Inside: As a busy mom, it’s hard to keep a clean car with kids Here are 3 simple cleaning hacks you can do to keep your car clean with kids.

4 year old girl sleeping in her carseat while hugging her teddy bear. | clean car with kids

Toys are everywhere. On the floor, in the cup holders, jammed between the cushions, and rattling around in the car seat.

On top of that, it feels like your car is a magnet for trash — receipts, disposable cups, and oh so many food wrappers.

As busy moms, it’s a struggle to keep a clean car with kids. You may have good intentions to get around to cleaning your car “one day”, but let’s be honest, that day will never come.

Have you ever woken up early on a Saturday morning and eagerly jump out of bed, excited to clean your car? Me neither. I mean, who would do that?

So, instead of hoping for some magical time in the future when you’ll feel the motivation to clean your car, instead, you have to put systems in place to keep the car clean regularly.

That’s why I developed this super simple method for keeping your car clean with no extra time spent. In this post, I’ll give you simple steps to keep a clean car with kids.

Why Mom Cars Are So Messy

Before we get into the car cleaning tips, let’s discuss the two main reasons the family car is so messy. Once we know what the culprits are, then we can develop the solution.

In my experience, there are three things that make the family car so messy, and that is:

  • toy clutter,
  • food wrappers (oh my gosh, so many food wrappers), and
  • food crumbs.

The good news is that the addressing toy clutter and food wrappers just takes a simple tweak, allowing you to clean up when you have a moment waiting in the drive through at the bank.

The bad news is that unless you have an internal vacuum in your vehicle, you’ll have to address food crumbs when you’re at home and would rather be doing other things. But since you’ve already done the work to room all the toys and trash from the floor, vacuuming is a breeze.

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How to Keep a Clean Car With Kids

How to Reduce Toy Clutter in the Car

I’m a fan of toys in the car. In fact, I encourage it. Here are some reasons you should consider keeping toys in the car:

  • It keeps kiddos happy. Even short car trips to the grocery store can feel like eons to little ones. As I’ve been told by my three year old, the playground is a “really long ways away” (it’s a 10 minute drive). Having a couple of toys in the car can help keep kids busy and happy.
  • It keeps mama happy. Ever had to drive with a screaming child in the backseat? Yeah, I’ve been there. Having toys on hand allows me to have a tiny bit of peace and quiet.
  • It’s great for impromptu outings. If you decide on a whim to go out to eat or do something else that requires waiting, it’s great to have a few toys you can grab from the car to keep little ones busy as you wait. (And it makes you look like Super Mom for being so prepared. 🦸‍♀️)

But, of course, there are downsides to keeping toys in the car. Here are just a few:

  • Toy clutter: If you’re not careful, toys can take over your car. They’re in the cup holder, the center console and probably the worst place: rattling around under your feet while you drive. 😬
  • Pieces get lost. Let’s be honest, once that tiny piece finds its way in between two cushions, it’s gone.

The good news is that there is a very simple trick for controlling toy clutter to create a clean car with kids.

Learn more: How to organize toys when you’re stressed out

The Best Hack for Clearing Toy Clutter in the Car 

#1: Decide on Car Appropriate Toys

Go through the toys in the playroom. Select the toys that are small enough to fit in your purse and small enough to fit several of them in the car toy bin. Focus on toys that don’t have little pieces or loud noises or sticky parts.

#2: Use a Bin to Organize Toys 

I found a plastic bin at a yardsale, but I’ve also seen similar bins at the dollar store. You could also use a cardboard box, a shoe box or a small trash can that’s not currently being used.

Put the toy bin on the floor by your child’s car seat. This makes it easy for them to grab a toy every time you get in the car, and also makes it easy for them to put the toy back when you leave the car.

A blue bin in the car with toys in it. This makes it easy to keep a clean car with kids.

#3: Play a game of Pluck & Chuck

As moms, we spend a lot of time waiting. Whether it’s at the school pick up line, the drive through at the bank or waiting eons for a 3 year old to climb into their seat, we wait.

