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How to Clean Up Your Messy Car (And Keep it That Way)

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woman cleaning her car with a vacuum cleaner

If you spend a lot of time in your car, be it commuting for work, shuttling the kids around, or both, you know how messy things can get. Here’s how to get things tidy and keep it that way to avoid your car turning into an embarrassing dumpster.

Messy cars happen easily, even if you’re the only person who is ever in your vehicle. You get fast food and drop a fry or two. You toss a tissue or napkin to the side to pick up later, only later never comes. The change falls out of your pockets. Sand and gravel come in off your shoes.

Just like cleaning your house or maintaining your yard, keeping your car clean is an ongoing project, but there are some things you can do to keep your car more organized and make cleaning less of a chore.

Let’s start with cleaning the car so that you have a fresh slate to work with and then look at tips and habits to use to keep it clean going forward.

Cleaning Your Messy Car

There’s a big difference between getting your car detailed to the point that it looks showroom fresh and just getting things tidy. There’s something to be said for cleaning a car to the point where you’re using q-tips in tiny crevices, but if that’s not your style, all that really matters if you give the car a decent cleaning to get rid of garbage, debris, and dust.

Empty Your Car

The first step in cleaning your messy car is to pull everything out of it, whether it’s trash, clutter, or your favorite CDs. Pull out floor mats while you’re at it. You may as well get a nice deep clean while you’re in there.

Toss the stuff that’s trash in the trash and set the things that need to go back in the car to the side. Anything that’s left should get put wherever it belongs inside your home or garage.


Grab a hand vac and vacuum all the nooks and crannies in your car. You’d be surprised what’s hiding under your seats (and in the seats as well). If you don’t have a vacuum at home, take your car to a car wash and use the ones there.

Vacuum the floor mats as well. If you have plastic mats, you can use the hose to clean them off and then let them air dry while you’re reorganizing your car. Some bay-style self-wash car washes will have clips on the wall of the bay where you can clip your mats and use the spray wand to really deep clean them. If so, you can give them a good spray down and then take them home to dry in the sun.

Wipe Down the Surfaces

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