Between the Details: Vacuuming
by: Patrick Horrigan
Owner and Lead Tech at We Care Car Care
Between the Details is a multi-part series on how to maintain your vehicle properly between details. This Chapter is on washing your vehicle without water.
Vacuuming, sounds pretty simple right? The simple answer is that it is easy, unless you want it done right. When a new detailing assistant or tech starts working for me I always start them off learning the art of vacuuming first. There are several reasons for that. First and foremost everyone thinks they know how to vacuum. You get a vacuum cleaner, a long enough hose and special nozzle or two and go to town. Secondly, it’s a good chance for me to show them the difference between what their idea of clean is and what I call clean.
Why bother to vacuum in between details anyway? Is it just to make your car look cleaner, longer? While it does make your car look clean this isn’t the only reason you want to regularly vacuum. Think of all that stuff you drag into the car, like sand, salt, dirt, grass; all as mini pieces of sandpaper. As your feet (or butt) press down and move around on all that stuff you are speeding up the wear on your carpets and other fabrics in your car. Just a few grains of sand in the cracks of your car seats can destroy that nice soft leather surface in no time. Have nice all weather rubber or plastic car mats? While they are great at preventing crud from getting to your carpets and help provide protection even the best mats can’t keep everything from reaching your carpets. Once sand and dirt gets under those mats the sandpaper effect on your carpets is magnified even more with contact between the dirt,
carpet and mats. Now are you ready to go vacuum your car?
Here is what you will need
Vacuum Cleaner: Almost any vacuum would be better than nothing. While your average
home upright vac and a few attachments will get the job done I recommend a wet/dry shop type vacuum with at least 3hp rating. The vacuums I use in my business are all Husky 5hp, 4 gallon wet/ dry vacuum available from Home Depot as well as HERE. This vacuum is small enough for our mobile operation and fit inside larger vehicles if we need it but still has 130 inches of waterlift making it one of the most powerful single stage vacuum running on regular household power. We also use the optional HEPA filter to help keep the dust and stuff out of the air in the area we are working.
Attachments: You will need at minimum a crevice tool attachment to get into all the little nooks and crannies. Most car vacuuming kits also include both a stiff carpet brush attachment and softer brush for seats and dash as well as a longer, more flexible hose that can help with larger vehicles. We use this Ridgid Auto Detailing Kit and it contains everything you need.
Not all carpets are created equal
In today’s modern cars you will find a variety of different carpet types and quite often several styles in the same car. The carpet type in the passenger area is normally different then the carpeting using in the cargo and trunk area, even on the most expensive cars. Most high end cars such as Audi and Mercedes use a wool or synthetic wool loop pyle style carpet in the passenger area and a cut pile in the trunk. Less expensive cars have carpet that is so lightweight and loosely woven it can hardly called carpet. Extra care must be taken when using more powerful vacuum cleaners with these because under full suction you can actually start unraveling the carpet!
Closed loop and open loop tight woven carpets are the easiest to vacuum since most of the debris does not get trapped in the actual carpet itself as bad. Other vehicles, such as a Toyota Prius, Honda Fit or Mitsubishi Lancer, carpets are so difficult to clean you may not get everything out without damaging the carpet. The loose carpeting can start to unravel if you apply the full suction of the vacuum trying to get stuck in dirt.
The vacuuming process is basically the same with all types of carpets and pretty straightforward. First step is to remove all the loose trash that should not be sucked up by the vacuum. Also keep an eye open for ‘lost treasures’. Seats love to hide pens, change and other small items lost from view. On to the vacuuming.
I always work top to bottom inside the vehicle vacuuming and cleaning. It keeps you from knocking back into the carpet dirt and debris from the seats and dash. Start with a soft brush attachment and vacuum the dash, trim and vents. The vacuum will pick most of the junk without having to use a wet and wipe method first. The next step, move onto the seats. Seats love to hide crud between the seams and where the side bolsters meet the bottom cushion and where the seatback meets the bottom cushion. Start with a crevice tool and with vacuum out the cracks and where the seatback meets the cushion. I always tells my guys to “spread the cheeks” to stretch the gaps and get down deep. Next, switch to either the soft dash brush for leather seating surfaces or stiffer carpet brush for cloth seats and vacuum the rest of the seat. If you still have debris in the crevices of the seats the brush will help to loosen it up. When you vacuum the rear seats make sure lift the seatbelts as some of them sit in molded pockets and love to collect stuff.
Once you have vacuumed all other surfaces its onto the floor. Remove the mats from the vehicle and shake out any loose stuff. If you have carpeted or foam backed mats, take care as to where you put them down since they can pick up more stuff off the ground that wasn’t there when you removed them.
When its time to vacuum the actual floors it doesn’t matter if you start in the back and work forward or the other way around. Start by making a first pass with a wide mouth attachment or no attachment at all and get all the loose easy stuff first. This should only take a few minutes, not worrying about the stuck in dirt. Once you have completed a quick vac, move onto working around and under the seats with your crevice tool. I would not recommend blindly fishing your vacuum hose with no attachment under and around the seats because the vacuum WILL stuck up at least one large item you didn’t see. A crevice tool will keep the large items from getting in the vacuum and can actually help you retrieve items you couldn’t reach.
Once you have completed vacuuming around and under the seats the only thing left on your carpets will be either stuck/ ground in dirt and stains. The best way to get most of the stuck in dirt is with a brush. Using your brush attachment or a separate stiff bristle brush lightly scrub the brush over the dirt while under vacuum. This will loosen up and suck away most of what is left. Make sure to take care again vacuuming the carpet found in inexpensive imports. Heavy brushing will loosen up and separate the fibers of the carpet in the same way too much suction will. You will not be able to get everything out of these carpets no matter how much you brush or vacuum. If you have stuck items that are bothersome I have had some success using tweezers, although it can be quite a tedious process!
The last step of vacuuming is taking care of your mats. After banging out all the loose debris, take a brush attachment or standard brush and loosen up the remaining stuck in debris. Before putting mats into your vehicle make sure you also look for dirt on the backside. Cloth and foam back mats pick up stuff much easier then the front/ top side of the mat. Even hard plastic mats can pick up larger items in the barbs used to keep mats from slipping around.