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How to Keep Your Car Clean

You know the phrase, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts”? Well, it applies to cars as well as humans. Washing the outside of your car is all well and good, but the interior of the car is where you actually spend most of your time. So, it only makes sense that this is where you really need to be focusing your cleaning efforts!

Plenty of people end up treating their car like a bit of a rubbish dump—you wouldn’t do that to your house, so why do it to your car?! As soon as you get lax about car cleanliness, it’s very easy for things to pile up and get out of control.

It only takes the adoption of a few easy habits, however, to keep your car clean, fresh and comfortable. Let us enlighten you!

Why you should keep your car clean

Yellow car with magnifying glass

Before jumping straight into our car cleaning tips, some of you may still need convincing that this is a worthwhile endeavour. We get it. Tidying up after yourself (and others) is boooring. Plus, you car is your space. If you don’t mind it being a bit messy then it doesn’t matter, right? Wrong. A dirty car is not a good look on anyone, whereas a clean car is nice to drive, nice to look at and nice for anyone who’s along for the ride!

Here are a few other pros to consider:

It improves your commute! A clean car can reduce stress and road rage because your immediate surroundings will be comfortable and clutter-free. Ahhhh.

You no longer have to feel awkward about sharing your ride! A messy car can seem like no big deal until you see it through someone else’s eyes. All of a sudden you’re hyper aware of the dirt, litter and that funny smell you’d gotten used to…

Safety first! When clutter really builds up, it can actually start to pose a hazard risk. If that McDonald’s cup rolls under the brake pedal, for example, you will not be lovin’ it. 

Keeps it easy-breezy! Once you’re on top of keeping your car clean, it takes very little effort for it to stay that way. Stick to a few key habits and you’ll never have to worry about things getting out of control again. 

The approach: small and often

Interior of a dirty car
Don’t let dirt and grime build up like this! Image source: Justin Aikin

Saying goodbye to your messy ways and getting your clean on doesn’t mean you have to overhaul your entire approach to life. No one’s expecting you to be the next Marie Kondo. The aim is to get to a point where staying on top of things just involves a quick wipe down or clear up here and there.

Of course, if you’re starting this clean-up having let things go for a while, you will need to roll your sleeves up and give it some elbow grease on the first attempt. Have a good clear out and be sure to check all of the nooks and crannies of your car that you don’t look at everyday. You might be surprised what you find buried under the backseat or down the side of the passenger chair. Be bold, be brave and get stuck in there!

Once you’ve given the interior of your car a major going over, the trick is to get into the habit of performing smaller cleans on a more regular basis. That way, you’ll hardly ever have to do the dreaded deep cleans! Nailing this routine can be straightforward, as long as you know the kind of things you should (and shouldn’t!) store in your car…

The staples

Two 'cleaning in progress' signs on floor
Image source: Oliver Hale

Things to have on hand

While this article aims to reduce the amount of stuff you keep in your car, there are a few key products that will make your life so much easier if you have them to hand…

Keep it fresh

What’s the immediate thing you notice when entering a new vehicle? The smell. When you climb into your car first thing in the morning, you want your nostrils to be greeted with a clean, fresh fragrance, not the remains of that sandwich you chowed down on the previous evening. Whether it’s a classic one that you hang from the rear-view mirror, or a fancy gadget that you attach to the air vents, invest in an air freshener. That way your car can smell as clean as it looks!

Keep it tidy

Black bin in public park
Image source: Hidde van Esch

When it comes to nasty smells in your car, one of the biggest culprits is food and drink packaging. It’s really important, therefore, that you dispose of these on a regular basis. And by regular basis, we mean every time you exit your car. You can make this a whole lot easier by keeping some kind of bin within your reach. It might just be a bag you hang off the back of your seat, it might be an actual trashcan you store in the footwell—whatever it is, collect all rubbish here and empty it out at the end of your journey. Not only should this keep strange smells to a minimum, it will also free up your car of any clutter!

Keep it stain-free

No matter how careful you are, occasional leaks and spills are bound to happen, especially if you often have other people or pets in your car. To limit the amount of damage done, keep a cloth and some cleaning fluid around, so you can mop any messes up as soon as they happen. There’s also the option of wet wipes and kitchen roll, of course, but these aren’t great for the environment and will only add to your rubbish pile.

Things to do

Handheld vacuum cleaner on front seat of car
Image source: Your Best Digs

Along with investing in a few key products, be sure to make the most of the cleaning aids your car already comes fitted with! Did you know, for example, that the glove box isn’t actually designed to store old sweets, knackered CDs and that Kinder Egg toy you opened 5 years ago? Instead, you can utilise this handy little drawer to store important documents, a first aid kit and that cloth and cleaning fluid we discussed earlier.

