How to Clean Up the 5 Most Annoying Kid Messes

Poop happens. Sometimes in the bathtub. Read these tips, so—after you freak out (obviously)—you can handle any icky mess, from poop to play dough, like a pro. Looking for help with the classic stains, like ketchup, grass, and chocolate ice cream? Find that info here.


Play dough all over the floor.

Photo by Ridvan Celik/Getty Images

Your kids have had a marathon session of snake rolling and "cookie" cutting, and now there are tiny pellets scattered on the floor or, worse, embedded in your carpet fibers. Don't try to wipe it up. "Sweeping or wiping pieces while they are still pliable just leaves play dough smeared on the floor," says Becky Rapinchuk, author of The Organically Clean Home and founder of the blog Clean Mama. Use a larger blob to pick up the smaller ones on the table. Pick up any large pieces on the floor (don't smush a big blob into them; you might just grab dust or hair). Let the small pieces dry out for an hour or two, then sweep, vacuum, or wipe up with a dry paper towel. For bits stuck in a rug: Let them dry, then pick or scrape up with a credit card, says Rapinchuk. You can also use a stiff brush to loosen any stubborn bits, says Carolyn Childers, chief home officer for If the play dough has left a colored stain, dampen a white cloth or paper towel with rubbing alcohol and blot, says Childers. You can also blot with dish soap and cold water.


Rice, couscous, and other microscopic dinner disasters.

If you serve rice to young children, you'll likely end up with half of the serving on the floor. Which leaves you with a few options: Get a dog. Or ban rice until they are teenagers. (Sound harsh? We know one Real Simple editor who limits rice to outdoor picnics and restaurants.) The same goes for couscous or quinoa—like play dough, those sticky bits are impossible to wipe or sweep up without smearing them into the floor. Be patient. "Let it dry!" says Rapinchuk. "Just like play dough, give it an hour or so and then sweep it up." If you have any marks left on the floor, wipe with a damp cloth.


Milk spilled on the couch.

If you witness it happening and can get to it quickly, hooray. Soak it up with a towel and remove the cushion cover, if you can, to prevent the milk from soaking in. For the cover, use a damp cloth with gentle dish soap to clean the remaining milk—or toss it in the laundry, if it's machine washable. "If it's old milk, the smell will probably alert you to the problem," says Rapinchuk. (Ew.) You'll need to re-wet the stain, then follow the same steps: dish soap and a damp cloth or laundry, if applicable. Got a lingering funk? Try an odor-eliminating spray like Febreze.


Urine on the couch or carpet.

Like milk, speed is key. Quickly absorb what you can, and then dilute the stain by taking a glass of lukewarm water and pouring it over the stained area, says Childers. Cover with a thick towel and apply pressure to soak up the stain. You can also spray on a pet urine cleaner. Blot, then rinse with water and blot again with a clean towel. For lingering odors, Childers recommends the following DIY deodorizer (mix in a spray bottle): ½ cup white vinegar, ½ cup lukewarm water, and a pinch of baking soda. Spray onto stained areas (this works for mattresses, too) as needed and let dry.


You-know-what in the bathtub.

It happens to everyone (if not, lucky you). And if you're squeamish, you can stop reading.

Ready? Ok. Get the kid out of the tub. If you have another bathroom, change venue! Wash your child off in a clean bathtub, and then go back to deal with the mess. If the poop is tiny or watery (likely if you're dealing with an infant), let it go down the drain. Got something more solid? Use the same method dog owners do on the sidewalk: Get a plastic bag, stick your hand in, and use that to reach in and grab any large pieces. Then turn the bag inside out over your hand and throw away. Let the water out of the tub, and use a baby wipe or paper towel to remove any remaining (visible) mess. Then spray the entire surface liberally with a sanitizing spray and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes, says Rapinchuk. Rinse. Then wash your hands and pour yourself a drink.