually begin to evaporate and degrade. Unlike your car’s exterior paint, trim doesn’t have a clear coat or protective layer for protection. If your trim has been affected by ultraviolet rays, you’ll probably notice some or all of the following:
- Color change or fading
- A brittle and flaking surface
- Dull, chalk-like appearance
Exterior trim faces harsh elements such as road chips, weather conditions, and extreme temperatures. These conditions can lead to fading, chipping, or cracking over time.
Trim away dirt and grime!
Cleaning your car’s exterior and interior trim has many benefits. Besides offering a nicer appearance, cleaning your trim helps keep it in tip-top condition. Follow these steps to clean either type of trim – To clean exterior car trim: Apply a mixture of car soap and water using a wash mitt, rinse with water, and dry with a microfiber towel. To clean interior trim: remove large debris by hand or vacuum, dust the plastic trim with a damp microfiber cloth, and finish off with a trim detailing product. Investing in a quality trim cleaner (and volunteering a little elbow grease) will pay off in keeping your trim shined and protected for the long haul.