How To Clean Your Vehicle Without Chemicals!

The sun is shining and it always seems to emphasize dust – especially in a vehicle. My van is a typical mom mobile – it is for the most part really, really messy. Today we deep cleaned our van and I realized this is another area of our lives where traditional, toxic gimmicks advertising ‘cleaning’ and ‘freshening’ are not necessary!  Here are a few simple steps for cleaning your vehicle’s interior without products that contain formaldehyde, phthalates, or fragrance that off-gass into the small confines of your van or car.

Eco-friendly Interior Vehicle Tips

Grab your Dr. Bronner liquid soap. I’ve written about this gentle, organic, fair trade, made in the USA product so many times. But it is my all-in-one household cleaner that also works great on a vehicle’s interior and exterior. Load up a soapy bucket of water with a few squirts of Dr. Bronner (scented or not) and dust the dashboard and any other hard plastic parts of the car. Eliminating dust is important because dust carries lead, phthalates, and can easy be blown around in the small confines of a vehicle. The rag picks up the dust and dirt and leaves behind a wonderful scent – my favorite scented Dr. Bronner soap is the almond scented liquid soap.

How would you ‘air freshen’ your vehicle? Certainly not by purchasing a traditional air freshener seen in any nearby gas station. These contain synthetic fragrance that besides for giving you a headache, contain phthalates once they are hung and start off-gassing your vehicle. There is a must simpler way; dust using a vegetable based soap with essential oil or simply add essential oil directly into water and dust. Or the most obvious – open your car windows and drive! I blurred the below picture so not to pick on any specific brands but it’s the shelf that represents any gas station in North America and they are all filled with synthetic ingredients.

Interior car windows also need cleaning so before reaching for that bottle of Windex that contains carcinogens that will blow through the small confines of a vehicle, grab a squirt bottle with a few drops of essential oil/water mix and your microfiber window cloth or newspaper. You will have streak free, clean windows without using toxic window cleaners. For people that love fuzzy dice or Angry Bird stuffies – give these friends a monthly freshen with a  trip into the freezer or put in direct sunlight to eliminate dust that will collect on these rear-view window or dashboard friends.

My interior van carpets probably take the biggest beating especially with kids eating in the car. All four of my kids recently discovered spits for the first time this baseball season…my van’s floor looks like the under belly of the bleachers at the field. <grin> Before we head to the gas station with the high intensity suction, a sprinkle of baking soda works to absorb carpet odors in the carpet. My kids love to sprinkle baking soda so it’s a great activity for them. I would recommend using the high suction gas station vacuum and then following up at home with a Dyson or HEPA filter if your kids have bad allergies or asthma. The high suction vacuums are great – but I noticed they blow a lot of dust around so it’s great to follow up with the Dyson.

Time to make your dashboard shiny! Traditional wipes or dashboard sprays that are used to ‘polish’ the hard plastic are no longer needed!  Just like cleaning my stainless steel kitchen appliances, I put some olive oil on a paper towel and wiped down the dash and plastic cup holders in the back of the van. My kids helped and thought this method of cleaning was brilliant! I’ve only tested the olive oil polish on our plastic dash board, if you are trying to a different material, test first in a small corner of the dash to ensure it doesn’t stain or discolor your dash.  I have to say – this is the best tip for reducing toxic cleaning supplies with cleaning your car’s interior  – my dash board is shiny and looks fantastic. No smell either – even with parking the van in the hot sun all day.


Picture of my shiny dashboard:

After following these few steps – you’ll have a shiny, clean, car interior without any toxic fumes! We saved the bucket of Dr. Bronners from the interior because it also works great on the exterior of the van. It’s important to understand in a small space like a vehicle that freshening the air with traditional methods is a really bad idea. Any ‘sprays’ like Fabreeze are horrible for human health – read this funny post to understand how I view products like this near my children. You can avoid blowing formaldehyde around your car interior with doing more than ‘masking’ odor… which is all these air deodorizers do by simply opening your window. And with the method of wiping away dust, you are also removing other toxins like lead and VOCs that are carried via the dust sitting on your dash. I would love to hear back from anyone that tries the olive oil method of polishing your dashboard. Remember not to polish the wheel – it does make it slippery and you want to avoid that when driving!

To learn more about Eco-Cleaning Tips for your home – read here!


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5 Responses to How To Clean Your Vehicle Without Chemicals!

  1. Michelle May 19, 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    Will give it a try tomorrow! Great tips. Another my mama taught me is to always first open the windows in the car to let out the BPA off gases. All that hot plastic releases countless toxins into the small car environment. YIKES

  2. Alauna May 20, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    Great tips!! I have an aromatherapy plug in that has little paper squares that I can add my favorite essential oils to. It plugs into the car lighter & is an absolute must for me as I’m usually lugging 2 dogs and a kid around!! It’s a great alternative to the toxic car fresheners on the market.

  3. Kate May 26, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    Great tips. My 3 year old son and I spent 5 minutes cleaning the inside of our car last week with a few e-cloths ( He loves cleaning the car and I like that I don’t have to worry about him breathing in toxic fumes. Plus the e-cloths do a great job so even if he’s doing a typical 3 year old’s job of cleaning, he’s still actually cleaning. It takes us about 5 minutes to clean the windows, dash, cubbies, & mirrors.

    I’m interested in your olive oil on the dash trick, but don’t you think it will actually attract dust like other polishes? I’ll be interested to hear if it gets a sticky/tacky feel to it.

  4. CelloMom May 31, 2012 at 3:54 am #

    Nice tips! I would like to add: please be careful with the dust. Especially in older cars the dust usually contains tiny pieces of carpeting and upholstery that contain flame retardants and plastic softeners. My children do their bit to clean our car, but I always do the vacuum cleaning myself, with our HEPA filtered vacuum, with the canister outside. Recently we got rubber matting for the car: just hose it down, dry, done.

  5. Anahita April 16, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    Great tips. My car is a mom mobile too, funny I never thought of dust carrying lead and other chemicals. I will for sure try the olive oil polish and the baking soda vacuum. Never use windex, my glass cleaner is a spoon of white vinegar and water in a spray bottle.

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