How to Clean a Steering Wheel and Make Your Ride Look Brand New

Being one of the most touched parts of a vehicle, the steering wheel can harbor bacteria, oil, and dirt. Not to mention after a while, it can get sticky and slippery. That’s why to have a better and safer driving experience, every driver should learn how to clean a steering wheel.   

When cleaning a steering wheel, you first should identify the material that it is made of. Then grab the appropriate cleaning supplies, a cloth, or a brush, and remove the dirt. When you are done, whip off the residue liquids, and that’s it.

Before Cleaning the Steering Wheel Identify Its Material

There are many reasons why you shouldn’t start cleaning the steering wheel before knowing which material is made of. For starters, you can damage it with strong chemicals or scratch it with rough materials. That’s why before you get to cleaning, check out what material is the steering wheel made of. 

Keep in mind that car manufacturers use a range of materials, making your job a bit harder when it comes to identifying. Although some materials, such as wood, are easily recognized, others, like leather and polyurethane, might give you a run for your money. 

If you, like me, are not an expert when it comes to identifying a wide range of materials (once again, especially leather,) check out if the car’s brochure is still available online. It can usually tell you what the material in question is. 

Here Are the Most Common Materials Used for Steering Wheels 

Nowadays, there are 14 global corporations that control more than 60 major car brands worldwide, and that’s without including the local businesses. However, most of these manufacturers tend to use similar materials when making steering wheels, and the most commonly are made out of:

  • Leather,
  • Synthetic resin,
  • Faux leather, polyurethane,
  • Plastic,
  • Wood,
  • Metal.

Now that we figured out the material let’s see how to clean a sticky steering wheel and what products are the best for the task.  

Bucket with cleaning supplies
Get all the right supplies before you get to cleaning

How to Clean a Leather Steering Wheel?

Before getting started, you should pick the leather cleaner that will do a good cleaning job. Keep in mind that the leather used in the auto industry has a pH level of 5. And that’s why the cleaner should come close to the same pH value. 

There are many pH-neutral cleaners to choose from, and the decision will be solely yours. However, my recommendation is to use a spray of foam cleaner because they have a good consistency. In the table below I’ll show you my favorite cleaners and their prices.

Price Ratings
Adam’s Car Wash Shampoo$11.994.7
Relentless Drive Wash Soap Kit$24.994.3
Chemical Guys Mr. Pink Foaming Car Wash Soap$39.994.7

When you get the supplies, cover the nearby areas of a steering wheel so you don’t make a mess out of them while trying to clean. Use a larger cloth and cover the whole dashboard. You can also use a cloth to cover the front seats and the windshield. 

The best way to clean the leather steering wheel is by rubbing the cloth with a cleaning supply directly into the material. Try not to put too much pressure and use circular motions while cleaning. If there are some more stubborn stains, use a horsehair brush to remove them (this type of brush won’t damage the leather). 

After the leather is dry, protect it by using a sealant. The sealant will protect the leather from damage, cracks, and discoloration. Remove the extra layer of sealant with a dry cloth or a sponge, and you are good to go. 

Does Rubbing Alcohol Hurt Leather?

The essential detail to remember when dealing with leather is to not use alcohol-based cleaners. Alcohol is frequently used in disposable cleaning products and wipes, which dry out and harm the leather. The best choice is to get cleansers designed specifically for leather, even though it may seem like more money than it’s worth. 

How Often Should You Clean the Leather Steering Wheel?

As you know, leather has that smooth and matte appearance when it is regularly maintained and kept clean. If you want to avoid glossy, grease, or oil marks on the leather, you should clean it at least once every few months. Although if you drive quite often, you can clean it in a shorter time period. 

the interior of a car
Avoid using alcohol to clean leather

How to Clean a Faux-Leather Steering Wheel?

Polyurethane, also known as faux-leather, is the most common type of steering wheel. You’ve probably driven a car that has it, and if you are currently in a predicament of how to clean it, worry not – I have a few tips that will make the process fast and easy! 

Let’s start with the simple question – how do you clean a steering wheel made of faux leather? It is not the same process as with leather material. Here I strongly recommend using an interior cleaning brush (make sure it is not too hard, I just to be safe, always use the super soft one) and an interior cleaning product of sorts.

The whole process is really straightforward, just apply the product on faux leather, and use the brush to agitate it until it starts to foam up. Get a microfiber towel to absorb any remaining product. Spray some water on the surface if it still seems a bit sticky, and use a fresh, clean cloth to wipe away any residue. And that’s it, you are done! 

Cleaning the car steering wheel
A good brush will be your friend during the cleaning

How to Clean a Plastic Steering Wheel?

If you are wondering how to remove sticky residue from the steering wheel made out of plastic, don’t stress, it is quite an easy procedure. All you have to do is get a microfiber cloth, soap, and/or an all-purpose cleaner (APC). APC is usually a gentle detergent, so it won’t harm the plastics, and for more stubborn stains, you can use stain remover. 

What Are the Most Important Steps in Cleaning a Plastic Steering Wheel? 

