How to Keep Your Car Clean

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How to Keep Your Car Clean | A Step-by-Step Guide to Keeping Your Car Clean All Year Long | Organize Your Car | On-The-Go Organization

I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like we live in our car.

Okay, not literally of course—but you might think so if you looked in there! Between backpacks and schoolwork, snacks, games, shopping bags, sports bags, paperwork, extra jackets, and who knows what else, the family car gets a little cluttered and, well, messy.

As busy moms, our cars become our home, office, closet, and more while on the road. Plus, on top of all the “stuff,” there’s this mom-need to be prepared for any scenario, so we keep all kinds of stuff in our cars “just in case.”

But eventually, it all adds up and it’s just TOO MUCH. After way too many cringe-worthy incidents (like a fellow mom getting out of my car with crumbs on her pants from my car seat—eek!), I devised a plan to help me commit to keeping my car clean all year long.

A content woman smiles while sitting at the edge of her car.

Ruthlessly Purge and Clean Out Your Car

First up, set aside an hour or two and do a deep clean of your car. With some garbage bags on hand, divide everything up into the following categories: goes into the house to be put away, goes into the garbage, or stays in the car (which should be a very small pile).

Ruthlessly purge your car. Tackle the backseat, the trunk, the glove compartment, and that space under the seat where empty cups and change collect. Pull out car seats and remove any organizers on seat backs. Don’t forget to check the center console.

Throw away all garbage. Take items like change, extra clothes, paperwork and toys into the house to be dealt with and put away. Any remaining items you’d like to keep in the car should be removed as well.

Take everything (everything!) out of your car.

Once the car is completely empty, vacuum and wipe down all surfaces. Take out all floor mats and shake them. Hose down rubber mats and vacuum off upholstered ones. Spot treat any stains or spots on the seats of your car.

Vacuum the dashboard and console of your car. Using a butter knife or another thin object wrapped in a damp cloth, clean cracks in the console and in your dashboard. Use window cleaner to clean all glass surfaces from the inside of your car. Watch especially for fingerprints in the back windows.

Wipe down each door and check for any lingering wrappers, bottles or little pieces of paper that made their way into the door’s cup holders and pockets. Wipe off window buttons and all handles and touchpoints with a damp cloth.

Vacuum the glove compartment and the console. Clean out the little change holder and wipe it out completely. Really get down in the cracks of the seats and be sure all seatbelts are pulled out and in good working order.

An emergency kit including a first aid kit, fire extinguisher and other materials.

Prioritize Your In-the-Car Needs

After your car is all cleaned out, it’s time to go back through the pile of items you’d like to put back in the car. Ask yourself if you really, truly need each item you’ve determined “belongs” in your car.

Again, I get the mom-need to be prepared, so don’t feel like you have to skimp on preparedness—just be reasonable. We keep two canvas bucket tote bags stocked for the car: one for winter and one for summer. In our winter tote, we keep items like an extra set of mini gloves, an ice scraper, a sweater, and a small fleece blanket. In our summer bag, I’ve packed sunscreen, an extra pair of flip-flops, an umbrella, and a spare t-shirt. Both tote bags also include an extra garbage bag (which can serve as a poncho, a seat protector, or a myriad of other things), a small pack of hand wipes and a $10 bill.

In the trunk, I keep a car emergency kit, which contains jumper cables and an old towel. In the winter (especially in cold climates), you may also want to include deicer, a small shovel, and a heavy-duty blanket.

In our glove compartment, we keep the paperwork for the car, including our AAA information, insurance information and registration. There’s also the car manual, a tire gauge, and a roll of quarters for emergencies. I’ve also packed a small flashlight and a phone-charger cord (our car has a USB port).

In the center console, I keep a pocket pack of tissues, and a small first aid kit with rubber gloves, bandages, pain relievers and alcohol prep pads. In the first aid kit there’s also a small pocketknife and matches. I keep a couple of chocolate-free (no melt) granola bars in there as well and a reusable shopping bag that folds up into a tiny pocket.

An athlete's bag with ballet shoes and a water bottle.

Plan to Stop Using Your Car as Storage

As a family, we’ve made a commitment to bring in everything from the car whenever we go to and from the house. This means backpacks, purses, sweatshirts, shopping bags, lunches, water bottles—EVERYTHING. This rule is a concerted effort to fight the flow of stuff and end the “car as storage” mentality.

