How To Clean Your Steering Wheel & What To Use
It's important to clean your steering wheel regularly for both hygienic and appearance reasons. It is the most touched part of any car, truck, or SUV -- so naturally it will start to accumulate dirt and grime from contact with your hands over time. This build up of dirt and film can even get "gummy" to the touch or just visibly look bad (e.g., discoloring, shining) while also being a playground for harmful bacteria.
All of this can be avoided with routine cleaning. Here are some tips to clean your steering wheel, regardless of the type or material composition in your particular vehicle.
What do you need to clean a steering wheel?
Luckily this job is successful completed with 3 fairly basic detailing products.
Tools Needed To Clean Most Steering Wheels:
- A soft microfiber towel
- A gentle interior cleaner
- A soft detailing brush
At the risk of stating the obvious, a gentle soap will help break down the dirt, the brush will supercharge this process, and the microfiber towel will remove the grime leaving your steering wheel looking new again. Now let's go into each tool with a little more detail!
A 300GSM "utility towel" is our go-to microfiber for this job. We typically save the super plush, 400+ GSM towels for the exterior of the vehicle. The fabric piles provide the perfect amount of friction to remove contaminants, plus 300GSM towels are also super affordable and can be purchased in large quantities.
Almost any "interior cleaner" will get the job done. We like GLOVEBOXRx™ Interior Cleaner, Lithium's Hyper Cleanse, and Detail Firm's Interior Lather. The key is to have a mild soap or detergent to soften up the dirt on your steering wheel without being too abrasive and possibly cause staining or discoloring.
This tool is optional, however once you've added the detailing brush to your interior cleaning routine you'll never stop using it. The brush is used to agitate the soap which helps clean and dislodge stubborn deposits and stains, leaving you with noticeably better results.
A couple additional notes: if you do not have a dedicated interior cleaner you can use a mild soap or detergent to soften up the dirt on your steering wheel if you are in a pinch. Some All Purpose Cleaners could be used in place of an interior cleaner but if not diluted properly they can damage the materials on the steering wheel. Always consult the product manufacturer's directions before going hog wild with an APC, and err on the "mild side" when diluting if in doubt.
If you have a really filthy steering wheel you can also call in the big guns with a scrub pad like the AutoFiber Scrub Ninja which has a more aggressive material that will make quick work of the worst steering wheels.
Lastly, anytime you clean an area that is highly visible - and you don't get much more visible than the steering wheel - it is always wise to test your process and products in an inconspicuous place before cleaning the entire steering wheel just in case something doesn't look right.
What types of steering wheel materials are there?
Steering wheels are made from a number of materials and each one will require a slightly different method or product to clean and maintain it. Here are some of the most popular steering wheels we see out there:
- Genuine Leather Steering Wheels
- Faux Leather or Vegan Leather Steering Wheels
- Plastic Steering Wheels
- Real Wood Steering Wheels
- Billet Aluminum Steering Wheels
- Alcantara Steering Wheels
While these are the most common steering wheels out there, you may see others and may need to do additional research or testing before doing a full cleaning on that African Cobra Skin wrapped steering wheel with custom embroidery.
How to clean leather steering wheels?
Leather steering wheels are probably the most common type you will see and can be tricky to clean depending on how deteriorated or stained they are. But they also offer some of the most stunning before/after shots around! Most leather steering wheels are extremely durable but also depend on the age of the leather. If your leather steering wheel is in good condition, then a gentle interior cleaner like GLOVEBOXRx™ should do the trick. Make sure to apply it sparingly and work it into any seams or stitching with a brush for best results. If there are heavy stains that require more scrubbing use a Scrub Ninja or similar scrubber for the best outcome. Afterwards, make sure you dry off any excess moisture and condition the leather with a quality leather conditioner like Lithium Leather Love or Hide Rehab to nourish it back to health.
Steps to clean a leather steering wheel:
- We like to cover gauge clusters and dashboard materials from overspray or smudging from our microfiber towel
- Spray your interior cleaner or leather cleaner on the steering wheel and let sit for 15-30 seconds
- Spray additional interior cleaner or leather cleaner on your microfiber towel, detail brush, or Scrub Ninja
- Begin cleaning the steering wheel with light to moderate pressure and increase as needed
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 as needed until you reach the results you are looking for
- Dry off any excess cleaning products with a dry microfiber towel
- Apply a UV protectant or leather condition to help maintain your leather and keep it nourished and protected down the road
How should you clean a faux leather steering wheel?
Faux leather steering wheels are one of the trickiest to clean because you can easily ruin or stain the material if using a harsh chemical. These steering wheels are common in many electric vehicles on the market, i.e., most Teslas. When cleaning faux leather you will want to be especially careful and test out your cleaners in an inconspicuous spot first. Make sure to use only a gentle interior cleaner like GLOVEBOXRx™ Interior Cleaner, as this will help minimize any risk of ruining the faux leather. We recommend using a microfiber cloth for light scrubbing and then drying off with another microfiber towel afterward to help prevent streaks. Teslas and many other manufacturers have white faux leather steering wheels which become dirtier much faster and may take some patience to bring them back to the level of cleanness you are looking for.
