The Busy Parent’s Car Cleaning Tips: DIY Car Cleaner

Parents do it all between working, driving the kids to school and after-school activities, making lunches and dinners, and keeping the house tidy. I’m amazed you find time for everything! Honestly, I’m amazed I find time for everything! And truthfully, sometimes I don’t. 

In this article, we’re talking about car cleaning tips and DIY car cleaners even busy parents can handle. I know cleaning the car is one of the last things I think about on a normal day. That is until I step into the car and realize what a mess it is. So I decided to share some of my car cleaning wisdom with all you busy parents. Plus, I’m including my best car cleaning tips on how to clean fast, so you can get each job done in the shortest amount of time. 

If you’re looking for a full run-down of deep cleaning the interior and exterior of your car, read my articles Car Interior Cleaning: The Ultimate Guide and 7 Expert Car Cleaning Tips (Exterior and Interior Car Cleaning). 

However, if you’re a busy parent and you just want to get your car organized in the few minutes you have to spare, so it doesn’t look like a total pigsty when your kid’s daycare stops to chat, I’ve got some great car cleaning tips you can execute quickly. 

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.

DIY Car Cleaner: How to Clean Car Tires and Rims

While your tires might not be the first things that come to mind when I say clean the car, your tires go through a lot! They get SO grimy from grease, brake dust, and dirt that if you brush against them, you might get a big black streak on your pants. I hate this so much that I’m including a sure-fire way to get clean tires and rims without any specialty products.

Your secret DIY recipe is just two ingredients: water and 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).

Start with a large bucket of warm water. For every gallon of water, add a teaspoon of Dawn soap. Then, take a soft sponge and dunk it into the soapy water. Wring the sponge enough, so it’s not soaking wet, then start scrubbing!

I like to have a second bucket with nothing but clean water in it, 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. This is a fun job for kids, so if the little ones are around, it’s great to include them here. 

Once the obvious grease and grime are removed from all four tires, 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.

Quick cleaning tip: 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!

10 car cleaning secrets

Organize and Declutter the Car

OK, we’re going to declutter the car, and we’re going to do it fast! Grab a black trash 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.

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 and give them a good shake or vacuum, if you can spare the time.

This is a great, fast way to clean the car when you have a lot of junk inside. But to prevent trash from building up in the first place, keep grocery bags or zippered bags in the car all the time. That way, you have a little trash bag you can toss items into on your way into the house. 

If your kids are old enough, put them in charge of their things; if they bring items into the car, they bring them out at the end of the ride (including garbage!).

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

DIY Car Interior Cleaner

I love making DIY cleaners, and this interior car cleaner is no exception. I grab a spray bottle and mix equal parts water and white vinegar inside. Then shake that bottle up!

You can use this cleaner for most of the interior, including the dashboard, steering wheel, and door handles. Grab a clean microfiber cloth and spray your DIY car cleaner on there. 

Psst, not to toot my own… company, but Maker’s Clean has a Deluxe Auto Kit of six premium microfiber cloths made specifically for cleaning the car. But enough of that segue, on to the cleaning!

I like to start cleaning at the top and work my way down. Dust settles downward, so if you clean from bottom to top, everything you’ve already cleaned gets dusty again! Use your DIY car cleaner and microfiber cloth to work your way from top to bottom. You can also clean your windows and windshield inside and out, as well as rearview and side mirrors. 

Quick cleaning tip: Make a mini car cleaning kit to keep in your car all the time. This should include a small spray bottle with your DIY car cleaner and a clean microfiber cloth. I keep mine in my glove box and use it to do quick cleaning touch-ups in between errands or while waiting to pick my daughter up. 

For premium microfiber cloths, check out Maker’s Clean Cloth Bundle, on sale now!

Best Car Seat Cleaner: DIY Car Cleaner

Car seats can get so dirty, especially if you have kids. They might be stained from puke, covered in crumbs, sticky from juice or coffee spills, etc. If your upholstered seats or car carpets are stained, 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 on the areas. You’ll need three or four sprays for normal stains and a few more for heavy-duty stains. 