When we go to dance lessons or a craft activity, we bring the bag of supplies we need with us. If we’re heading to the gym, to church or to a work meeting, I have various bags that go with me, each containing everything I’ll need. Each of these bags leaves the car with me when I exit.

In my purse, I try to carry items we may need that don’t store or hold up very well in a hot car, like lip balm, gum, lotion, and sunscreen.

A woman driving a car and eating a banana.

Consider a “No Eating in the Car” Rule

One of the biggest car mess-busters I’ve found? I know this won’t be a popular answer, but we’ve simply stopped eating in the car. I swear, when we eat in the car, no matter how careful we try to be, we always end up with crumbs and spills. It’s inevitable and nearly impossible to avoid in a moving vehicle!

In this day and age, with fast food joints on nearly every corner, it’s tempting to go through the drive-thru and munch along on your road trip. We’ve actually found it slows us down and helps us appreciate the experience more when we sit together as a family and eat. We’ll find a picnic table, spread a blanket out on the grass at a park, or pull over at a rest stop and get out to enjoy our snack and our time together. It helps us avoid a stressful “mad rush” feeling when we’re trying to get to a destination and it keeps our car clean.

If you absolutely MUST eat in the car for whatever reason, try sticking to dry, non-sticky snacks like pretzels or carrot sticks. Enjoy water rather than sticky soda or juice, and keep coffee in a spill-proof travel mug. These little precautions really help us keep our car crumb and sticky-spill free!

A woman vacuuming her car seats.

When Your Passenger Has an Emergency…

With kids, life happens. Someone will have an accident, a spill, get wet, get muddy or end up with gum in their hair—it just happens. Your best preparation is to keep the old towel in your “car emergency kit” and the fleece blanket in your “seasonal car bag.” Both of these items can be quickly spread out on a seat or used to soak up accidents and spills.

When something happens in your car, clean it up right away or as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, cars get very warm and spills tend to set quickly. If there is a smelly spill (or someone gets sick in the car), clean it up as thoroughly as possible, and then sprinkle baking soda over the area of the smell. Allow it to set for a few hours or overnight, then vacuum up.

If you travel with pets, always keep them in a carrier for their safety, as well as yours. Not only will this dramatically cut down on pet hair, but pets can be very distracting in the car, potentially causing accidents. If your pet isn’t secured, they might be injured during a sudden stop. Never leave a pet (or anyone for that matter) in a car, even for a short time. The temperature in your car can climb quickly. In just ten minutes, an 80-degree car can climb to over 100. Keep everyone safe by never ever leaving anyone parked, even for just a minute.

If you’re ready to commit to ending your car clutter, way to go! Even though so many of us busy moms spend so much time in our cars (so much that for some of us, they end up becoming our traveling “home base”), we’re sure to feel lighter, more relaxed, and more prepared when we commit to fighting the flow of car clutter. While we all use our cars to move items and people, with a clean and organized car, we can tackle any situation that comes our way!

How to Keep Your Car Clean | A Step-by-Step Guide to Keeping Your Car Clean All Year Long | Organize Your Car | On-The-Go Organization



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How to Keep Your Car Clean | A Step-by-Step Guide to Keeping Your Car Clean All Year Long | Organize Your Car | On-The-Go Organization


  1. April 7 at 08:45AM

    Keeping my car clean is a struggle for me. I tend to let it get pretty bad and then clean it like crazy. I have a goal to keep it cleaner simply by tending to it once a month. I LOVE when it’s clean…it looks so nice!

    This weekend is my “once and month” and I am happy say that it’s gonna be in the 70s all weekend, so it’s perfect car cleaning weather!

    Thank you for the tips!

  2. Kristy
    April 7 at 09:35AM

    This is a great guide – thank you! I’d like to mention that if your car has tinted windows, you might not be able to use window cleaner.

  3. April 7 at 09:39AM

    My car is horrible right now! It’s been too cold for months to give it a good clean, but it’s on my “To Do” list for the first nice day! Okay…probably not the first nice day…but soon after! My biggest struggle is with the bags of clothes and toys that I intend to donate. I put them in the car to get them out of the house, and then drive around with them for weeks or months! I found myself in the grocery store parking lot once, with a cart full of groceries and a trunk full of clothes to donate! With the backseat full of kids, it was a very stressful situation!

    Thanks for the motivation and great tips, I’ll use them for sure!

  4. April 8 at 02:23PM

    I definitely struggle to control the clutter in my car. I keep shoes for work, sweaters, shopping bags and all sorts of stuff in there. It’s an ongoing battle!