Most cars also come kitted out with mats in the footwells. So, next time you’re getting in the car with mucky feet, try to stick to these areas. As soon as you get out, give the mats a good shake to get rid of any dried mud and crumbs.

If you really want to take your car cleanliness to the next level, we recommend chucking the mats in the wash every couple of months. And, while they’re out of the way, why not give everything a quick going over with the hoover? You’ll be glad you did once you see the results!

Nifty items that will help you to keep your car clean

Rather than forking out lots of money on fancy electrical equipment or gadgets that promise to make cleaning a doddle, look for solutions closer to home. There are a range of everyday household items that can do the job.

Raid the sock drawer

Striped socks lined up on the back of a wooden chair
Image source: Jisu Han

You may or may not have noticed just how dirty the bottom of a car’s cup holders can get. Enjoying a cold beverage on a long drive is all very well, but the condensation from the cup can drip to the bottom of the holder and leave a sticky mess. If this is neglected for too long, your car may become the site of a science experiment. Not as cool as it sounds!

To combat this, put a sock sprayed with cleaning solution over your hand. A few quick swipes round and the dirt should be gone! Then, once this stage it complete, line the cup holders with cupcake cases (the silicone ones are ideal), as these are much easier to clean. And voila—clean cup holders for everyone!

Get spongy 

An area of your car where dust builds up very quickly is the air vents. Given the weather conditions we experience throughout the year, you need to keep those vents nice and clean to maximise the flow of hot and cold air. A swipe of the finger or wipe over with a cloth is not enough here. The best way to really get in there and scoop up the dirt is to use a spongy material. Wet or dry, it will pick up any dust with ease.

You can purchase a foam brush from most stationary or cleaning stores. Or, if you’re really pinching the pennies, you can literally stick a piece of sponge onto the end of a stick. Time to get swooshing!

Change it up

If you’re an outdoorsy type, you may have resigned yourself to the fact that your car will always be a bit grubby. It doesn’t have to be that way, though! Designate part of your car for mucky items (the boot is best) and keep a spare pair of shoes and maybe even a change of clothes right next to it. Whenever you’re done with a hike, swim or bike ride, simply switch outfits before climbing back into your car.

A great way to stay on top of this is to have a particular pair of shoes that you always drive in. Keep them in your car and stick to the habit of changing in and out of them at the beginning and end of journeys. This isn’t necessary when you’re just running errands, of course, but for long road trips it can be a game-changer.

Extreme cases: children and pets

Dog sat in the boot of a car facing out
Image source: Tadeusz Lakota

They say you should never work with animals or children, but sadly, due to age and species restrictions, you can’t always avoid having to drive them places. If you have pets and/or kids, it’s that little bit harder to keep your car clean. Even the quiet ones are great at making a mess and not so great at alerting you to said mess. It’s easy to forgive them, though, because they’re so darn cute!

To keep stains and hair to a minimum, consider investing in a waterproof seat cover that you can whip out every time you travel with your dog (or clumsiest child!). They’re easy to wipe down and you don’t have to worry about anything permanent marking the seats underneath. While we’re on the subject, if you are driving with a pet on the backseat, they must be securely restrained with an animal harness. Anything else it not sufficient and could land you in trouble with the police.

Often have children in your car? Ensure they’re too entertained to be making a mess by hanging organisers on the back of the front seats. These can be filled with toys, snacks and books for them to peruse at their leisure. Kids happy + floor clutter-free = a relaxing drive!

The keeping your car clean commandments

1. Thou shalt not leave food or drink containers in the car
2. Thou shalt not forget to empty the bin at the end of a journey
3. Thou shalt not let rubbish build up to the point where it is out of control and poses a hazard
4. Remember the cleaning supplies, to keep them stocked up
5. Honour thy backseat by laying down a waterproof cover when transporting pets and children
6. Thou shalt not clean and drive—eyes on the road!
7. Thou shalt not treat the glove compartment as place to store useless items
8. Thou shalt not wear muddy shoes in the car
9. Thou shalt not put off performing a deep clean for longer than 6 months
10. Thou shalt not allow the car to become a complete state

Stick to these tips and you’ll have a sparkling car that’s a pleasure to drive!

For all the latest driving news and tips, check out more from the PassMeFast blog.

By Isobel Robb

Isobel enjoys the freedom of the open road and loves driving to new places. She's here to offer helpful hints and tips to improve your motoring skills. When not keeping up to date with the latest driving info you can find her discovering new restaurants or exhausting her Netflix subscription.

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