It only looks like a catch-22: You can keep your car clean when you have kids. It’s possible because I’ve done it, with two boys: an 11-year-old and an almost-3-year-old.
Any parent will tell you little boys can be the worst slobs of them all. Is it in the DNA, or what? While science weighs that matter, the car gets trashed quickly and remains that way for most families. If you’re about to be swept into a tidal wave, do you keep flailing around in the water or go with the flow? You go with the flow, rather than drown, because you and those kids have to be places STAT.
Spills and tornado drills still happen. The answer to keeping your car clean when you have kids, especially boys, is a combination of going with the flow and inviting organizational techniques you have in your home to your car:
Like a broke relative, bills come once a month and leave with your hard-earned cash — but the system works. Pay your power bill and your lights stay on, and your little ones can play with the tablet all they want.
You probably address heavy-duty household cleaning tasks on the same monthly basis. So why not carry that over to maintaining your car’s cleanliness as well? Pick up dropped toys and other items to take inside. Vacuum and wipe down the interior, and enjoy your clean car.
The In-and-Out Rule
If monthly cleaning would never work for you, try the in-and-out rule: Whenever the kids leave something new in the car, take one item out.
Stop Using the Worst Car Trash Can
Despite the fact that everybody has done it at least once, your fast-food paper bag is not a trash bag. It will work in a pinch, but often those greasy fries and ketchup get crunched up under kiddo feet, making an even bigger mess.
Stop the insanity and designate a specific trash can for your car. Yes, there are fancy trash cans made specifically for cars, and many have waterproof and odorless features. For most people, it works perfectly well to use a repurposed container or a plastic bag. When it’s full or gross, empty it. Yes, a recyclables bag is wonderful, too.
Summon the Car Nanny
You won’t need a Ouija board or to make a wish to summon a chipper car cleaning lady who magically arrives on your doorstep with a parasol.
If you’ve got sticky cup holders or strange crumb-like substances, summon the Car Nanny, a service specializing in gross minivans that transport multiple children. The service is available in most parking garages in the area, and they’ll wash and clean your car onsite.
This is my favorite nanny, ever. It’s one less to-do off of the checklist, and they’ve restored my car to ick-free status when peanut butter and vomit was involved. I don’t have any higher praise than that.
Section off Food
Use a little plastic caddy or sectioned basket to hold food when your kids eat their snacks in the car. These can hold dipping sauces, slices of sandwiches, cereal and pieces of fruit.
While a mess is still inevitable, it will be much more contained. As a bonus, kids will eat their fruits and veggies. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. My oldest ate broccoli — granted, it was dipped in ranch dressing, but I’m not going to quibble about that.
Be Prepared For Kiddo Krustiness With a Kit
Some situations are inevitable. Do car rides make one child sick? Do you always forget extra diapers or sunblock?
Make a car kit for both predictable and unpredictable circumstances, and pack diapers, wipes, sunblock, sunglasses, games and more. Add a towel or two, because it’s never a bad idea to keep a towel around. It’s also helpful to include important documentation, such as an emergency contact list, in your kit.
Keeping your car clean when you have kids isn’t impossible. Clean up on a schedule that works for you, whether that’s once a month or by using the in-and-out rule. Place a trash can in the car, and when that’s not working, summon the car nanny. Stop food spills by sectioning off snacks in a basket, and get ready for crust, stains and other mishaps with a trusty car kit.
Messy car? Clean it out, and keep it that way, by bringing little hacks from your home to your car.