Smudgy paw prints on the windows, crushed crackers in the seats, and lingering odors from who knows where are standard for many family cars. Cleaning and organizing such disarray may seem daunting, but with a few easy tools and tricks, you'll be on the road to a cleaner car in no time.
Clean Messy Windows
Windows full of finger prints? For a quick fix, keep a box of baby wipes handy as an instant cleaner. If you do have glass cleaner, avoid streaks by spraying it on a cloth and never directly on windows. For tinted windows, avoid products with ammonia since they could cause discoloration or cracking.
A Place for Everything
The key to an organized family car is giving everything its own place. For example, you can fasten a cargo net to the back seat to store first aid kits, sports gear, pet supplies and snacks. Encourage your kids to return items to their spot after every use.
Related: CargoGear.com: Backseat Cargo Net
No More Crumbs
The best way to avoid a mess from leftover food is to ban eating in the car. If you can't do that, use your own hand-held vacuum or a vacuum hose attachment. A slightly damp rag will pick up hard-to-reach crumbs, including those in seat crevices. To prevent future messes, line the seat with a towel or blanket.
Keep a Trash Bin
Trash quickly accumulates in any car, whether you have kids or not. Keep a trash receptacle -- or two -- in your car so you always have a place to toss garbage. A leak-proof trash bin is best to prevent spills from leftover liquids in cans and cups.
Dealing with Dirt
Got mud? "Always scrape off as much as possible before shampooing," advises Michelle Snow, Kaysville, Utah-based author of "Queen of Common Cents." Use the edge of a credit car to gently scrape off mud, then vacuum what remains if necessary. For carpet or fabric, use sudsy water and a sponge to scrub away remaining dirt, then rinse. For leather interiors, use leather-approved wipes and cleaners. Take out car mats to complete this process.
Keep Necessities Safely Nearby
Scrounging around for a dropped phone or misplaced sunglasses is a car accident waiting to happen. Keep anything you often reach for within your eye's sight and hand's reach. Giving everything its own place in your family car keeps it clean and organized, including accouterments for grownups.
Soak Up Spilled Liquids
To prevent spills from staining, address them as soon as possible. Use a dry cloth and gently press on the spill to pick up excess moisture. Use a damp, sudsy cloth to gently scrub and then rinse with a wet cloth. For stains that have already set, invest in a stain-removing product that's approved for car use.
Prevent Spilled Groceries
Few things are as frustrating as a heavy can of beans landing on your toes as you open your car hatch or trunk. Avoid spilled groceries -- and injuries -- by securing a hammock-style cargo net in the back of your car. The net will keep your kids' athletic equipment and toys from spilling onto the ground, as well.
Abolish Lingering Odors
For a quick fix, combine one part water and one part vinegar in a spray bottle and lightly spritz it on the offending location. Sprinkle baking soda over the area, allow it to dry and then vacuum. For stronger odors, including bathroom accidents or soured dairy products, use a deodorizer from the supermarket or pet store. "Put sprigs of fresh herbs or cotton balls soaked in your favorite natural oils under the seats" to keep your car smelling fresh, suggests Snow.
Keep Paper Products Organized
The glovebox is handy, but it should never serve as your car's catch all. Keep paper products -- including maps, mail, car insurance information and car manuals -- in one place so you always know where to find them. This ensures a tidier car and prevents a frazzled search when looking for something important.