Steps to clean a faux leather steering wheel:
- Cover any gauge clusters and dashboard materials
- Spray your cleaner sparingly on the steering wheel and let sit for 15-30 seconds
- Lightly scrub the steering wheel with a microfiber cloth or damp detail brush
- Repeat your cleaning step as needed
- Dry off any excess cleaning products with a dry microfiber towel.
- If desired, apply a UV protectant or interior coating to help maintain your faux leather steering wheel's appearance
How should you clean a plastic or resin steering wheel?
Plastic or resin steering wheels are the most common type you will find in older vehicles and trucks. These steering wheels can also be very difficult to clean depending on how stained and dirty they are. We recommend using a high-quality interior cleaner or Vinyl & Plastic cleaner like Malco offers to bring life back into these steering wheels. These cleaning products are designed to penetrate heavy stains while giving the steering wheel a uniform matte finish that helps hide scratches and general wear and tear over time.
Steps to clean a plastic/resin steering wheel:
- Cover any gauge clusters and sensitive areas
- Spray your interior cleaner or vinyl/plastic cleaner on the steering wheel and let sit for 15-30 seconds
- Using light to moderate pressure, scrub the steering wheel with a microfiber cloth or damp detail brush and increase pressure as needed so you do not cause scratching of the plastics
- Repeat steps 2 & 3 as needed until you reach the desired results
- Dry off any excess cleaning products with a dry microfiber towel
- If desired, apply a protectant to help maintain your plastic or resin steering wheel's appearance and make it easier to clean in the future
How do you clean a real wood steering wheel?
Real wood steering wheels are often found in classic and vintage vehicles. Wood steering wheels can be very delicate to clean so it's important to start with a gentle cleaner, detail spray, waterless wash, or even warm soapy water. We recommend using a soft microfiber cloth when cleaning your real wood steering wheel to prevent marring the finish. We do not recommend any interior scrubbers as these may damage the finish of the wood on the steering wheel. Wood steering wheels usually have a clear finish on them and will not build up as much contamination as other steering wheel materials and should clean up easily.
Steps to clean a real wood steering wheel:
- Cover any gauge clusters and sensitive areas around the steering wheel
- Spray your wood steering wheel with your interior cleaner or use a microfiber cloth with warm soapy water on the steering wheel
- Using light pressure and wipe off the surface of the wood
- Dry off any excess chemicals or soap with a dry microfiber
- Add a protective sealant or wax to help maintain your steering wheel and prevent UV damage from the sun
How to clean a billet aluminum steering wheel?
Billet aluminum steering wheels are often found in classic and modern muscle cars as well as some trucks. Cleaning billet aluminum steering wheels can be a bit tricky as these steering wheels can have a highly polished finish that needs to be taken care of with the proper methods. Wizards Metal Polish is one of our favorite metal polishes for polished aluminum and does a wonderful job restoring the shine to metal surfaces. We recommend using a gentle interior clean or waterless wash and metal polish specifically designed for polishing aluminum surfaces. It's important to use light pressure when cleaning your aluminum steering wheel; too much force will cause scratching and marring of the surface which is more difficult to remove than dirt or debris. You do not want to create heavy scratches in aluminum as normal polishing will most likely not remove them. Many billet aluminum steering wheels also have leather wrapped around the hoop of the wheel so try and not to get metal polish all over this as it could stain the leather.
Steps to clean a billet aluminum steering wheel:
- Cover any delicate surfaces with a microfiber towel like your gauges, steering column, and dashboard
- Spray the billet aluminum with your interior cleaner and wipe thoroughly
- Then take a clean microfiber towel or pad and dip it into your metal polish and begin applying it to the metal surface
- Continue working the metal polish and remove as much contamination and oxidation as possible (this will be black staining on your towel)
- For a higher shine, you can use a finer polish and a microfiber polishing pad on a drill or rotary polisher
- Seal the aluminum with a paint sealant to help maintain the luster of the wheel and prevent fingerprints from etching the metal
What is the best way to clean an Alcantara steering wheel?
Last but not least, Alcantara steering wheels are becoming more popular in newer cars and trucks, especially in exotics and luxury sports cars. Alcantara is a very sensitive material -- almost like suede -- and it can be difficult to clean if you use the wrong product or tool. We recommend using a gentle interior cleaner like the GLOVEBOXRx™ Interior Cleaner or Sonax's Alcantara Cleaner which will help break up any dirt or debris without harming the material. You may also want to consider using a soft brush like our microfiber detail brushes for removing heavier contamination from your Alcantara steering wheel as well as a fine-bristled brush for cleaning around crevices or stitching.
Steps to clean an Alcantara steering wheel:
- Spray your Alcantara with an interior cleaner or waterless wash
- Gently scrub the Alcantara using a soft brush or microfiber towel to agitate dirt and debris
- Wipe off the surface with a clean microfiber towel
- For heavier contamination, use a fine-bristled brush to get into small crevices or stitching
- Lightly pat your steering wheel to allow the Alacantara to dry faster
How often should you clean your steering wheel?
It is important to clean your steering wheel regularly -- we prefer to clean it with every exterior wash, however recommend cleaning at least once a month. This will prevent stains and grime from building up over time, resulting in an easier cleaning process the next time.
GloveBox believes cleaning your steering wheel should be part of your regular vehicle maintenance routine and will help maintain the appearance of the interior. Take a few minutes each month to give your steering wheel a good cleaning and you’ll be glad you did!