Work on one stain at a time. After you’ve sprayed, take a stiff brush and scrub that stain away. If the spot dries as you’re scrubbing, spray again. 

Quick cleaning tip: Add a tube of white toothpaste (without 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 microfiber cloth. Keep a bottle of water or a small spray bottle with water in your car as well to rinse this off. 

Car Mat Cleaner Made Easy 

Working from top to bottom of the interior of the car, we’ve finally made it to the car mats. Begin by giving all your mats a good shake. Do this a few feet away from the car; you don’t want sand and mud flying back inside. 

Many car mats are made of rubber and can be washed with warm soapy water. To do this, I fill a bucket with warm water and add a teaspoon of Dawn dish soap. Yep, it’s Dawn to the rescue again. Add rubber mats to the bucket and let them soak. 

Have a stiff scrub brush at the ready, too, and after a few minutes of soak time, it’s scrub time. When the dirt is gone, hose down the mats and lay them out to dry. I usually do this whole operation in my driveway. 

If your car mats are super old and covered in caked-on mud or salt stains, make your life a lot easier by pre-soaking them in a tub or utility sink filled with warm water for an hour. Then use Dawn dish soap and water, with the same method as above, to remove any dirt.

Quick cleaning tip: 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.

Car Cleaning Tips for Busy Parents

This article is part of a project I’ve been working on with Dawn to share some cool and unexpected uses for dish soap with you all. Keep your eyes peeled for more cool cleaning tips and tricks on the Clean My Space site, like 10 Things You Can Clean with Lemon. 

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

For more cleaning secrets check out our E-Book Bundle! It has 3 e-books (The Complete Guide to Essential Oils, My 3 Wave Cleaning System, 50 DIY Cleaning Recipes) and will get you started with all your cleaning needs!

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Melissa Maker is an entrepreneur, cleaning expert, founder of Toronto’s most popular boutique cleaning service, and star of the Clean My Space channel on YouTube (but she still hates to clean!). Every week, Melissa delivers new videos dishing expert advice on cleaning products, tools, DIY substitutes, and practical, timesaving solutions to everyday problems. Melissa has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in InStyle, Real Simple, and Better Homes and Gardens.


  1. I’m a mom. I’m 69, my baby is 40. I have two tips that I use in southern U.S., meaning no snow and salt. My shoe treads pick up tiny stones and deposit them in the grids of my car mats. I remove the mats and swing them against a brick wall near my driveway. Then I put it down and put a small stripe of Dawn on my broom tips. I prespray the mats with the hose. Then I scrub every direction with the “loaded” broom, starting on the rubber only part first. I hose them down and prop them up to dry. If time, I run that broom in my garbage can that I’ve put about 2″ of water in. This takes so little time, its a shame to waste the last of that cleaner in the broom. I THOROUGHLY rinse my broom. If it still seems dirty, I put some water in a bucket with a tiny bit of cleaner and mash the bristles back and forth. Then I rinse it, let it dry in the sun and I can even use that clean broom inside the house.

    I keep a small craft spray bottle of D-I-Y cleaner tightly capped and a cloth in the car. I wipe down the INSIDE of the windshield because it gets uncommonly dirty if ignored. I do this at long railroad crossings or if I have to wait. I do the mirrors if there is still time.

  2. Hi there! I live in the middle of the desert/country with lots of dust! How can I control this inside my house. I have two dogs and a 3 month old and Im trying to keep it controlled but it is very hard. Ideas?

  3. Thank you for sharing the useful information!
    I will do appreciate if my wife can clean the car for me once. Actually, I will be so happy if she read fully this post…Ha ha ha
    I really wish this post will be more popular to come to many other people.

  4. Hi Melissa,
    I am a big fan of your cleaning tips. No doubt your videos always encourage me and my sister to clean our house effectively. Bundle of thanks.
    I would appreciate if you can go through my this arranging hack and suggest your input.

  5. 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

  6. 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.

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

  8. 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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