How to Clean Dirty Cup Holders in Car: A Simple Guide

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While detailing a car interior, people usually have problems cleaning cup holders since they’re always full of dirt and stains from various beverages.

In this post, I’ll show you the exact steps I take to clean car cup holders, no matter what they are stained with.

How To Clean Car Cup Holders

dirty car cup holders

Here are the exact steps I do whenever I clean dirty cup holders in literally any vehicle.

What you’ll need:

  • Vacuum cleaner.
  • A couple of microfiber cloths.
  • All-purpose cleaner or car interior cleaner.
  • Detailing brush.
  • Steam cleaner (optional).

Step 1: Remove Any Loose Dirt

The first step in cleaning your car’s cup holders is to remove any loose dirt and larger specks of debris. By doing this, you’ll create enough free space to clean the cup holders properly. Use your hands to pick up any visible trash, such as wrappers or crumbs, and discard them.

If your car cup holders have removable liners, be sure to take them out as well. This will allow you to clean both the liners and the cup holders themselves more thoroughly. Once you have cleared out the loose dirt and removed the liners (if applicable), you can proceed to the next step in the cleaning process.

Step 2: Vacuum Cup Holders

Next, it’s time to vacuum the cup holders and liners (if you have them). Using a narrow vacuum attachment, thoroughly vacuum the cup holders, making sure to reach all the nooks and crannies.

The more effectively you vacuum, the easier it will be to clean the cup holders in the following steps. By removing as much dirt and debris as possible with the vacuum, you’ll make it simpler to tackle any remaining grime during the subsequent cleaning process.

Related: Best Vacuums for Car Detailers

Step 3: Spray With Cleaner and Agitate with a Detailing Brush

After vacuuming, move on to thoroughly cleaning the cup holders:

  • Spray the Cleaning Solution. Use a car interior cleaner or a properly diluted all-purpose cleaner (APC). Spray enough product inside each cup holder to cover the entire surface. If you’re using a concentrated APC, ensure you follow the manufacturer’s dilution guidelines.
  • Let the Cleaner Settle. Allow the cleaning solution to sit for a short period to penetrate and loosen any stubborn dirt, grime, or residue.
  • Agitate with a Brush. Using a soft detailing brush, gently scrub the inside of the cup holders. If needed, apply additional cleaning solution onto the brush to enhance its effectiveness. Work the brush into all areas, especially tight corners and crevices, to break up any remaining dirt. Be careful not to scratch the surface.

Step 4: Wipe and Dry the Cup Holders

Once you’ve loosened the grime with the brush, it’s time for the satisfying part – revealing the clean surface:

  • Grab a Microfiber Towel: I always reach for a fresh microfiber towel at this stage. Its fine fibers are perfect for picking up the dirt without leaving any scratches.
  • Thorough Wiping: Start wiping the inside of the cup holders. I’ve found that twisting the towel into a point helps to get into those tricky corners and deep crevices. It’s surprising how much dirt can accumulate in those small spaces!
  • Focus on Detail: Ensure you remove all the residue. In my experience, going over the area a couple of times can make a big difference. The first pass absorbs the bulk of the moisture, while the second pass picks up any leftover dirt.
  • Dry Completely: The beauty of microfiber is its ability to absorb liquids without leaving streaks. After wiping, the cup holders and liners should be completely dry. I usually give it a final once-over to admire the cleanliness – it’s always a rewarding moment.

Step 5: Apply Dressing To Cup Holders

Now that your cup holders are spotlessly clean, it’s tempting to call it a day, but there’s one more crucial step. Without a protective dressing, the cup holders can quickly become stained and attract dirt, making your next cleaning session much more challenging. I’ve learned that this extra step is essential for long-term maintenance and ease of cleaning.

To keep the cup holders in pristine condition, I always apply a quality interior dressing. This not only gives them a fresh, like-new appearance but also creates a protective barrier against dirt and spills. The dressing makes future cleaning efforts a breeze, as liquids and grime will have a harder time sticking to the surface.

Optional Step: Using a Steam Cleaner for Stubborn Stains

cleaning car with steam cleaner

Sometimes, despite a thorough cleaning, you might encounter stubborn stains that refuse to budge. This is often the case with cup holders that have been neglected for too long. For these challenging situations, I’ve found that a steam cleaner is an indispensable tool.

A steam cleaner works wonders by using high-temperature steam to break down and lift away nearly 99% of stubborn stains and residues. I’m always amazed at its effectiveness; unless the plastic is damaged, it seems to clear away almost any stain I come across. But here’s a pro tip: don’t just use the steam cleaner on its own. For the best results, I recommend using it in conjunction with your all-purpose cleaner and detailing brush.

Here’s how I do it:

After applying your all-purpose cleaner, use the steam cleaner to go over the cup holders, following the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. The heat will help the cleaner penetrate deeper and loosen the grime. Then, take your detailing brush and gently agitate the area to work the cleaner and steam into the stains. Always handle the steam cleaner with care to avoid burns, and immediately after steaming, wipe the area with a clean microfiber towel to remove any residue.

This combined approach leverages the chemical action of the cleaning solution, the mechanical action of the brush, and the thermal action of the steam, providing a triple threat against dirt and stains. It’s a game-changer for those really tough cleaning jobs.

Related: Best Steam Cleaners For Cleaning Cars

How To Keep Car Cup Holders Clean

cup holders in car

Now that you’ve learned how to clean your car’s cup holders effectively, it’s essential to keep them clean moving forward.

Here are some tips on how to maintain the cleanliness of your cup holders and prevent them from getting dirty again:

  • Use a car interior protectant: Applying a car interior protectant can help make your cup holders non-static, which prevents them from attracting dirt and dust. This will help keep your cup holders cleaner for longer periods.
  • Purchase liners: If your vehicle doesn’t have cup holder liners, consider buying some. Liners provide an extra layer of protection against spills and messes, making it easier to clean your cup holders when necessary.
  • Clean spills promptly: If you accidentally spill a drink or drop some food in your cup holders, clean it up as soon as possible. This will prevent stains from setting in and help maintain the cleanliness of your cup holders.

If you also need a guide for a complete deep cleaning of the car, I suggest that you check out my article, where I share all the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the past few years.

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