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Clean the Inside of a Car — Fast

A messy car is a secret shame: Only your sworn-to-silence family knows about those fossilized french fries between the seats, the upholstery furred with dog hair, the sloshed-latte stickiness on the dashboard. That is, until you suddenly realize you're on carpool duty tomorrow, and your mobile grime scene is about to go public.

Relax. You can clean up fast — and it won't require a six-man NASCAR pit crew.


Grab a garbage bag, an empty box, and a laundry basket or plastic bin. Starting from the front, work your way to the rear (don't forget to look under the seats), tossing trash into the bag. Throw anything that belongs in the house (a stray lipstick tube, say) into the box; put items that stay in the car — registration, travel games — in the basket or bin.


Clean the dashboard, doorjambs, armrests, and steering wheel with Armor-All Cleaning Wipes ($4.49), which handle grime without harming vinyl or leather. Or use ordinary baby wipes. "They're mild enough for a baby's bottom, but still tough enough to do the job," says David Bowers, author of Dad's Own Housekeeping Book and the father of two toddlers.


Remove and shake out the floor mats. Using a handheld vacuum — we like the Eureka 71A ($50), which comes with a stretch hose — go over the seats and the floor. Treat spills and ink spots with hand sanitizer; its high alcohol content zaps stains. Slip the mats back in.


Now it's time to find a home for items in the for-the-car bin. A visor organizer, such as The Visor 1000 ($14) is perfect for stuff you'll need on the road — sunglasses, favorite CDs. Put maps in a large Ziploc bag in the driver's-side cubby; manuals and registration documents go in the glove compartment. Use an empty pill bottle to store coins for tolls; keep it handy in a cup holder. Unclutter the backseat with an organizer like Back Pockets ($14) for toys, ice scrapers, umbrellas. Put emergency car supplies like jumper cables and flares in an empty toolbox that you keep in the trunk.


Once you've emptied the laundry basket or bin, stow it in the trunk for double duty: It can hold multiple grocery bags upright for easier transfer into the house, then ferry indoor items — clothes headed to the cleaners, overdue library books — back into the car when it's time to run errands.


Head off trash accumulation: Fill an empty tissue box with plastic bags from the supermarket and stash it under the front seat, suggests Louise Kurzeka of Everything's Together, a professional organizing service in Minneapolis. Then you're ready to roll.

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