As I said earlier, everything starts with a microfiber cloth. Grab it and directly spray the APC solution on it. Use the cloth to clean the whole plastic surface. Make sure to wipe everything, including the spokes and spaces between the buttons. 

Then use water to wash the wheel. When you are done cleaning up the solution, if there are still some smudges or stains, repeat the cleaning procedure with an APC and a cloth. Finally, if you are satisfied with the level of cleanliness, whip the wheel with a dry towel and put some car polish on it. That will give it a brand-new and shiny look. 

man in a car at night
Plastic is not that complicated to clean

How to Clean a Synthetic Resin Steering Wheel?

Synthetic resin wheels are very similar to plastic ones, but they are more durable, and that’s why they are used mostly on SUVs. This material is really easy to clean, and the procedure is the same as with plastic wheels. All you should get is soap, water, an all-purpose cleaner, and a cloth. 

To help you, I made a table of some all-purpose cleaners I’ve used in the past. Check out their pros and cons and pick the one that suits you the best.  

Name of the APCProCon
Simple GreenHas a really pleasant scentIt needs to be rinsed
Chemical Guys Signature SeriesIt is a great price It is quite strong so be careful
CloroxIt is bleach-freeYou need to wait for 10 minutes before wiping it
Originally YellowIt is a plant-based cleaning solutionIt takes a bit more scrubbing when you are using it to clean
Tub O’ TowelsTowels are hand safeThey can have an overpowering scent

How to Clean a Steering Wheel Made Out of Wood?

Over the years, wooden steering wheels have gained popularity due to their attractiveness and distinctive appearance. They are available in a variety of wood types, including maple, walnut, and mahogany. Additionally, they can be stained to add more color diversity.

They can be typically found in elegant and vintage vehicles. Furthermore, they can be used in any season because they are made of several types of wood that have been treated to endure extreme weather conditions.

Wood is nearly maintenance-free due to the way it is polished. Typically, lacquer is applied to wooden steering wheels to give them a water-resistant sheen. Therefore, the only care and upkeep required is a quick wipe with a fresh microfiber towel. 

Whenever you complete a thorough cleaning, you should wipe the wood with a mild dish soap solution to get rid of any muck or accumulated dirt. For additional shine, you can also use wood polish wipes or spray, let it dry, and you are ready to take your car for a spin. 

vintage car interior
Polished wood gives off the vintage vibe

How to Clean a Metal Steering Wheel?

There are two ways you can clean a steering wheel made out of metal. Firstly you can use water and some microfiber towels to wipe dirty surfaces. If you do, make sure that you use a dry towel to remove any leftover moisture because we all know what water can do to metal. 

On the other hand, if the metal is way too dirty and needs a bit more than just water to get clean, use APC cleaner to make it shiny again. 

How to Clean a Metal Steering Wheel With APC? 

If you are battling with some stubborn smudges, APC is just what you need. Spray it right onto your microfiber cloth to get started. Avoid spraying the cleaning product directly on the steering wheel because it could coat the entire dash. Let’s be honest, that would prolong the process overall and make a mess.

Place the microfiber towel on metal and use it to wipe the top, rear, and front of the wheel. Remember that metal doesn’t need to be cleaned with gentleness (like leather, for example). When you are satisfied with the level of cleanliness, apply a final wipe with a second microfiber towel to ensure all lingering residue is gone.

If the metal steering wheel is still dirty, after all the cleaning, you will need to use a scrub brush or pad to make it shiny. 

A pro tip (I learned the hard way) – APC should not be used on hot vehicle surfaces also, do not permit the cleaner to dry on the metal. 

classic gray Chrysler car
Metal is not as gentle as other materials on the list

How Can You Clean a Steering Wheel With Natural Products?

Worry not if you are out of cleaners and don’t have the time or money to get another bottle. There are some household items that can help you remove dirt from the steering wheel. All you need to get started is:

  • A bowl,
  • Clean cloth,
  • White vinegar,
  • Lukewarm water.

Start by putting three tablespoons of white distilled vinegar and one cup of warm water in a bowl. Then use a spoon to mix up these two liquids. After you combine the water and vinegar, dip the lint-free towel in that mix. Make sure the towel is moist but not completely drenched.

Then you should use the dampened cloth to wipe the steering wheel on both sides. If it still has dirt or other debris on it, dip the cloth in the liquid and wipe it again. When everything is cleaned, use a different clean, lint-free cloth to dry the steering wheel. And that’s it. 

Although, keep in mind that natural products won’t be able to remove hard stains and are not friendly to all steering wheel materials. 

home cleaner
There are some supplies in your home that could make an excellent cleaner

What Is the Bottom Line When It Comes to Cleaning the Steering Wheel?

When it comes to keeping your car clean, there are no strict rules. You can wash it and clean it as you see fit. However, if you want the steering wheel to be shiny and new-looking, you should pay attention to the cleaners and techniques you are using when cleaning it. 

I’ve been a driver for a long time, and my car is a part of my day-to-day activities, so I like it to look brand new, and using these cleaning tips and tricks makes it possible (and hey, if you learn how to clean seat belts as well, your machine will sparkle all the time). I hope they’ll help you too. Have a safe and smooth ride!