Instead of zoning out while you wait, play a little game I call the “Pluck & Chuck”.

The Pluck & Chuck is exactly what it sounds like: pick up a toy that is not in the toy bin and chuck it into the bin.

#4: Declutter Occassionally

Once the bin starts to overflow, it’s time to take the toys back into house. Honestly, the easiest solution is to not let extra toys come into the car (house toys live in the house; car toys live in the car). 

But let’s be honest, sometimes that’s totally not doable. When the toys start to overflow in the car toy bin, bring the bin inside, dump it out and return some toys to the playroom. 

Learn more: Overwhelmed by too many toys?

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How to Manage Kids’ Trash in the Car

This may seem like an obvious answer, but it’s one that took me years to figure out. If you don’t want trash all around your car…keep a trash bin in the car.

It seems so simple, yet it’s so powerful. Instead of relying on your brain to remember (or feel like) picking up trash when you get home, you can throw out trash immediately.

And it doesn’t need to be fancy. For years, I kept a used shopping bag on the floor in front of the of the passenger’s seat. That’s it.

A few years into that I found a small trash can in my garage that wasn’t being used.

Trashcan on the floor in front of the front passenger seat. | clean car with kids

Throw Out Trash on the Go

When you accumulate trash, instead of stuffing it into the cup holders or the center console, pop it straight in the trash bag. Easy peasy.

Have a few minutes while waiting in the drive through or in the school pick up line? Take these few extra minutes to scrounge the car and find things to throw away.

Empty Trash Can As Needed

If your car trash only contains non-perishable items like receipts and papers, empty the trash can every few months when it starts spilling over. 

If you throw out food or other perishable items, empty the trash on a weekly basis.

How to Control Food Crumbs From Taking Over Your Car

When I was growing up, we piled up into my parents’ Dodge Caravan to do some pretty serious road trips. We drove down to Disney World a few times (a 15 hour trip) and up to Maine (an 8 hour trip).

I remember finding old McDonald’s french fries in between the cushions. 🤢

Kids are messy eaters and asking them to eat in a car that’s bumping over pot holes doesn’t make it any easier.

The good news is that if you’ve followed the first two tips in this post, you’ve already cleared the seats and floor of toys and trash.

All that’s left is vacuuming out the crumbs and dirt that infiltrate your vehicle.

I’m a huge fan of my Dyson handheld vacuum. Cleaning got so much easier when I got the cordless vacuum. As a result, I’m more motivated to clean and clean more often.

If it’s not in the budget to get a handheld vacuum, just do your best with what you’ve got. That could mean setting up a time once a month to go out with your corded vacuum and vacuum up the crumbs.

Learn more: Here’s the best weekly cleaning schedule for people who hate to clean.

Focus on Progress, Not Perfection

Don’t worry about perfection. Perfection is a myth; it doesn’t exist. 

Right now, I have little reusable cling stickers shoved the cup holder from months ago. I’ve been meaning to clean them up but haven’t gotten around to it. 

And you know what? That’s just alright.

The goal is not to be perfect. If you shoot for perfection, you’ll miss it every single time. 

Instead, focus on progress. The goal is to make a little bit of progress and gain a little bit of order and sanity in this season of life.

Let’s say putting these simple systems in place cuts down on the waterfall of toy clutter that fall out every time you open the door. You’re doing a great job!

Don’t berate yourself because you have a messy car. A messy car doesn’t mean that you’re lazy or not worthy. 

You are worthy because you are worthy. 

That’s it. You don’t have to do anything or pretend to be anything to gain your worthiness. You already are worthy.

Raising little humans is tough work. Keeping a clean car with kids doesn’t have to be.

Putting these tiny systems in place can lessen the time you spend cleaning (or let’s be honest: the time you spend feeling guilty for not cleaning) and free up time to go spend with those beautiful, wonderful little humans you’re raising.

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