If a long car trip is in your future this summer, here’s how to keep your ride clean (and your sanity intact).

By Sarah Yang
Updated June 06, 2016
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Start With a Clean Car

Give your car a good wash and interior cleaning before you get on the road. This is especially important if your car has basically become another closet or storage unit, filled with books and magazines, dry cleaning, and more. “It will help set cleanliness expectations for all passengers,” says organizing and storing expert Emma Gordon of Clutter.com.

Keep a Few Key Items on Hand

Before you start out on your journey, make sure you have some cleaning essentials to keep the car tidy during the road trip. “Get a box of small wastebasket liners for gathering trash between pit stops,” says Gordon. “Single-use disinfectant wipes or baby wipes are a must for cleaning up spills and wiping sticky hands. Fill a travel-sized spray bottle with a solution of water and laundry stain remover to handle grease spots as they occur.”

Set Boundaries

“Most families try a ‘No food in the car’ rule, which is good for the car, but next to impossible for a family with small kids,” says Gordon. “A better rule is ‘No condiments and clear drinks only.’ Spills are bound to happen, so it’s best to make sure that the things you have available to spill won’t leave a stain.” Whether it’s “No feet on the dashboard” or “No eating certain foods in the car,” go over the rules with your family that will prevent any big messes (and fights, too).

Tidy Up Frequently

Trash and clutter can easily build up in a small space, so make cleaning your car a habit. “Clear all trash from the car every time you stop for gas, lunch, or at rest stops,” says Gordon. “When you stop for the night, take a moment to tidy up the car: Stow road trip activities, fold up and stack blankets and pillows, put away chargers and headphones. Starting the day’s journey with a tidy car makes each leg of the trip feel like a new voyage.” To keep things streamlined, keep all road trip activities and accessories in a zippered tote bag so it can be passed between the front and back seats without items spilling.