9 Ways to Protect Your Car Interior From Your Kids
4 - 5 minutes
Before you had kids, your car was probably in decent condition. After you had kids, every surface in your car had the potential to turn into a sticky, glittery, crumb-covered mess. But with a little cleverness and some effort, you can help keep your kids occupied in the car without the mess.
The best thing to do is have a No Food in the Car rule (and also make the car a Whining-Free Zone). That’s not likely to happen, though, if you go on long car trips or your will is broken on even short drives when your kids beg to eat something. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so here are a few tricks you can use to protect your car’s resale value and your sanity.
A durable, thin bathroom rug makes the perfect catcher for crumbs and spills. Put it under the car seat, Hint Mama tells us, and the non-slip backing keeps it in place while providing a barrier between your car’s upholstery and spilled drinks. To make the rug provide full coverage, you’ll need to cut out openings for the seatbelts, but after that, you can easily remove the rug to shake out the crumbs or stick in the washing machine if needed.
A towel could work as an alternative and also protect your upholstery from possible damage from the car seat itself. An important note, though: Make sure the car seat is properly installed and the towel or rug doesn’t interfere with the car seat’s stability. Of course, if you’d rather buy a commercial car seat protector, you can find those online, too.
All sorts of ridiculous and gross things end up in those catch-all cup holders. Having rented car seats and traveled with other families, I’ve seen used gum, barrettes, rocks, coins, wads of tissue, and random bits of string in them. This easy solution from Kids Activities Blog makes cleaning out all the little bits of things easier: Line the cup holders with silicone cupcake liners.
Having several car activities can help keep “are we there yet” at bay, but you also don’t want your backseat to turn into a toy box. Fortunately, the ever-useful shoe organizer works in the car. When hung over one of the front seats, kids (or parents) can quickly grab toys and other car trip necessities. If you’ve got a big family with lots of road trip supplies to tote, you can even organize your trunk with dollar store caddies.
There are some dynamic remote control caddies, like the IKEA Flort being repurposed here as a car caddy for art supplies, notebooks, and everything else a kid could want while being driven around. It’s especially good for little ones who might not be able to reach the back of the seat in front of them.
You want your kids to be occupied while keeping the toys and snacks off of the seats and floor. The solution could be an activity area repurposed from foam trays. Throw in some velcro strips or double-stick tape, and your kids can entertain themselves for at least a little while.
Older kids who have more self control can use a cheap art caddy to (hopefully) contain meals on the go. For toddlers, you might want to invest in a spill-proof snack container or two. These have flaps at the top that prevent Cheerios and goldfish from escaping.
On a similar note, if you can’t ban food from the car altogether, make a rule that the only food allowed is the kind that can be vacuumed up: no sticky candy, yogurt, applesauce, ketchup packets, or similar mushy things. (But just in case, bookmark this DIY carpet cleaner recipe.)
For drinks, products like the Sili Squeeze, Sip’n, and Vapur anti-bottles are designed to be spill-proof so your kid can quench their thirst without you worrying about spills.
When kids are a certain size, it seems they can’t help but prop their dirty shoes on the back of the seat in front of them. While you’re training them not to do so, you can either get a commercial car seat “kick mat” to protect the backs of your vehicle seats, or turn large t-shirts into cloth car seat covers for free.
Cover your car’s original carpet mats with a cheap set or, as CNN suggests, turn the mats upside down if they have a rubber backing. Another option is to cover the carpet with cheap plastic carpet liner. Have an old yoga mat or two that you’re no longer using? Those can work just as well, and you can just them to whatever size or shape you need for your car.
You have to be constantly on trash patrol. When unloading the kids, make it a habit that they always put stuff that doesn’t belong in the car into a designated bag or bin so you can go through it and take all that crap back into your house. Reusable shopping bags fit nicely over the headrest.
Another good habit: Have the kids empty the trash every time you fill the car up with gas. It’s a good habit for adults, too. Clutter and chaos will continue to be natural parts of parenthood, but hopefully our cars can survive.
This story was originally published in February 2015 and was updated on April 30, 2021 in slideshow format and to meet Lifehacker style guidelines.