How to Keep Your Car Clean When You Have Kids

We know that it’s nearly impossible to keep your family car clean (and we have the viral meme to prove it). But if you genuinely want to know how to keep your car clean when you have kids, we have some tips that can really help make a difference. Check em out!

I have spoken with many nervous mamas and daddies to be about their worries about having kids. They worry about the sleepless nights. They’re concerned about how their dogs will adjust to the new baby, or whether breastfeeding is going to work out the way they had planned.  They worry about their marriages, and their finances, and whether they registered for everything they will need for their new life.

And, much to my surprise, one new mom I was speaking with was worried about her much-loved, and well cared for, car.

She took one look at my car- the spare diapers in the back pocket, the cracker crumbs on the floor, the empty sippies in the cup holders, and I swear I saw an expression of panic cross her face as she asked, “how do I keep my car clean when I have kids?!?”

Clearly, I was not the right person to ask at the time.

BUT it made me realize what a hot-button issue the cleanliness of your car has become, and that a lot of people (my husband included!) take pride in keeping their car nice and tidy.  Not everyone shoves trash in the door pockets, or so I’m told, and some people make a big effort to keep their car clean, even with kids.

I could call for mobile detailing, but that gets SO expensive over time. So in an effort to stay married to keep my kids from making a mess in the car, I invested in some of the best car cleaning products, and have come up with some car cleaning hacks.  Here are my tips so far…

A photo of seat under a car seat messy with snacks and toys. Text overlay: Tips for keeping your car clean (even when you have kids)

This post contains affiliate links. You can read more at our Legal Page. Thanks for supporting The Salty Mamas!

1. Don’t Try to Keep Your Car Clean When You Have Kids.

I mean, you can drive yourself crazy trying to keep your car spotless.  But really take a second and decide if this is even important to you. Keeping your car clean when you have kids takes a lot of effort, a lot of policies, and a lot of follow through.

And maybe you just.don’ Or you do care, but it just cannot be a priority right now.  No worries, mama.

Passenger front seat of a car full of bags

Eventually your kids will grow up and you can get a whole new car that you actually CAN keep clean.  That day may not be today.

2. Really, Don’t Try. You Might Want to Give Up On Having a Clean Car.

Because even when I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up my car, THIS HAPPENED. And the world responded by making this bad boy viral.  The reaction was equal parts “you disgusting excuse of a mother” and “GIRL, YES.”

The passenger seat when the car seat is moved. Covered in old snacks and toys. Text overlay: When you think your care is clean but then you have to move the carseat.

I had to stop myself from replying to every comment, telling people how the rest of the car was spotless. Because it WAS.

And do you know WHY it was spotless? Because my daughter decided to keep the car clean by putting all of her unwanted items in what she called her “trash can,” which was obviously the space between the carseats.

So while I was patting myself on the back for having crumb-free floor mats and finding a way to get kids to eat in the car without making a mess, she was setting up a biohazard zone in an in-seeable location.

In Case You Still Want to Have a Clean Car with Kids, Here are My Recommendations.

3. Get the Right Car Cleaning Supplies

You need the best car cleaning products if you’re trying to keep your car clean with kids in it.

First, get yourself some all-weather floor mats. It makes dealing with spills, and even crumbs, SO much easier.  Every once in a while I remove them, hose them down, and put them back when they’re dry. They do a great job of standing up to all the sand from the park and mud from the strawberry farm, so in my mind they’re worth every penny.

A few more supplies you might need:

  • These car wipes (just store them in your glove compartment so you’ll have them when you need them)
  • This car duster, and a dust buster, which is a LIFESAVER when it comes to all the grass your kids are going to trek in after all their time outside.
  • Grab thesemats that go under carseats (see above image, where we would have saved ourselves a LOT of trouble), although we do not use them ourselves.

4. Put Yourself on a Schedule

Every Friday after we drop my daughter off at school, we head back to the house and my toddler and I clean the car.  (Reason #3,454 why little kids should do chores, BTW

Smiling Toddler next to his mother.

.) We take out anything that doesn’t belong in the car and return it to its proper place in the house.

We throw away all the trash that may have accumulated in the pockets. I remove the floor mats, drape them over the porch railing, and I let Abe hit them with the broom. I use the dustbuster on the floors, and Abe vacuums out the carseats.

I take a baby wipe and wipe down the doors and the dash, and use a car wipe on the cup holders.

5. Make Some Rules About Letting Kids Eat In the Car

As I mentioned, my husband is definitely more strict about his car than I am mine (though to be fair, the kids are also in his car a lot less). So in Daddy’s car, we have a no-food-allowed rule. We do waive this rule when we’re on road trips, because after eleven hours of driving you’ll give your kids ANYTHING.

Salty mama with loads of snack sitting in the passenger side of a vehicle.

You could also make a policy about what kind of snacks kids can have in the car– an apple, for example, or easy-to-dust-bust raisins- in order to minimize the amount of crumbs and spills. After an unfortunate spilled-milk incident, I instituted a no-drinks-but-water rule (coffee is exempt. Because obviously).

Whatever rules you come up with, just make sure you’re enforcing them, and you will probably make a big dent in your problem.

6. Try Some Car Hacks for Parents

My kids have so much stuff and so many activities that sometimes I feel like my car is a storage locker on wheels. We’ve got swim diapers, and sand toys, and a stroller, and extra clothes, and about 1,100 other items that I feel are necessary to our survival.  I NEED ALL THE THINGS, but I don’t want them all over the place.

A car full of trash and grocery bags in one image and a clean trunk in the other. Text overlay: Car cleaning hacks.

So I bought a large utility organizer for the back area of my car that can hold our sand toys, bubble wands, floaties, and a picnic blanket. I’ll even toss in things I need to return to stores so I don’t forget them.

It’s a nice way to get all those odds and ends tucked into one place without hearing them careening around the back every time I make a too-sharp turn (not that that ever happens, of course).

We also love the idea of an organizer for the back of the seat, similar to this one you can find on Amazon. We’ve heard cupcake liners are great for keeping crumbs out of cupholders, and we know that these little “Oh Snap” bins are excellent ways to keep all your trash in one place (see, Lila? THAT is a trash can).


So is your car going to look as clean as it did before you had kids? I mean, it’s not particularly likely. But you can find a new happy place for you AND your car by investing in some of the best car cleaning products, coming up with some systems, and then following through on those systems.

And if not, there’s always mobile detailing. Or you know, selling your kids. But we hear that’s frowned upon.

Happy Cleaning!

Looking for more cleaning tips? Head here next-

Recommended for You: 

REALLY need to get organized? Keep a cleaner house- with LESS effort- by snagging this organization course from a genius housekeeper. You WON’T be sorry!

Need more convincing? Check out Hilary’s 5 Word Organization Challenge for FREE!

1 thought on “How to Keep Your Car Clean When You Have Kids”

  1. I’m literally going to have to sell my kids. It’s the only way. *sigh*. These are awesome tips though, I’m pretty sure getting a little hand vac might actually help save my sanity!

Comments are closed.