BEST WAYS TO CLEAN UP YOUR CAR By SHERYLL ALEXANDER, AOL AUTOS Between kids, pets, friends, and little ol' you, the sanctity of your car's interior is always in peril. So, how do you keep it clean when you've got kids spitting up and spilling, pets drooling and tracking in dirt and people eating four-course meals in your car? With a full-size family myself, I know how hard it is to keep everything clean without going crazy. Here are some tips to sustaining your sanity when it comes to keeping your car interior clean and organized. Bring It In, Take It Out Some families have an "if you can carry it into the car, you can carry it out" policy when it comes to car rides. Make your kids responsible for their books, cups, backpacks, balls and papers. Also, keep clutter to a minimum by limiting by limiting them to one item per car ride or make them keep their junk in backpacks. Bag It Up Always have a kitchen-sized trash bag on hand in the car. You can keep it in the trunk or in the pocket on the back of your seats. It is great for keeping fast-food bags, cups, trash, even occasional wet clothes or muddy shoes from doing harm. If you have older children, the child who is in charge of the house trash can also be in charge of the trash bag in the car. Also, have small resealable sandwich bags on hand and within reach for pet treats or food, you never know when Sparky might get hungry. Kid-Friendly Products For families with toddlers, think about buying spill-proof cups and snack holders. A busy mother invented these "anti-spill" cups and holders for finger foods such as Cheerios and Goldfish crackers. With the "Snack Trap," kids reach through soft plastic slits to grab a bite. Once the child removes his or her hand, the slits close so the snack stays contained if the cup is dropped or thrown. The company's "Sprout Spouts" are specialized lids that screw onto wide-mouth bottles of Juice, Gatorade and other drinks to avoid liquid spills. You can find these products at Babies- R-Us and Burlington Coat Factory or visit www.snaktrap.com. Stop to Smell the Roses Instead of eating while driving, think about stopping to eat. We are all in a hurry, but it is safer and provides more quality family time when you park and then eat. Toothpaste to the Rescue Stains on your car's upholstery can add to the day's stress level. A white, non-gel toothpaste can be kept in the glove box for a quick response to stains like lipstick, ink and ketchup. Rub gently and then wipe with a clean, damp cloth. Protect Your Carpets Buy a cheap set of rubber mats to put on top of your carpet mats. You can even turn your carpet mats upside down if they have rubber bottoms. Emergency Kits Keep an emergency cleaning kit in the trunk. Here are some items to keep on hand: small plastic grocery bags, large plastic trash bag, hand towels, paper towels, carpet cleaning solution, glass cleaning solution and a good general cleaning solution like Fanastik. Parents know that one of the most indispensable items to keep on hand is baby wipes. Always stash a portable-sized container of wipes in your glove box for those frequent spit-ups and other messy situations. Fast Cleaning Action For some real speed cleaning, you will be happy to hear about a new lineup of car care items. Called Blink, these five cleaning wipe products claim to "help quickly eliminate clutter, litter, spills and fingerprints in minutes." Designed by Honeywell Consumer Group, the products were designed to "offer clean and quick results in five minutes or less." Even better, perhaps, is these products come in innovative, car-friendly packaging, some of which is designed to clip onto your door pocket, seatback, center console, seat organizer or to be stored in the increasingly-small glove box. You can find Blink Spill Grabbers, Mess Lifters, Smudge Cleaners, Trash Tossers and Tidy Toes in retail, drug and grocery stores. For some other good advice, Stacy DeBroff, author of 'The Mom Book' and founder of Mom Central, Inc., provides these tips on how to make over today's home on wheels: Keep Things Organized Use collapsible trunk storage bins to organize emergency kit items as well as sports equipment for your kids. They hold things in place and transport easily. Invest in a backseat organizer designed with older kids in mind. They can hold everything from juice boxes and healthy snacks to CD players and small games. Pre-pack a bag for each activity your child participates in regularly and have it in the vehicle. Designate a few toys special "car toys" that stay in a small tote bag beneath your child's car seat. Instead of carrying a big roll of paper towels in your vehicle, take advantage of products that absorb spills and removes stains, and clip to your dashboard or backseat pocket. Stash menus from the top three area restaurants in the glove box for calling in orders on the go on those days when carpools or work leave you no time to cook. Keep a small booklet in your glove box that can hold your owner's manual, registration and proof of insurance inside of it, as well as any emergency contact numbers you may need. Hide a small amount of cash in it as well to have on hand if needed. Right up there with BBQ parties and baseball games, spending a nice Saturday afternoon washing and detailing your car is one of the best things about summer for car guys. To help you with that Saturday afternoon ritual, we've compiled a few tips for cleaning up your baby and keeping her that way. Part I: Tires and Wheels When washing your car you are supposed to start at the top and work your way down. If you get the wheels and tires cleaned first, you won't have to worry about getting all the brake dust and road dirt all over your two hour wash and wax job. Tires Let's start with the car tires. You can use the same car wash soap you use for the body of your car on your tires or you can purchase a special tire cleaner (if your tires have been through some really dirty roads). It's also a good idea to get a stiff bristled brush and scrub the car tires to get all the grime off. Scrubbing down the car tires produces a clean slate for applying some showroom shine to those puppies, which we'll get to in just a moment. Hose the car tires down, apply your soap of choice, scrub them up and rinse them off. Be sure to take an old towel and dry the tires off at the end of the car wash process too. Expert Tip: Do you have mud or dirt in your wheel wells? Spray the tire cleaner into the wheel well and use the same brush to clean up your wheel wells. If the brush is too big to fit, then take an old rag and wipe the inside well down. Wheels Now let's get onto the wheels or rims, whatever you prefer to call them (and if you have those plastic rim spinners, for the love of all that is decent and good, take them off now and leave them off). It's important to make sure your wheels are cool to the touch and preferably out of direct sunlight, especially if you have expensive chrome or aluminum wheels. If the wheels are hot, some cleaners can stain them, so be sure to keep the wheels hosed down. Also make sure you get the right cleaner for your specific wheel type and finish or you could damage finish. If you aren't sure what type of wheel finish you have, and then get a wheel cleaner that is safe for all wheel types, otherwise you can look for specific cleaners made for polished, chrome or even non clear- coated aluminum wheels. If you are really specific about your wheels and want to be extremely careful, you'll want to find a cleaner, such as P21S , that contains no acid or lye, which can be harmful to a wheel's finish. To get the job done quicker, you can use a soft bristled brush to get most of the brake dust off, then use a wheel detail brush (which is usually shaped like a small Christmas tree) to get inside the spokes and the interior of the wheel, where all the nasty brake dust collects. To finish cleaning the wheel of brake dust, use a terry cloth rag or sponge and wipe down the areas that the brushes couldn't reach. Pay close attention to the corners where the spoke meet the outer rim and especially the underside of spokes that are closer to the top of the wheel, where you can't see them. Rinse the wheels off really well and enjoy the shine! Expert Tip: Wear dishwashing gloves or latex painting gloves to keep your hands safe and clean from harmful brake dust and cleaner. Tire Shine To finish off the wheels and tires, you are going to want to apply some tire shine, but be sure to do this when you're fully done washing the car so that you don't rinse off the tire shine. There is nothing better then standing back after applying the tire shine and seeing the fruits of your labor as a shiny car sits on jet-black tires ... just like it was in the showroom. Tire shine comes in a few options -- from the traditional liquid based sprays and foam aerosol cans to new gels that are applied with sponges. You can find tire shine products that offer a very glossy look or some that provide a more natural sheen. Whatever you choose, be sure to take your time because you don't want it all over your clean wheels or car. Expert Tip: Avoid tire shine overspray on your car and driveway. If you are using a liquid based tire shine, buy a small paintbrush, empty some liquid tire shine into a clean bucket and paint it on like you're painting on some barbeque sauce on a nice rack of ribs. Use a towel to wipe off the excess as needed. Part II: Washing and Drying Expert Tip: Never ever use the same bucket that you used for the tires and wheels to mix car wash soap for the body of your car. Brake dust is corrosive and any left over brake dust in the bucket could harm your car's paint. Always use a separate bucket when washing the car itself. You probably don't like excessive heat and neither does your car. Most car wash products tell you not to use them in direct sunlight so stay in the shade or wait until it's cool outside. In the heat, you car's surface can reach well over 100 degrees, making washing your car difficult. Bug and Tar Removal Before you start your car wash, first clean off those extra grimy spots like the bumpers and lower trim. Use a bug and tar cleaner plus a soft brush (like boar's hair) or special bug sponge to wipe off the debris without scratching the paint. This will keep you from smearing tar and that dragon fly you knew for half-a-second all over your