6 Ways to Keep the Car (Sort of) Clean During Winter Road Trips

published Dec 22, 2022
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The idea of winter road trips is so cozy. Wrapping up in blankets, blasting the heater, stopping for some hot chocolate along the way to a destination that’s sure to be full of the warmth of love and family — the very thought is comforting. 

The reality, though, is far from picturesque. Sure, there are moments that might give you a faint twinge of “these are the days,” but there are also arguments over what to watch, squabbles about where to stop to eat, disagreements about driving styles and routes, whining about how long the trip is taking, not to mention worrying about weather and road conditions.

There’s also the truly ungodly mess that happens in the car. Anyone who’s ever gone on a road trip with kids knows about the insane explosions of food and wrappers and crayons and socks and all kinds of other crazy stuff that happen during road trips.

While some measure of radical acceptance is called for when faced with the state of the car upon your return home, there are some things you can do to keep the car reasonably clean during the road trip itself. 

Here are some tried and true ways: 

1. Make sure you have dedicated trash containers for each row.

Having trash containers for each row of the car goes a long way in keeping on top of car messes. You can use a simple plastic cereal container lined in a plastic grocery bag, or you can invest in a waterproof car trash can. Again, having one for each row is key to trash actually making it inside. 

2. Have plenty of extra plastic bags on hand.

Even with your trash cans, you’ll end up with car messes that need cleaning up quickly or that won’t fit in car trash cans. Plus, those trash cans will need to be emptied and you’ll need extra liners. Grab a handful of bags before getting on the road. You won’t regret it. 

3. Designate a trash bag when you pick up food.

Fast food trash will fill up your garbage cans fast. Instead of relying on your small trash cans, as soon as you pass out all your fast food, grab the biggest bag and declare it the food trash bag. Have one person ask for trash to be passed to the big bag and toss it at your next stop. 

4. Load up on napkins and wet wipes.

As we all know, car messes aren’t just dry. For wet messes, make sure you have a stack of napkins in the glove box or even a roll of paper towels. In addition, having wet wipes on hand means you can clean up sticky messes, including those on hands, as soon as possible. 

5. Empty trash every chance you get.

Every time you stop for gas, food, or to go to the bathroom, collect trash in those bags you brought. Not all of the trash will make it into the garbage cans, and every stop is a chance to clear out clutter. Make it a non-negotiable, everybody-pitch-in habit and you’ll make a significant improvement in the amount of trash that collects in your car. 

6. Plan a car wash when you get home.

No matter how free of clutter you manage to keep your car during your trip (go you!) you’ll still need a wash after you return home. Planning on this and knowing it’s coming up will ease some of the stress as you watch your car getting dirty — so you can focus on the more important things like music you can all agree on, ha!

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