Messy car? 6 tips to keep it clean and organized

I feel like an expert on the subject of messy cars. Mine is a receptacle for work and school papers, sports equipment, mail, reusable grocery bags, pens and pencils, coffee cups, water bottles, toys and trash.

I blame many years of long commutes with coffee and food eaten along the way — plus two children committed to leaving behind their things.


a fast-food employee gives a customer her order

To my credit, I’ve also done really well, at times, keeping my car clean and organized. Usually, buying a new car provides the initial impetus. I’ve even had no eating rules for my new cars. As a car ages, however, my interest in cleanliness and organization tends to wane.

I’m turning over a new leaf and am now following some great suggestions friends have given me to keep my car clean and organized, no matter how many times it’s been around the block.

1. Keep trash contained.

Shashana Hormillosa of Dallas, mother of two elementary-age children, uses a gift bag to keep trash contained. “I have found that small gift bags make better car trash bags than the plastic ones,” she says. “They stay upright and hold more.” Two other possible trash receptacles: A plastic cereal dispenser or a shoe box.

2. Use organizers.

Put a small, folder organizer in your glove compartment for your car insurance and other documents. Put a plastic bin divider in the console between the two front seats. Buy organizers to fit onto the back of the front seats to carry children’s activities or baby items. A plastic bin in the trunk will help keep sports gear contained. Receipts? Keep ones you want to save in a pocket-sized organizer in the driver’s side car-door bin.

3. Keep baby wipes handy.


Clean messy hands and keep your dash, leather seats and steering wheel dirt free with a few quick swipes. Store them in the bins located along the side of the door, or in your middle console, if it’s large enough. You can also by wipes made for leather seats to help keep your seats conditioned as well as clean.

4. Take out what you put in.

If you put a jacket in the car in the morning don’t leave it in there when you get home. Likewise, if you take a cup of coffee with you when you leave for work, take that cup out in the evening. Work papers or junk mail? Remove them.

Put a trash can next to your car in the garage. Each time you get out of the car, grab trash and put it in the can. Gassing up is also a good time to clear away trash.

5. Get your children onboard.

Insist that your children help keep the family vehicle or vehicles organized. They should be responsible for removing any trash they generate and keeping items they use in the car stored. “When our kids were younger they were each allowed to use the seat pockets in front of them for stuff,” said Donald Trost of Keller, Texas. “They were not permitted to take over the back seats permanently. They were responsible for cleaning up after themselves, with our help if things got too messy for them to manage.” A canvas garbage bag made especially for the car, with Velcro on the bottom, sat between their two children.

6. Commit to regular cleaning.


Whether it’s once a week or once a month, go through a professional car wash and use the vacuums to get your seats and floorboards clean, or do it at home with a garden hose and shop vac. Use a carpet cleaner on the mats and floor carpet once every couple of months, and don’t forget to condition the leather seats.

And if you’re using your car for storage because you don’t have enough room in your house, search for self-storage facilities near you.

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