4 Tips for Keeping Your Car Clean

When I bought my first car in 2001, a little Dodge Neon, I was anal about keeping it clean.  Every time I got out of the car I took everything with me that didn’t belong.  At that time, I was in college and lived and worked on campus.  Other than going to and from recreational activities, my car didn’t get a lot of use.

Fourteen years later, even without children, my car-cleaning habits couldn’t be further from that.  I have a 35-minute commute each way to work.  It is not uncommon for me to eat and drink in the car, take long road trips, cart my pup to and from his favorite places, and go back and forth between home, work, the gym, stores, and various other places.  I have changed my clothes and shoes, applied makeup, brushed my hair, and slept in the car.  Of course, I do the normal things too, like charge my phone and listen to music.  Oh, and drive!

My boyfriend and I live in different states (140 miles apart), and I live over 500 miles away from each of my brothers, and almost 600 miles away from my parents.  And since family, friends, and travel are important to me, that adds up to a whole lot of driving!  Suffice it to say that I spend a lot of time in the car.

Over the years, I have learned a lot about how not to keep my car clean.  At any given time the floor of the passenger seat is typically littered with empty sports drink bottles, various articles of clothing, miscellaneous items I intend to give to people or take places, empty grocery bags and receipts, and multiple pairs of shoes.  And dog hair–there’s always dog hair!  My friends pick on me about never being able to drive if we are carpooling because there’s no space for anyone other than me to sit.  To my credit though, I usually keep the trash to a minimum, but since I save empty bottles to recycle them they usually stay around longer than anything else.

The back seat is a different story; that is the dog’s domain.  When he was a puppy Elliot had the habit of jumping over the seat to curl up in my lap.  He was small enough that I could pick him up with one hand, how could I resist?!?  But of course that became less and less safe as he grew and roamed about the car, or switched positions on my lap.  He would still curl up there if he had the chance, and those flimsy store-bought separators weren’t enough to keep him at bay.  With my brother’s help I fashioned a device to keep Elliot in the back.  Sometimes I joke that I moonlight transporting prisoners on the weekend.  J  Besides Elliot, I use the back seat for groceries and luggage.  The trunk always has miscellaneous junk in it.

My boyfriend’s car is immaculate, and fortunately we take his car anytime we go anywhere together.  There is no extraneous clutter, I never have to position my feet around any loose articles on the floor, and it is always comfortable and clean.

From learning about what I haven’t been doing right, and observing what other people seem to do right, I have compiled a list of top tips to help keep the car clean.

  1. Every time you get out of the car, take what doesn’t belong. 

This is one thing my boyfriend always does, and what I used to always do when I first had my own car.  Take it all out–trash, things that belong in the house, and especially, things that will melt or smell if left in extreme weather.

This is simple, but easy to avoid.  If you can, try to take everything that doesn’t belong out of the car all at once.  This may require multiple trips at first, but it will also help you to avoid bringing things into the car that don’t belong!

  1. Don’t treat your glove compartment like a junk drawer.

It’s okay to have a little change for tolls, an atlas or roadmap, a pair of sunglasses, and a phone charger.  And certainly, always keep your car’s manual, insurance cards, and registration handy.  And as a single woman cruising the highways, I am a proponent of a car emergency kit in your trunk, complete with jumper cables (trust me).  But don’t overdo it.  An overnight bag is too much if you’re just going to the grocery store.  I know all kinds of things can happen on the road and it’s easy to accumulate little things you don’t know what to do with.  But chances are you’re not going far from home, and if you are going on a long trip you will probably have anything you might need in your luggage.

  1. Plan ahead

As I said, I don’t have children.  But I know that Elliot will get wet, his feet will get muddy, he might accidentally scratch the seat and his drool will get on the window.  Gross, I know.  That is why I keep a seat protector on the back seat of my car (and of course, the barrier I mentioned from keeping him in the back).  And on the bottom floor of the back seat, I keep carpet cleaner (to clean the car’s upholstery), window cleaner (to address the drool), and paper towels in case of accidents.  To combat my own mess, I also try to keep a bag for trash in the front.

For those of you with different circumstances, that will look different.  Some children will need to stay occupied in the car, and will require activities and toys.  Some families have accident-prone members that may spill things or need band-aids close at hand.  Children may require car seats or booster seats, and adults may need extra back support.  A trip to the beach will result in extra sand and wet clothing, and snow and mud can accumulate on the floor during the winter.

You get the idea, and obviously everyone’s situation is different.  Pinterest has a lot of great ideas on how to keep stuff for the kids organized, and how to protect areas that may get messy.  Plan for where you’re going and who will be in the car; just be careful not to accumulate a lot of stuff that’s unnecessary.

  1. Do a deep clean on a regular basis

Just as with your home, a vehicle will benefit from an occasional deep clean.

Every couple of months I stop at the car wash on my way home from work to take advantage of the coin-operated vacuum cleaner.  My boyfriend takes advantage of a free vacuum during a Jiffy Lube Oil change. Yesterday I used my lunch break to get some sunshine as I cleaned out all the trash, grouped together all the items that I needed to take into my house (which I took in the house as soon as I got home—see tip 1), and give the seats and windows (especially in the back) a wipe down.

Another option is paying to get your car detailed.  I’m extremely thrifty, though, so that type of treat is not something I indulge in on a regular basis.  About a year ago I bought a Groupon for this.  It was thrilling–the car was so clean!  The seats were vacuumed, the control panel was dust free, it smelled fantastic, and it felt like I had just bought a new car.  (Dear friends and family, if you ever don’t know what to get me a gift, a gift certificate to have my car detailed is always welcome!)  You can also take a little time to detail your car yourself, there are tons of products and tutorials on this.

These four tips are the best I’ve seen for keeping your car neat.  Regardless of your method, you will appreciate your car more when it is clean, clutter-free, and comfortable, and you will want to keep it that way!

What other tips do you have for keeping your car clean?

About bridget

I was born and raised in upstate New York, where my parents still live, before escaping the cold weather to settle in North Carolina in 2008.
I am a Gemini, a middle child, a dreamer, a lover, an optimist, and a Social Worker. I have a cheesy sense of humor, a belief that all people are basically good, and a desire to improve the world around me.
I live in NC with my husband and our dog.

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