vehicle. The Car Wash Now let's move on to the biggest part, washing the body of your vehicle. First of all, let's get something straight; do not use household dishwashing soap. The chemicals in them are designed to strip off everything in sight including your car's protective layers, so preserve your car's paint job and protection by only using car soap for your car wash. There are two basic ways you can wash your car or truck. We recommend one or the other depending on what you drive. If you own a car, then use the traditional bucket and sponge method. However, if you own a larger CUV, SUV or pickup truck then use a lesser known, but very effective, brush method. The only differences between the two are going to be the product you use for your car wash and how you prepare the soap and water. The larger surface area on the brush will help clean larger vehicles faster and save you some backache. For Cars: Pour your soap into the bottom of the bucket, then pour some soap on the sponge or wash mitt you are using and put it into the bottom of the bucket too. Grab the hose and start putting some water into the bucket. Expert Tip: For more suds, move the nozzle of the hose further away from the surface of the water. For more water put the nozzle closer to the surface or even into the bucket itself. For CUVs, SUVs and Pickup Trucks: Get a soft wash brush, preferably boars hair and an extension handle. Soak the brush with water then pour your soap directly onto the bristles. Wet your vehicle down and start washing it with the brush. The soap on the brush will react with the water on the vehicle and create instant suds. Apply more soap to the brush as needed. Expert Tip: Never let the bristles of the brush touch the ground as they can pick up small stones and dirt which can scratch your finish. If this does happen, be sure to quickly rinse out the brush with your hose before continuing. Now that you have your soap, sponge or brush you are ready to do your car wash. Be sure to start at the top and work your way down, doing small sections at a time. Starting from the top allows the dirty water and soap to flow down the still dirty body. This way you are never ruining a clean section of the car or truck. If it's really sunny outside and the clean sections are starting to dry, be sure to keep them wet by spraying them down as you rinse off the sections you just washed. Drying the Car Ok, the car is all washed and ready to be dried. This is one of the most important parts of the entire process. Improper drying can lead to water spots, streaks and even scratches, ultimately ruining your day and your car. The best drying method is to park it in a garage or shade, but not everyone has this luxury, so instead you'll just have to act fast and use the right drying product. Some people recommend using 100 percent cotton terry cloth towels to dry, but they can be expensive and if they aren't well maintained will cause you more hassle than they are worth. Plus, for larger cars you will need a few to dry it off. Other people like to use a natural chamois, but we have found these to breakdown and leave residue on your car in a short amount of time. Thankfully science is on your side and you can have the best of both worlds by using a synthetic chamois. Similar to how you did the car wash, take the chamois and start at the top and work your way down. Only this time, be sure to do all the flat surfaces first (roof, hood, trunk and windows) then work the sides and bumpers. Make sure you get under the door handles and under the side mirrors. These areas tend to hold water that will sneak up on you later. Next, grab a clean towel and open up all the doors and wipe down the door jambs, then do the same on the inside of the trunk and hood. Why use a towel and not the chamois for this? These areas tend to be a harbor for dirt and grime and you don't want to get the chamois dirty. Expert Tip: Try using a squeegee to dry the outside of the windows. Do them before you dry off the car and you'll be left with spot free glass. But be forewarned, you have to act fast, and be sure to keep a cotton towel handy to dry off the squeegee as you go and wipe up any left over water in the corner of the windows. Making the Car Shine You should now have a clean, dry car. The next step is going to be cleaning the interior, but before we get to that, let's address one more item on the outside. Most people will be content at leaving the car the way it is now, its clean right? Yes, but it isn't as good as it can be! If you want to really make the car shine for your Friday night cruise downtown, but don't have time for a full polish and wax, follow this simple step: purchase a good quality 'quick detailer' and apply it to your car. This should take no more than 15 minutes depending on the size of your car. The results will speak for themselves. Not only will this step help remove any left-over dried water spots you couldn't get to, but it will also shine up the paint and will make the car easier to clean next time. Part III: Interior We couldn't provide steps on how to detail a car without mentioning a few interior golden nuggets. We spend a lot of our time inside our cars. The