How To Remove Scratches from A Plastic Car Interior?

Plastic car interiors are often some of the most durable and popular options since they need far less maintenance than other kinds of interior. After all, you don't have to oil plastic parts as you need to oil and clean leather seats, and you don't have to vacuum plastic the way you vacuum fabric details. Simple soap and water are more than enough for regular cleaning. 

Unfortunately, plastic is not impervious to damage. Day to day use over time will add up, and you’re almost inevitably going to scratch the surface of your plastic interior - especially if you use your car every day, have kids, or like to take long trips in your vehicle. Taking pets on car rides can also cause particular wear and tear on your plastic interior, making it that much more likely that you'll need to remove some scratches to keep the plastic looking good. 

How to Remove Scratches From A Plastic Interior

There are two options when it comes to removing scratches yourself. You can go to an auto parts store and buy a specialized kit that comes with the tools you need to fix and buff scratches. These kits tend to be a little easier to use. However, a scratch kit is usually only filled with enough supplies to handle a couple of scratches. If you’re dealing with a particularly large plastic scratch, the kit may only give you enough to repair a single scratch. 

Alternatively, you could put together your own kit that would let you fix a lot more scratches. The upfront cost is usually a little higher for putting together your own kit, but the long-term prices are lower since you won’t have to replace the entire kit every few new scratches. 

Here are the things you’ll need for your own plastic scratch repair kit:

  • Crafting heat gun (helps make the plastic pliable and easier to shape)
  • Interior grain pad (essential for matching the texture of the surrounding plastic)
  • Superfine sandpaper 
  • High-quality car interior cleaner

These supplies will make it easier to mimic the exact texture and finish of the original plastic without filling it in or finding a paint that matches your interior plastic color. 

Of course, you can also get some car repair and aesthetic specialists to repair the scratch for you. However, paying a professional to fix a scratch is usually the most expensive option, even though it also offers some of the best results. 

Step 1: Cleaning the Plastic

The first thing you need to do to repair a plastic scratch is to make sure the whole area is clean. The last thing you want is to accidentally permanently attach dust and other debris to the plastic with the heat gun. 

A quick scrub down with your car interior cleaner, followed by some water to wipe off any cleaner residues, will help make sure the plastic’s color and texture aren’t changed by any debris hanging out on the plastic when you start. 

Make sure to give yourself a little drying time before you move on to the next step. Extra moisture could cause problems and even make the plastic more brittle as it evaporates under the heat gun. 

Step 2: Heat the Plastic

The next step is to use your heat gun to start to soften the plastic around the scratch. Most heat guns need around half-strength for interior plastic, but some of the cheaper models might need a little more powerful setting. 

Check the plastic occasionally to see if it’s started to soften. Interior plastic won’t always change in appearance as it’s warming up. It’s good to use a small tool or a pair of gloves when you’re checking the plastic to minimize burn risk. 

If the plastic starts to look slightly shiny, it’s probably ready. Go slow here. Overheating can burn the plastic and make the scratch irreparable. 

Step 3: Texture the Plastic

Once the plastic is ready, you’re about 90% there. For most scratches, you won't need to manipulate the plastic to cover it and hide it. However, you can use a metal tool to manipulate the plastic for a larger scratch and help cover any gaps. Large gaps probably aren't fixable with this method, unfortunately. 

Next, grab your interior grain pad. The pad should have a few different standard textures to choose from, so look for the matching texture. Hold the right pad next to the heated scratch area so you can line up the patterns as much as possible so the repaired scratch will blend in. 

Use the pad to press the texture into the plastic to cover the scratch. 

If the texturing doesn’t entirely take, wait for the plastic to cool. You don’t want to heat and reheat plastic too often because it will get more brittle the more often you heat it. Come back a couple of hours later and reheat the plastic if you need to retexture it. 

Step 4: Clean the Plastic Again

After you’ve finished texturing the plastic, you should clean everything off. Much like re-texturing the plastic, it's best to wait for the plastic to have fully hardened before you begin cleaning. Otherwise, the water or cleaning chemicals may change the texture or color of the plastic. 

It’s a good idea to wait about an hour before you clean the plastic to be on the safe side. 

If, while you’re cleaning, you notice that the plastic is a little rough feeling or is too smooth, that’s when you’ll grab your fine-grit sandpaper. Scrub the sandpaper across the plastic for a minute or so, occasionally checking to see if the texture is right. If the texture doesn't match the rest of the plastic, you can sand the area around where the scratch was and help them blend. 

Once you’ve finished sanding, give the plastic one last clean and dry, and you’re done! 

Unfortunately, this method doesn't work for larger scratches and doesn't work for large gashes through the plastic. In those cases, you'll likely have to replace the interior panel. Fortunately, interior panel replacements are usually more affordable than replacing exterior panels.