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Pets and Cars: How to Control the Mess

L ove to drive with your furry friends, but hate the mess they leave behind? Pets can bring all kinds of dirt and grime into the car, especially after a long walk or hike, and cleanup presents a challenge if you don’t prepare in advance.

1. Pick One Vehicle to Prep

Designate one car as the “pet car” to minimize prep and cleaning work. Choose the vehicle where your pet will be most comfortable, such as a hatchback with seats that fold down, instead of trying to squeeze Fido into your Smart car. Clean the vehicle thoroughly to give yourself a fresh start before you begin the pet-proofing process.

2. Make a “Pet Space”

Creating a special spot just for your pet helps confine potential messes to a smaller area and makes rides safer. Look for vehicle-tested pet harnesses to protect your dog from slipping if you have to stop quickly, or invest in a crash-tested crate for longer trips. Crates are especially helpful if you have a large dog who will routinely be riding in the rear of the vehicle or a pup with the mistaken belief that he should be the one in the driver’s seat.

3. Protect the Seats

Vinyl seats make for easy cleanup, but you can also treat fabric seats so that they’re less likely to sustain damage. Seat covers are another quick and simple option. They’re easy to install, water resistant, machine washable and available in a bunch of entertaining patterns.[] For an even more luxurious ride, look for pet “hammocks” designed to be installed in the back seat.

4. Upgrade to Tougher Floor Mats

Carpet floor mats make great pet hair collectors! Unless this is exactly what you’re going for, it’s a good idea to switch to non-slip rubber mats instead. The material is much easier to clean and doesn’t act as a magnet for every hair your pet sheds. Plus, if you and your dog like to romp through uncharted lands, rubber mats won’t soak up mud or be imprinted with permanent paw prints.

5. Banish Streaks from Windows

Dogs love to stare at the scenery going by, and who can blame them? The problem with their intense scrutiny of every tree and rock is the streaks their noses leave behind after being pressed to the window.

The simple solution? Plastic wrap. Cover Fido’s favorite window before you go out for a drive, and just toss the messy wrap when you arrive home. It might seem silly, but it saves you having to wipe the window after every trip.

6. Carry a Cleaning Kit

Even the best protection can’t prevent all messes. Whether Fido gets a little carsick or manages to have an accident in the one unprotected spot in the entire car, a cleaning kit makes short work of the problem. Stock a bag or case with pet-safe wipes, upholstery cleaner, paper towels, odor-removing spray and plastic bags. Super-absorbent microfiber cloths are also useful to have on hand.

7. Establish a Deep Cleaning Routine

Spending a few quick moments on cleanup when you get home from a drive with your dog and having a regular time for deep cleaning prevents pet messes from becoming overwhelming. Wipe down dirty surfaces immediately, and schedule a regular time to vacuum. If odors are a problem, sprinkle baking soda on the carpets and seats. Let it sit overnight to soak up the smells, and vacuum in the morning.

A clean car and fun road trips with your pet don’t have to be mutually exclusive if you’re diligent about cleaning. Plan ahead so that the two of you can continue to enjoy your epic adventures!

About the Author

Theresa “Sam” Houghton is a writer, speaker and health coach from Troy, NY. She’s a regular contributor to, and her work has appeared in the Honest Weight Food Co-Op Coop Scoop, Natural Awakenings Magazine and the 2017 Daily Dozen calendar. She has been a featured guest on Focus on Albany, WMAC’s Food Friday and the Just Ask David podcast. When she's not writing or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, cook tasty plant-based food and knit socks.You can find out more about Sam at

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