daily commute, taking the kids to soccer practice and the family dog all put wear and tear on our poor cars interior. Food crumbs, drink stains and smells galore make the interior a chore to clean but we have some good advice that can help. How to Detail a Car: Vacuuming Your car accumulates a lot of dirt, dust, rocks and other fun items (pet hair anyone?). The only way to get rid of it is to suck it up with a good 'ol vacuum. We recommend using a Shop-Vac if you have one, but if that isn't available, then a normal vacuum will work. A slim nozzle attachment can reach the small crevices in between the seats and hard to reach areas of the floors. Take the floor mats out of the car, shake them out and vacuum them, this also allows you to clean under the mats with ease. Don't forget to suck up all the stuff that collects in the folds of your seats and door pockets as well. Expert Tip: Do you have pet hair that just isn't budging, even with a vacuum? No problem. Buy some latex gloves, the kind you'll find at a hardware or drugstore, put them on and then rub your hands over the problem areas. The static electricity created from the latex glove will make the pet hair cling to it like a magnet. How to Detail a Car: The Dash and Doors Now you are in the home stretch. Getting the vinyl, plastic and rubber parts of your dashboard and doors clean is pretty easy, but could take some time depending on the size of your car. We advise using a 100 percent cotton terry cloth towel (no lint) or a micro-fiber towel as a base. Add in some all-purpose interior car cleaner and you'll have a winning combination. We don't suggest using household cleaners because they could be ineffective and harmful to your car. The plastics and vinyl's in your car give off certain oils and the dirt and grime from everyday use usually require special cleaners. Start on the top of the dash and work your way down the center console. If you have some built up grime in any areas of the center console or cup holder areas, spray some cleaner in there. Let it sit for a few minutes as you clean other areas, then come back and wipe it up. Don't forget to wipe down the door sills, the rear deck and the plastic parts between the front and rear seats on four-door cars. After you have cleaned these areas, it's time to apply some vinyl protectant. This will help maintain the vinyl by replenishing the oils and provides protection from harmful UV rays when parked outside. Again, we advise using a lint free terry cloth or micro-fiber towel as an applicator; though a small foam sponge will work as well. Spray the protectant on the towel or sponge outside of the car then apply inside. You don't want to get overspray from the protectant on your seats, windows or electronics. Be careful around your stereo, gauge cluster and any wood trim and whatever you do, don't put any on the steering wheel, because your hands might slip off the next time you grip the wheel. Expert Tip: Ever get into your car and ask yourself, "What is that smell?" You can try fancy odor eliminators, but we recommend trying a home remedy. Take a simple dryer sheet and put one under each of the front seats. Leave them there for a few days and replace if necessary. Sure, your car will smell like your Mom just washed your clothes, but it will also help soak up any bad odors. How to Detail a Car: The Interior Windows The last step is to clean the interior windows. The challenge here is obtaining a streak-free window, but first you have to understand what contributes to streaks. The vinyl and plastics in your car give off fumes and oils which, combined with the use of your air conditioning and ventilation system, produce a film that accumulates on the inside of your windows. Once this film is on the windows, streaks can be created by either using household cleaners that aren't formulated to cut through the grime properly or by using the correct window cleaner but in the improper way (i.e. not fully drying the window after applying the cleaner itself). We suggest using a specific car window cleaner and a good quality micro-fiber towel. Spray the cleaner on the window and dry with the micro-fiber towel. Be sure to fold the towel over every other pass to always keep a dry side wiping the window. This way you are actually drying off the cleaner and not just pushing it around. Don't forget to use the same towel to clean off your rear view and vanity mirrors. If you happen to have any spots on the outside of the windows, follow the same steps there too. Expert Tip: For a guaranteed streak-free window follow these steps: Take two micro-fiber towels, get one damp with cool water, keep the other fully dry. Wipe the inside of the window down with the damp towel and then quickly dry it with the dry one. Keep drying the window until it becomes 'smooth'. You'll know it is fully dry when the towel glides over it. This process takes a bit more elbow-grease but will not leave any streaks. Now you have a clean car on the inside and out and you might be a few dollars richer from all the coins you found. Be sure to check back with us next time when we'll review the intricate steps of using a clay-bar plus polishing and waxing tips.