I Did A Seats-Out Clean Of My Car And It Felt Amazing

I like fixing my car. I like driving my car. But I have never liked cleaning my car. This week, though, I took the seats out of my old VW and the cleaning was so good it sent me into a frenzy.

I don’t really mind a shabby car. I mean, I don’t leave garbage or spilled food anywhere, but I literally never washed the last car I owned, my beloved Baja Bug. A vacuum or a scrub never interested me.

My new car, however, my ‘74 VW, had horrific old seats in it with busted springs that jammed directly into my gas-pedal-side thigh and next to one of my vertebrae. They needed to come out 1) to get replaced and 2) to give me enough room to install a sweet rear deck where the back seats used to be.


This meant I got to take stock of my car with all of the seats removed. Suddenly, the past 43 years of this car’s life was laid bare before my eyes. I saw every spec of dust, every smudge this car collected in its days with its past owners. I wanted it out.


I happened to be working at my coworker Jason Torchinsky’s house, and that meant that I could borrow his shop vac. My dear god. I could finally clear up every remote corner of every minute crevice. Broken pine needles I’d tracked in from California, somehow resting in the seat rails? Gone. Tiny pebbles that the car had picked up driving across the Southwest tucked down next to the battery? Gone. Decades old horsehair sprinkled down from the old seat cushions? Gone.


I don’t know if this car had ever been cleaned. But then again, I didn’t find any old tabs of acid crammed where the back seat rest used to be, so maybe I’m wrong.

Halfway through I realized there was dust that was genuinely pressed into place that wouldn’t come up with a vacuum. Out of my own mind, I grabbed a couple of shop rags I keep in the car and started scrubbing every inch of exposed metal in the car. I had the carpet out of the trunk that I was also replacing and I got to wipe up every bit of dirt from under the fuse box to inside the well for the spare tire. It felt deeply, life-affirmingly satisfying.


We even re-painted the floors of the car in a rust-proofing black so that things stay tidy.


It’s all inspired me. I’m going to wash clean all that carpet. I’m going to re-attach my drooping upholstery with some spray adhesive. I may even...give my car...a detail.

One thing that I was used to with working on an old car is that everything I try to do ended up getting me dirty. Even checking on some old wires would leave my fingers grubby. Now I can finally go root around in the darker corners of my VW without needing to scour my hands for two minutes in a gas station bathroom.


I can sense the clean now. With the new seats in, new carpet in, cleanliness radiates at me in palpable waves. Every mile in the car feels like a kind of victory. I’ve never experienced something like this before, like an irritating cut finally getting a full wash.


Oh no, wait, I just tracked a bunch of dirt in here while changing the starter on the side of the road. Oh god, I have to do this again, don’t I. This sucks.

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Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.