The Busy Mom’s Car Cleaning Routine



Between working, driving the kids to school and after-school activities, making lunches and dinners and keeping the house tidy – moms do it all.

I’m amazed you find time for everything! (Thanks mom). So this article is written with busy moms in mind, a gift from me to you!

With everything on your plate, understandably, some things get neglected. One is probably your car – with all the driving and everything else you do, who really has time to worry about keeping it clean? Mine has easily turned into a dumping ground so many times and that’s without having kids!

Cleaning out your car probably seems like an overwhelming job but trust me when I say it doesn’t have to be. There are tons of hacks and shortcuts to keep it looking lovely in between detailing. Here are five of my favorites:

Tires and Rims

Our tires go through a lot, but I have to say, clean tires and rims to me are the hallmark of a clean car! They get grimy from grease, brake dust and dirt, so here’s a sure fire way to get them sparkling clean without any specialty products.

Use Dawn dish soap. Trust me, I’ve experimented with a lot of different products, but I keep coming back to reliable, grease-cutting Dawn (yep, the one from the commercials with the cute baby ducks).

Simply create a bucket of soapy solution using about a teaspoon of Dawn for each gallon of warm water. Now, take a not-so-special a soft sponge and dunk it into the soapy water (you’re going to want to toss it after this task). Wring it out a bit and start scrubbing the tires and rims. I like to have a second bucket with nothing but clean water in it as well so I can get the sponge clean in there before dunking it back into the soapy water. I clean the sponge every minute or so, that way I avoid re-distributing the dirt. Once the obvious grease and grime is removed from all four tires and you’re happy with how they look, rinse them off with your hose or a new bucket of clean, warm water. Dry them off totally with a soft towel. Bling bling, my friend.

The shortcut:

Don’t worry if you don’t have time to clean all four at once. Wash one tire at a time, or two … whatever works with your busy schedule. Or again, if you’ve got kids who love cars, this is a fantastic job for them too!

Sort and Toss

Grab a black garbage bag and two empty boxes (or plastic bins or laundry baskets, etc.). Starting in the front of the car, work your way to the back seats, throwing trash into the garbage bag as you go. Now that all the garbage is gone, your car’s looking so much better already! Doesn’t it feel good?

Next it is time to sort. Put anything that goes in the house or garage into one bin (or bag) and things that are staying in the car can go in the other. Take out floor mats too and give them a good shake or vacuum if you can spare the time.

Keep trash from building up by keeping grocery or zippered bags in the car all the time. If your kids are old enough, put them in charge of their things – if they bring it in, they bring it out at the end of the ride (including garbage!)

The shortcut:

When you’re at the gas station, take advantage of the garbage can that’s (usually) so handily positioned beside each gas pump, to throw out any old fast food containers, tissues and wrappers – whatever you can grab and toss quickly.

Cleaning the Interior

I like to start cleaning anything at the top and work my way down, that’s just the way dust settles and if I don’t do this, everything I’ve already cleaned gets dirty and dusty again. The same rule applies for the car!

Clean the dashboard, steering wheel and door handles with a clean microfiber cloth and equal parts water and vinegar in a spray bottle. You can clean your windows and windshield inside and out this way, as well as the rearview and side mirrors, but make sure you use a flat weave microfiber cloth (streak-free) or paper towel.

The shortcut:

Make a mini car cleaning kit to keep in your car all the time. Keep in it a small spray bottle with water and vinegar plus an unused microfiber cloth. Mine resides in my glove box, and if you ever get to ride in my car, I’ll show it to you! This allows you to do quick touch-ups in between errands or while waiting to pick the kids up if you notice anything is super dusty or dirty.

Upholstered Seats and Carpets

If the carpets or upholstered seats are stained (from puke, dropped fast food, coffee, etc.) it’s vinegar to the rescue again. Mix together equal amounts of hot water and white vinegar in a spray bottle. Shake it well and spray generously (three or four sprays, more if it’s a really heavy stain) on the areas. Do one at a time and scrub well with a stiff brush until the stains go away. Try it out first in an inconspicuous area.

The shortcut:

Add a tube of white toothpaste with no gel to your mini cleaning kit for stain emergencies. Squeeze a little bit on the stain, rub it in gently with the tip of your finger and wipe it off with a clean, damp cloth. (Keep a bottle of water, or a small spray bottle with water in your car too).

Floor Mats

Shake the floor mats out well and away from the car, we don’t want sand and mud flying inside. Many car mats are made of rubber and can be washed with warm soapy water – meaning I’d squirt a teaspoon of Dawn into a bucket and fill it up about halfway with warm water. Have a stiff scrub brush at the ready, too and after a moment or so of soak time, scrub (I usually do this on my driveway). When the dirt is gone, hose down and lay to dry on your driveway. Now, if the mats are covered in old, caked on mud or have snow/salt stains, you can kick start this process by pre-soaking them in a tub or utility sink filled with warm water for an hour, then use dish soap and water with the same method as above to remove any dirt.

The shortcut:

On a pick up mission and waiting for the kids to come out of class? Use those couple of minutes to shake out the mats and replace them.

These are my suggestions for cleaning your car quickly. Now I want to hear from you, moms. What are your car cleaning tips and tricks? Share them in the comments below!

To learn more quick and convenient uses for Dawn that you may not have thought of, visit!

This is part of a project I’ve been working on with Dawn to share some cool and unexpected uses for it with all of you. Enjoy!

Five fast car cleaning tips with for even the busiest moms.

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Melissa Maker is the host of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube, editor-at-large of, and founder of Clean My Space (a well-known Toronto-based cleaning service). She's been knee-deep in the cleaning game since 2006. Follow Melissa: @MelissaMaker on Instagram, SnapChat & Twitter!


  1. hey i need to know how do i clean how to clean stain(milk, food and oily) a baby car seat without putting the cover in washing machine

  2. I keep a Lithium Ion 19.2 volt rechargeable portable vacuum cleaner mounted to the wall of my garage close beside my car. It only takes me a few short minutes to pull out the front floor mats, then grab the hand held vacuum, and quickly vacuum off the floor carpets, and seats. I’ll also use it in the trunk sometimes. When I want to do the whole car properly periodically, then I’ll set up the shop vac.

  3. Hi Melissa,
    Tis the season for cleaning humidifiers. Please share your cleaning tips. Thank you, Colleen from N. Y. Love, love your posts!

  4. Keep a Swiffer type disposable dusting cloth in your glove compartment so when you are waiting in the car you can dust the speedometer and dashboard.

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