Help! My Car is a Mess: 5 Ways to Keep Your Car Clean When You Have Kids

Updated: Aug 3, 2021

I don't know how it began. Before I had a kid, I was able to maintain a clean car for days, if not weeks! If someone needed a ride, I could happily pick up them up in moment's notice, without having to shuffle everything off the seat in a panic first. I could offer someone a ride to the airport with their baggage and still have plenty of room to drive.

Now, if anyone tries to get into the car, it has become an embarrassing display of me throwing bags, clothes, toys, shoes and food around until they can fit in. I apologize profusely and hope my passenger can't smell what I can. However, if it's another parent, they completely understand my messy car struggle. People without kids have no excuse to have a messy car!

Ugh, the backseat is disgusting and overflowing with juice boxes, broken crayons and socks! There are finger prints and unidentified smears on the back windows. . And since we live close to the beach, sand is in every grain of the carpet. And who knows what that pink spot is on the ceiling? How did our cars become the dumping grounds for all things gross and cluttered? Kids! That's how.

So, now that we know the source, how can we stop the mess from turning our cars into landfills? Here are some suggestions:

Make the kids walk! Hey, messy cars would not exist if the kids were not allowed in!

But seriously, since we can't do that, and have been forced to drive them around like we are chauffeurs, I guess it's kind of our responsibility to find ways to manage the mess.

Organize it!

Those behind-the-seat organizers exist for a reason. They are meant to contain your child's possessions and keep the items right in front of their eyes so they don't have to ask you for a pencil as you're merging onto a busy highway. You just have to remind the kids that things should be returned to their pouch when they are finished using them. Also, limit the amount of items in the organizers so they don't get too heavy or overfilled.

You can also use bins to contain items. I tried to put a small fabric bin on the seat where my daughter was supposed to keep all of her toys and snacks. These are not fool-proof tips. Notice how I said "tried". We can keep trying until something works for us.

Set Rules!

I know, sometimes we have to be the bad guys. But you want a clean car don't you?

Attempt to set car rules in order to keep the clutter at bay.

Some of the rules might look like this:

  • No food in the car.

This can be hard for families on the go! It's the rule that all car owners make the moment they drive their vehicles off the lot. Within a week we are scarfing down fast food in the middle of traffic, and French fries have overtaken every cupholder.

If you can't set this rule, you can always get boxes to hold the kids' food in. This limits the food from going all over the car. Something as simple as a shoebox or plastic bin would work.

  • Only 1-2 Toy per car ride

If we charged all the toys that hitched rides with us, we'd be rich! I sometimes feel like I'm a toy chauffer, transporting them and all their friends around town with me.

Limit the number of toys that your kid can bring into the car and this will save you a ton of time stressing over the mess.

  • No "insert the bane of your existence here" in the car!

Whatever it is that drives (no pun intended) you crazy when it's in your car, goes here. For some people, it might be markers because their kid loves to draw on the seats. For others, it might be slime, because you know, slime! After all, it's your car and you set the rules to what comes in.

Create Zones

Yes, kids in the back, parents in the front. Spare tire in the trunk and insurance cards in the glove compartment. But what about all the other stuff that makes it way into the car? Where does it all go? Thrown anywhere it fits seems to be the answer for most busy parents. Kids never give it any thought. Let it lay where it falls, seems to be their motto.

However, if we create zones for things, it may help the clutter from getting out of hand. Do you ever use that space under the seats? I use mine for extra shoes I may have to change into during the day. You can store that food bin under here and keep some napkins, a fork and spoon it in. That's the "food box."

Create a "play" zone in the car. If you have multiple kids, you can make a spot in the car that holds coloring books, devices or whatever else you kids need to survive those boring drives with us adults. When I was young, it was the scenery and fighting with our siblings that kept us occupied. Who knew life would become so complicated?

You can use these zones for sports equipment, dance class items or whatever else your kids are into. And if you happen to carve out a small space for your own stuff, snacks always are a good place to start. Just be sure to really hide them. Think, cookies in the glove compartment!


There's no place in the world where trash multiples faster than in a car when you have kids. Any chance I get to blame the kids for a mess, I will. Honestly, I do not remember bringing one single lollipop into the car. And if I did, I certainly wouldn't leave it dandling from the fabric of the car's ceiling.

So, for all that trash that tends to form near and around your kids, create a trash bin. I use a bag in the front, but do not recommend bags for young children because of obvious safety reasons. A small bin works just as good and can fit on the floor within easy reach.

Once your kids see that there is a place for the garbage, they may be more apt to put it there instead of trying to hand you their spit out food in the middle of a U-turn, because they don't like it. In the trash it goes!


What comes in, must go out. Create a routine where your kids don't leave the car without bringing something out with them when you get home. This helps to maintain the number of items that will become a permanent fixture in your car.

Even if it is one item, that's one less thing you have to deal with the next time you get into your car. I have been doing this for a while now and it has become automatic (again, no pun intended). My daughter knows to grab something before making her way to the door.

With these ideas on how to keep your car functioning more like cars and less like storage units from horror movies, your road trips will be a lot less stressful or at least less messy.

Going on vacation with the kids and don't want to overpack? Read for tips: Vacations Without Baggage: Easier Travel With Kids (


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