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Light vs Dark Interior: Pros & Cons of Each, Plus Helpful Cleaning Tips

When buying a new vehicle, which option would you choose: The classy vibe of dark-colored leather seats or the clean and pristine look of a light-colored interior? We were curious, so we put together this pros and cons list after conducting a Twitter poll (more on that below). We will also share some best practices for taking care of your interior, be it a lighter or darker one.

We Join The Dark Side (Usually)

No amount of sweet talk (or discounted prices) will sway me in buying a new vehicle with light-colored leather or cloth seats, or any car with a lighter-themed interior of any kind. And when I say light-colored interiors, I’m talking about the usual suspects: white, beige, or any hue that is lighter than gray.

I’ve been cleaning and detailing cars since I was 15. My dad’s old Nissan Sunny came with gray cloth seats from the factory, but he insisted on having these darn white seat covers that matched his “flawless white paint job.” I admit, the interior looked fantastic with the freshly-washed and pressed seat covers. But as a daily driver, those white seats began changing from off-white to dirty white to a grayish, smoky haze before long. It’s a good thing seat covers are washable, but you can’t remove the factory leather and run it through the washing machine.

My first new car was a Mitsubishi coupe, and it came with black leather seats (and red stitching) from the factory. I spent more time waxing and polishing the paint (it’s was a black car) than cleaning the interior, and I had the thing for 10 years. I learned early that no amount of care will protect leather seats from cracking or fading as the car ages. I also found that black or dark interiors (whether cloth, leather, vinyl, or any fabric) are infinitely easier to clean than light-colored seating materials.

Photo of a darker-colored vehicle interior versus one of a lighter color.
What is your preference? Would you rather drive a vehicle with a darker or lighter interior?

Lighter Interior: Pros & Cons

When it comes to lighter interiors, here’s what to expect.

What’s Great

  • White or light-colored interiors give the cabin a more airy and spacious feel.
  • In an expensive luxury SUV or sports car, light interiors are more elegant and classy.
  • Lighter colors will attract less heat. White reflects all wavelengths of light, which means a cooler cabin during the blistering hot summer.

What’s Not So Great

  • The seats might be cooler in the summer, but they are dirt magnets.
  • Not a good choice if you’re a fast foodie. Imagine a glob of Ketchup on white leather.
  • Lighter interiors are sometimes considered a premium option, depending on the make and model. That means you will pay more for them, although how much can vary. For example, the Porcelain Nappa leather option for the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is about a $4,500 upgrade. By contrast, the Brown Light Frost interior option for the Jeep Grand Cherokee is $695.

Darker Interior: Pros & Cons

Black or darker colors have their advantages, but it’s not all roses and honey, either.

What’s Great

  • Easier to clean.
  • Sportier vibe and more athletic feel.
  • Darker colors go well with almost any exterior paint option. For instance, a yellow car with a black interior is fine, but with white, it might look odd. The “black-on-black” combination is as popular as ever, meaning a black exterior paint and a black interior. This combo is really sharp, no matter the vehicle.

What’s Not So Great

  • Black or dark cabin materials absorb more light and heat.
  • Darker interiors can look dreary, especially certain shades of gray.

Light or Dark Interiors: What People Said

We conducted a Twitter poll asking our followers what type of interior they prefer. The choices were black, tan, white, and red. In our poll, we classified black as a sporty color, tan as a luxury color, white as a modern color, and red as a performance color. In our poll, 51 percent chose black, 27 percent went with tan, and around 12 percent opted for red. Only 10 percent picked a white interior.

“We thought black might be the preferred interior color, but we were hoping the red, performance-themed interior might score a little higher,” said Carl Anthony, Managing Editor of Automoblog. “When the Pontiac GTO came back in the mid-2000s, there was a red interior option; so maybe we were just feeling overly nostalgic – and optimistic – when we ran this poll.”

How Can I Keep My Interior Looking New?

Regardless of what color interior you have, here are some helpful tips.

Light Interior Cleaning Tips

Leather

  • Do not rub leather seats when cleaning.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner to remove surface dirt and dust.
  • Never use dish soap, all-purpose cleaners, or strong laundry detergents.
  • Wipe up spills, mud, and dirt as soon as possible to reduce the possibility of stains.
  • Use a leather cleaner and a microfiber towel to clean white leather seats periodically.
  • If you don’t have leather cleaner, use a mild PH-neutral, water-based cleaner mixed with water.
  • Use a soft leather brush and leather cleaner to remove stubborn dirt. Wipe off the excess with a clean, dry microfiber towel.

Cloth

  • Vacuum the interior at least once a week to remove excess dust and dirt.
  • Minimize any stubborn stains using rubbing alcohol and a small cotton ball.
  • Use a water-based, PH-neutral cleaner mixed with water and a soft interior brush to remove dirt and stains from cloth seats.
  • Wipe away excess moisture using a microfiber towel and allow the seats to air dry. Leave the doors open or windows down if necessary.

Dark Interior Cleaning Tips

Leather

  • Use a damp microfiber cloth to remove visible dirt from dark leather seats.
  • You can use a soft leather brush to agitate the surface mildly. Do not rub leather seats!
  • Avoid dish soap or detergent. Instead, use a quality leather cleaner and microfiber towel.
  • Apply a leather protector after cleaning to restore, nourish, and protect the seats from abrasion and UV exposure.

Cloth

  • With black or dark cloth seats, the vacuum cleaner is your best friend. Vacuuming the interior once a week will work wonders for black cloth seats.
  • Use a mild PH-neutral cleaner mixed with water and a soft cleaning brush to eliminate stains. You can also use a microfiber towel to achieve the same result.
  • Allow the seats to air dry after cleaning.

Light or Dark Interior? Does it Matter?

In the end, it doesn’t matter if your vehicle has a dark or light-colored interior. What really matters is periodic cleaning and routine maintenance to keep your interior looking good as new.

Alvin Reyes is an Automoblog feature columnist and an expert in sports and performance cars. He studied civil aviation, aeronautics, and accountancy in his younger years and is still very much smitten to his former Lancer GSR and Galant SS. He also likes fried chicken, music, and herbal medicine.

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