In our last segment, we discussed engine cleaning. Now, it’s time for the last part of our spring cleaning exercise: cleaning the interior.
Start with a clean slate. Most pilots that I know are pack rats. I guess you can never have too many old sectionals, AA batteries, flashlights, napkins, pens, and foggles. Start by bringing a cardboard box out to the airplane and emptying out everything that isn’t screwed down. If you’re anything like me, bring two boxes.
Once everything’s out, get the shop vac. As an experiment, empty it before you begin so you can see what comes out. Now pull out the carpet, possibly the seats and anything else that will help get us access to vacuuming every possible part of the floor of the aircraft. Be sure to get into all of the really tough spots such as around the rudder pedals, under the center console, and below the rear seat. When you’re satisfied that nothing’s left, open the shop vac. Chances are that you’ll have a good start to your collection of spare washers, screws, zip ties, and safety wire. If you find tools, consider changing maintenance shops.
Now that we have a clean slate to work from, get a rag and some contact or other spray cleaner and look for areas with oil or grease that shouldn’t be there, such as sticky floors from leaking master brake cylinders. If you find a problem, don’t put it off; fix it now.
Next, identify all drain holes in the fuselage and ensure that they are clear. One of the most common causes of corrosion in aircraft cabins is standing, trapped water due to blocked drain holes. A simple pipe cleaner can work wonders.
Outside of the airplane, lay the carpeting on a clean flat surface and identify the work that needs to be done (besides vacuuming). Stains can sometimes be easily removed with common shop chemicals such as WD-40 (it’s surprisingly effective). Always test a small, inconspicuous section of carpet or fabric with the cleaner you intend to use to ensure that the color or texture will not be damaged before you move on to the visible areas. Look for broken snaps or other small items that can be easily fixed before the carpet is reinstalled.
Next, move on to the interior plastic and the instrument panel. There are a variety of plastic and vinyl cleaners on the market, as well as protectants available. Avoid automotive products with glossy finishes that can cause glare in the cockpit. If you are interested in more than a cursory cleaning, SEM Sure-Coat is an excellent set of products designed to carefully remove contaminants. Then prep the surface and either re-coat or re-color the plastic or vinyl. Most aircraft instruments have glass faces that can be cleaned with aviation glass cleaner. However, you should always apply the cleaner to a clean rag first, rather than spraying the entire panel or instruments.
If you have leather seats and/or side panels, it pays to use a high-end cleaning/preservative system to keep the leather in top shape. The salt from sweat, contaminants such as spilled drinks, and general UV exposure to unprotected surfaces causes drying and cracking over time. There is a variety of excellent leather products on the market, especially those specifically designed for high-end automotive and furniture leather. Be sure that the final coating includes a UV protectant. In addition, gently spread all of the seams in the seats and use a vacuum to remove the dirt and grit stuck in those crevices. Sand and dirt in these seams wear on the stitching, causing the seams to wear and split prematurely.
If you have fabric seats, you can follow the same procedure that you used for the carpeting, testing a small spot first to ensure that you will not discolor or damage the fabric. Once everything else is done, you can clean the interior of all of the windows with an aviation-specific Plexiglas cleaner. Just as with the plastic cleaning, spray a clean rag first, rather than the entire inside of the glass to avoid overspray throughout the cabin.
With the interior clean, you can retrieve those boxes containing everything that you removed from the interior and, very judiciously, decide what deserves a place back in the aircraft. Chances are that you could gain a fair amount of useful load by taking a Spartan approach to re-equipping the aircraft versus the typical pilot/hoarder approach to filling all pockets and glove compartments to the brim. A few pens, two flashlights, a SIC-SAC, and possibly a relief bag should just about cover what you can’t just carry in your flight bag.
Now you can sit back, breathe in that newly cleaned airplane smell, admire your restored paint from the cockpit, and head back into the sky where your airplane belongs, all content with a job well done and a therapeutic day spent away from the hustle of normal life.
Interested in aircraft maintenance? View the archives of Jeff Simon's Aircraft Maintenance series.
Jeff Simon is an A&P mechanic, pilot, and aircraft owner. He has spent the last 14 years promoting owner-assisted aircraft maintenance as a columnist for several major aviation publications and through his how-to DVD series: The Educated Owner. Jeff is also the creator of SocialFlight, the free mobile app and website that maps over 20,000 aviation events, airport restaurants, and educational aviation videos, including many how-to videos for the subjects of these articles. Free apps are available for iPhone, iPad and Android, and on the Web at www.SocialFlight.com.