by Dave Toht
Your floor mats are made to take a lot of abuse, but every few months they need a restorative cleaning. Winter is the hardest on mats. By early spring they accumulate enough mud, salt, and sand to make a mat downright crusty. What's the best way to refresh them?
Let's set one notion aside right away: don't even think about using your washer and dryer. Floor mats are tough, but aren't made for the prolonged agitation and abrasion a washing machine delivers. Instead, consider one of the following methods.
Start by "Dry Cleaning"
The more dirt you get rid of by scraping, whacking, and vacuuming, the better. Take each mat from the car. Use a plastic scraper to remove the heavy stuff and then bang on the back of each mat. The resulting cloud of dust shows you how badly those mats needed a clean. Vacuum each thoroughly.
Method 1: A Good Soak
This immersion technique deep cleans with minimal elbow grease. Begin by finding a large, clean container like a new plastic trash can. Fill it with warm water and a cup of non-chlorine laundry detergent. Soak the mats in this solution overnight. Then, work over each mat with a brush stiff enough to penetrate but not so stiff that it tears at the fibers. Rinse out the container and fill it with clean water. Re-immerse the mats and let them rinse overnight. Then let them air dry. If you dry them in the sun, avoid fading by orienting the carpet side away from the sun. You can hasten the drying stage by using a wet/dry vac. Note: Let the mats dry completely to avoid mold or mildew. This may take a full week.
Method 2: The Power Wash
Gather a couple plastic garbage bags and some foam or spray carpet cleaner. After scraping and vacuuming away any caked-on dirt, head to a car wash that has metal clips on the wall for cleaning mats. Apply carpet cleaner to the back of each mat. Brush it in and then hang the mat up carpet side outward. Apply cleaner to the carpet side and brush it in as well. Rinse with the power wash wand, holding it a few feet away until you find that sweet spot where the spray is penetrating but not blasting into the mat. Bag the mats and take them home to dry.
Method 3: The Mechanized Approach
Some car washes have a mat cleaner machine that washes, rinses, and dries (mostly) your mats. All you need is a pocketful of quarters and a willingness to repeatedly feed each mat into the machine. Before you head to such a car wash, do the "dry cleaning" described above. Most machines have a spray wand that sprays soapy solution into the mat, but you may want to supplement it with your own carpet spray, working the cleaner in with a brush. Switch the machine to "wet" and feed the mat in. Some may need to be sent through several times. Then feed them on "dry." Take them home and give them a good air drying.
Dave Toht is a former carpenter and car geek with more than 60 DIY books to his credit. He is grateful to have a car wash with a mat cleaner machine close to his home.