It can be really challenging to keep a clean car, but have you ever noticed how some people make it look easy? Here are some car interior cleaning tricks so you can make it look easy too!
When you’re a young parent and you first enter into those years where you’re driving toddlers and other young kids around in your car, the mess that you’re faced with can be downright shocking. I mean, adults are messy enough on their own, but once you throw a couple of kids (or just one kid, really) into the mix, you can feel like you’re in over your head before you even have time to think about having an effective car interior cleaning routine. We lived in a big city when Kennedy was very little and that meant lots of long car rides to get just about anywhere and lots of snacks too, of course. And then there was the time that we let her put Dora stickers all over the inside of the back seat window. Honestly, sometimes you just do what ya gotta do to get through a particularly difficult moment with a toddler. Am I right? 🙂
The Very Best Car Interior Cleaning Habits
After those early years, I came to really value and enjoy having a car that was nice and clean. Whenever I rode in someone’s car and it was really noticeably clean, I got into the habit of asking them just what they did to keep it that way, and of course they were always more than happy to share the wealth when it came to that knowledge. A clean car doesn’t often get you a lot of praise like that, but it should! 🙂 I’ve put a few of their tips into use in the last few years and I have to say that their car interior cleaning routines were right on the money. I thought I’d share some of these ideas and habits with you today, along with pictures of our messy car right after one of Kennedy’s soccer tournament trips that we can reference as examples.
So here’s what those “clean car” people always do!
They Always Take a Little Bit of Trash With Them When They Leave the Car
The very best car interior cleaning habit you can have is to just take a little bit of trash or a few things that need to be put away with you whenever you leave the car. I usually just take a handful of stuff when I get out of the car and head back into the house, but you’ll definitely get bonus points from me if you can remember to do this as you’re heading into a store or a restaurant too! Most places have a garbage can located somewhere out front, so you might as well use it!
I usually find things like water bottles, gum wrappers, and snack containers left in the cup holders. In a small space like a car, these things can really build up quickly and taking them out regularly makes a big difference!
They Only Keep What’s Absolutely Necessary in the Car
I have to admit that I’ve always been one of those people who likes to feel prepared for anything. I’m definitely someone who’s tempted to have extra blankets, umbrellas, lawn chairs, first aid kits, snacks, board games, etc., etc. in my car. I’ve learned that it’s really best to just keep things simple and only have what you absolutely need in the car with you. Most of that other stuff really never gets used, and just ends up taking up precious cargo space. It also just gets dirty. You find strange bits of paper and mints with lint on them in with the beach toys, and other things like that.
If we’re going to be driving for any kind of distance, I definitely insist on making sure the kids have extra hats and gloves in their bags if it’s winter, but I don’t need 6 extra blankets in my trunk. If I really feel like there are a lot of extra items that might come in handy, I pack a few backpacks and then bring them right back in the house when the trip is done. That stuff doesn’t need to live in the car 24/7. Look around at the cleanest cars you know and you’ll find they stick to a very similar policy!
They Expect the Car to Get Messy and Don’t Get in a Panic When it Does
Those “clean car” people know that they aren’t just going to clean their car one day and then have it stay that way forever and ever. It’s going to get used, a lot, and it’s going to get dirty. A lot. As soon as you accept that fact and just get yourself in the mindset of cleaning your car being a regular, normal thing to do, you’ll find that you’re much more successful at it. There’s no use getting mad at your family, or yourself, every time you leave an empty cup in the car. It can be hard to talk yourself into taking such a zen approach to car cleaning, but it’s really the only way.
Who hasn’t found something like this in the backseat after a long road trip? Things get crazy when you’re grabbing take out food and trying to follow directions to get where you need to go and trying to get your kids to find their shin pads somewhere in the bottom on their soccer bag before you get to the field. Smooshed food happens.
These days, we’re in the habit of using our winter floor mats for most of the year and saving the carpeted “summer” ones for only when we really want our car to feel extra clean, or if we happen to be taking a kid-free trip. It’s just so much easier when things can be hosed down!
Here’s another scene that inevitably happens after a road trip in our car.
Even after I think I’ve completely cleared the whole car of any leftover trash, I always seem to miss that one drink that Kennedy puts in her door and I always find it after it’s been sitting there just a little too long. That’s the good thing about always taking some trash with you. Eventually you do get most of it out and you’re forced to really look around to find something else to take with you. There’s always something else hiding somewhere!
Here’s one day where I had to go opening compartments to find something to take inside. I found this art of Jack’s that Chris had stashed in the glove box one day after picking him up at daycare. People who clean their cars regularly get to find fun stuff too, not just trash! 🙂
They do it a Little Bit at a Time
Vehicles are small spaces so they get messy quickly, but luckily they get clean pretty quickly too! You don’t always need to spend a whole afternoon cleaning the car to get great results. Just keep up with your trash removal a little bit at a time, and then grab a baby wipe on your way out to the car to pick up the kids from school.
If you remove all the dust and crumb buildup from places like the top of your steering wheel and all around your center console, you’ll really start to notice a difference!
They Appreciate What They Have
One thing that holds true for all clean car owners is that at the core of their car cleaning philosophy is just a real appreciation for the car that they have and a desire to take care of it.
Whether it’s a brand new top-of-the-line whatever, or the well-loved family car that they’ve had since forever, they’re thankful to have a car to get them where they need to go safely and comfortably, and it shows. So they definitely feel a sense of obligation to try to keep it tidy and clean, but they’ve also learned to (dare I say it?) enjoy the time spent cleaning their car.
So they don’t drag themselves out to the driveway or the garage to clean it when it becomes really unbearably gross and they have absolutely no choice, but rather they take a few extra minutes every now and then to vacuum it out really well, or to give everything a good polish. And then they thoroughly admire and enjoy the results.
Enjoy Your Clean Car
And those few car interior cleaning habits are really the only difference between the people who have a clean car and the people who don’t. 🙂
When it comes to my own car interior cleaning routine, I mostly just stick to the basics these days because time is precious. Previously, I shared a really simple Spring Cleaning Routine for your vehicle, and that’s pretty much what I like to do any time I have a few extra minutes to do some extra cleaning in there.
I’m totally fascinated by some of the DIY car detailing tricks I’ve seen floating around the internet though (google it!) and I hope to have a bit more time to try some of them out one day in my future life! The good news is that no matter how tight you are on time, a little work goes a long way in your car. Why not pick up a new habit and start enjoying a cleaner car right away? You’re in there everyday, so it’s definitely worth those extra three seconds of your time on the way in to the house! 🙂
What are the highlights of your car interior cleaning routine? Do you have any favorite tips or habits for keeping a clean car that you’ve found really work for you?
For more clever cleaning tips pick up a copy of my book, The Cleaning Ninja: How to Clean Your Home in 8 Minutes Flat and Other Clever Housekeeping Techniques.
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.