The Detail: Back To School Edition

Black Acura

Fall’s almost here and schools are in full swing… and I’m sure all of the parents out there know what that means. I’m talking, of course, about the endless war between children and the cleanliness of your car. I’m sure at one point or another, every one has experienced crumbs in seatbelt buckles, “art” filled windows, and a whole lot worse, but I’d venture to say that just about nobody likes to clean it up. Well I’ve set out to change your mind by making cleaning up after a messy carpool a bit easier in this back to school edition of The Detail.

Cleaning up your car after messy kids

Before you go to clean up whatever is left of your back seats, the first thing you need to understand is that it will probably get dirty again. What I mean by this is that you probably wont be shampooing anything or busting out pressurized air. For this reason I’ll be explaining a quick, easy detail and outlining some products every mom or dad should carry in their car to make sure these messes dont get too out of hand. As I always say, it’s better to be proactive than reactive – and if you don’t know what I mean, imagine you just found spilt milk from a month ago… that’s probably going to ruin your day (if not your week) and maybe your budget, too. But before we get to that, let’s take a look at what you must do to get your car back.

Footprints on seat backs

If there’s one thing kids to great it’s kicking the backs of your car’s driver and passenger seats. Typically this means dirt and grass stains, but as the weather gets colder and colder, some of us will inevitably be dealing with road salt. None of these substances are good for your car’s interior, especially not the backs of your seats. Cleaning these messes is extremely important, but it’s as easy as opening a car door. Clean with an interior cleaner and wipe using a microfiber cloth. For stubborn dirt or stains, you may need a more concentrated cleaner and a horsehair brush. If you do have leather seats, it’s important to condition after you clean to restore essential nutrients and oils to the leather that prevent the surface from drying out. Your seat backs should be back to normal in a matter of minutes.

Crumby seams

Goldfish, Cheerios, crackers… you name it, you can probably find it the seams of your car’s backseats. If you recall, I said you probably wouldn’t be using any pressurized air, but I’ve got a tip for you. For under $10 you can by a can of it from any office store. It’s great for blowing all that disgusting gunk from the seams so you can vacuum it out for good. That, combined with a small detailing brush (or old toothbrush if you’ve got one) and a simple interior cleaning product will have you forgetting all the times you told the kids to “be careful” with their snacks while driving to and from school.

Window “art”

Sorry sweetie, but museum art is for the fridge. Truth is, fingerprints, smudges, and tongue marks aren’t helping your visibility all that much – even if you are just glancing over your shoulder to check the lane next to you. Not only that, it just looks hideous. And when it only really takes about 5 minutes to make your windows shine again, all I can say is “why wait?” All you’ve got to do is grab a window cleaner and a glass towel (paper towel tends to leave streaks/lint) and reclaim your dignity by spraying and wiping the glass until you can’t see what looks to be a dancing sunflower anymore. Trust me, it’s super easy and really makes a difference in the overall appearance of your car.

Sticky cup holders

There’s just something a little nasty about sticky cup holders. I don’t think I really need to go into too much depth regarding the cause because there are literally thousands of scenarios, so we’ll jump right into fixing the problem. First you’re going to need an interior cleaning product. You will want to spray this into the affected cup holders and let it sit, allowing the product’s surfactants to breakdown whatever the “stick” is made of – soda, juice, etc. After a good 30 seconds to a minute, start wiping up the mess. You may have to repeat if necessary.


Spills come in all shapes and sizes, but one thing’s for sure: don’t let the spill sit – especially if you’re dealing with dairy. The best method of fixing spills is to keep a carpet/upholstery cleaner handy, along with a towel or two. Spray the spill with the cleaner and dab up the mess with your towel(s). Repeat until the spill is gone and let the area air dry. If you notice a stench, you may need to use an odor eliminator, but typically a foul smell is a sign there’s something else going on (mold, mildew, etc.). If the smell wont go away, you should definitely look into a professional carpet cleaning, in which the seats and carpets are removed to fully eradicate any odor causing material (read more).

Carpool blues

If the carpool’s got you down, grab the shop-vac (or find a local gas station with a quarter operated vacuum) and just go nuts. I mean it, go crazy. Just start vacuuming everything. The wrappers, the gummy worms, everything. Vacuuming is by far the easiest way to really bring your car back to life after a bunch of rowdy kids tear it up and, if you’re doing a complete detail of everything in your car, is usually the last thing you do to finish off your work.

Detailing products to ride with

As I mentioned, there are certain car care products every parent should keep in their trunk. Sure you’ll need a towel or two and maybe a small brush, but the products are key in making sure your car stays as clean as possible during carpool day or just a trip to the zoo. Carrying these with you at all times will keep you step ahead of any mess.

  • Glass cleaner
  • General interior cleaner
  • Carpet/upholstery cleaner
  • Odor neutralizer


The best advice I can give you is to stay aware. Messes will happen, and he/she who is best prepared usually comes out with an easier detail when all is said and done. So keep the products above handy, and know what you have to do to really clean the car – seats, seams, windows, carpets, etc. As we all know, when it comes to kids there really is no limit to what can get dirty, so keep your eyes peeled and be ready for anything.

As always, you can ask us questions in the comments if you have a specific situation that we haven’t covered!