  5. April 8 at 03:22PM

    I love having a clean car! I even keep a lens cloth handy (like you would use to clean your glasses, or your smart phone screen) to wipe the fingerprints off my nav system touch screen. Also, I bought a cargo net for the trunk. It holds my emergency kit and toolbox in place, and keeps the rest of the trunk open as usable space.

  6. April 8 at 06:45PM

    I just really need a post like this right now. Thank you! I rarely eat in my car and I don’t usually leave stuff in there, but I have a big dirt problem. I have 2 big dogs that go with me a lot of places, namely to the farm where I keep my horses. I have a hatchback, so no trunk where some of the emergency kits, etc in this article suggested I keep my stuff. The back seat is folded flat and 2 old comforters are in the back, so that helps somewhat with dirty dog paws. I also transport my horse feed in the back, so a couple of feed tubs and in the winter months, hay bags. The feed tubs aren’t a problem with anything sloshing over, but you can all imagine some of that hay is escaping from the bags. In case anyone is wondering, I keep my hay where I live and transport it to the farm. Likewise my grain and feed tubs. If anyone knows anything about self boarding horses, there are other horses and owners there. Anything left in the barn, it’s like your stuff just grows legs and walks off. I can’t afford to feed everyone else’s horses. I have to make the car work for transporting my horse feed and gear. Then there’s dog hair, dirt, and dust, and its tough to keep clean. A friend of mine and I were talking about getting together at her house once a month for a car cleaning party. And now that the weather is warming up, I think I need to make a phone call….

  7. April 9 at 10:09PM

    Since my car is the bigger of the two, mine is usually involved in any hauling or large passenger trips. This means my car gets the brunt work when it comes to messes. We try to do a trash out when you get out rule to help with the mess.

  8. you have no idea how much this post resonates with me. i mean, i wrote a whole post about the random stuff i find in my van. that said, i love my van, and it drives me crazy that it’s such a disaster. i don’t think i will be able to abide by a “no eating in the car rule” because we do a lot of traveling and food helps make the trip more bearable with kids. haha! but i am all about this deep clean!!

  9. April 9 at 11:19PM

    Great Article… I love to read your articles because your writing style is too good, its is very very helpful for all of us and I never get bored while reading your article because, they are becomes a more and more interesting from the starting lines until the end.

  10. Tracey
    April 9 at 11:29PM

    I tried to download the unstuffed app, however when I got to the App Store it told me that it was unavailable. Do you know where I can get the unstuffed app?

  11. Cleaning our car is on my to do list for this week! I’ve got a crate of emergency supplies I keep in the trunk. I love the idea of adding a garbage bag that can be used for a lot of things! I’ll definitely add that. We always keep an extra leash, water bowl, and baggie of kibbles for our dog in the car.

  12. April 10 at 10:15PM

    I always keep a Swiffer duster in my glove box to dust the dash and console. It definitely helps in managing the mess!

  13. April 28 at 11:30AM

    Your post has just reminded me that I should really clean my car this weekend. I also should follow your advice and stop eating in my car but I’m always running late in the morning so I must have my breakfast while driving. Bad habits!

  14. February 12 at 02:14AM

    Cleaning Everywhere may make your mood happy and relaxed. If your car is clean, you can enjoy your journey. Thanks for Sharing the great points.

  15. March 13 at 12:47PM

    I always have clothes in a gym bag in my car but everything neatly put doesn’t stay like that long. There’s always clutter.

  16. March 13 at 12:48PM

    No eating in the car rule, man oh man, that’s a hard rule to follow. Sure, everybody follows it when they buy the car, but that goes out the window within the year.

  17. Miranda Benson
    March 15 at 03:39PM

    I know I’m a year late on the spring cleaning workbook but I would love to download it. Every time I click the link, I will put in my email but nothing arrives. I’ve gotten your other printables but not that one.

  18. April 5 at 11:46AM

    Nice tips! Using some wet wax treatment after washing helps a lot. Also cleaning the mat frequently helps keep that dirt outside the car interiors.

  19. June 27 at 10:30PM

    Great post, In fact cleaning of car is a difficult task, these impressive cleaning tips are described here to help people out precisely. Thanks for sharing.

  20. August 9 at 07:51PM

    I like that you suggested spending an hour or two in deeply cleaning your car to make sure that it there won’t have stains or spots that can negatively affect its look. My trailer’s exterior body has a lot of stains because I have not been able to wash it due to my busy schedule. I will make sure to find a professional that can wash my trailer in the best way possible. Thanks!

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