Road trips are one of the joys of life, and many people want to share the happiness with their pets. Whether you’re headed on a camping trip to a favorite local spot or sightseeing across the country, furry companions can be an important part of the experience.

But if you care at all about the condition of your car, you probably have a love-hate relationship with trips that involve your pets. It’s fun having your beloved buddies along, but they make such a mess! From drool to shed hair, the things pets leave behind aren’t contributing to the pleasure of the trip or to the value of your vehicle.

Pets, no matter how precious, aren’t known for minding their manners. They’re well-meaning, but they don’t wipe their feet or shake the mud from their coats before jumping into your car. So how can you more fully enjoy the ride with Fido or Fluffy? This guide will give you the 411 on how to pet-proof your car.

Cleaning for a Fresh Start

Unless you’ve just bought a brand-new car, you’ll probably want to eliminate the traces of previous rides with your furry friends. A thorough detailing will give you a fresh start, ensuring that not-so-pleasant scents won’t remind you of old messes.

  1. Use a vacuum to sweep up all traces of dirt and pet hair. If you’ve traveled with your pets recently, you may need a wet/dry vac to ensure you eliminate any moisture from carpets and cloth. Letting damp areas sit too long will trigger mold and mildew problems that can be a hassle to deal with.
  2. If your canine pal tends to drool on the seats, you’ll want to clean up any crusted-on nastiness before you take protective measures. A leather cleaner or carpet cleaner will solve most issues that you’ll encounter. If the car is especially dirty, you may want to bring in a professional detailer who has more powerful cleaning solutions and the experience to make sure damage doesn’t occur to your seats.
  3. A good glass cleaner should take care of any dried drool on the windows. If you have a big slobberer, you may need to give windows a couple of scrub-downs.
  4. To get rid of pet smells, try an odor eliminator. These heavy-duty stink-blasters use chlorine dioxide to get the job done. Be sure to air out your car thoroughly afterward, so you don’t have an unpleasant smell of a different kind to deal with.

With a clean car, it’s now time to consider ways to protect your car interior from pet messes in the future. These recommendations should keep you prepared for whatever journeys you take with your four-legged friend.

Car Seat Covers to the Rescue

The easiest way to prevent pet dander, hair, and slobbery puddles is to use car seat covers. Seat covers come in a variety of fabrics and finishes to suit individual tastes and needs. You can purchase covers specifically designed for your car’s make and model, and they’re available with waterproof coatings as well.

While each cover will have its own set of care instructions, seat covers are generally simple to clean. First, vacuum or shake off loose hair and dirt. Waterproof covers can be washed while in the vehicle — simply spritz them with water and a mild shampoo and then wipe and rinse. Fabric covers can usually be tossed into the washing machine on the cold temperature setting. Air dry, and then you’re ready to roll once again.

Fabric Guard Offers Additional Protection

If your pet is exceptionally rambunctious, you may want the extra preventative that a fabric guard spray can provide. This spray coats fabric fibers with a protective coating to repel oil and water without changing the look or feel of the material. It will make cleanup much easier, with less scrubbing. You can coat all the fabric surfaces in your car, to make sure you don’t have to deal with stains in any area. These sprays also work well on carpets, making them stain resistant also.

Car Door Covers Keep Plastic Pristine

Both dogs and cats tend to get excited when they’re invited along for a ride. Adventure awaits! That excitement sometimes translates into unsightly scratches on car doors. Door covers come in a variety of materials (including microsuede) that look classy and protect plastic from sharp nails and drool. Door covers are designed to clean up quickly with a damp cloth and fold easily for storage when not in use.

Dash Covers Preserve the Cockpit

If your pet likes to ride shotgun, you’ll probably want to protect your dash as well. Dashboard covers protect the front area of your vehicle, eliminating scratches. These covers are available in suede, velour, and other materials.

Glass Coatings Make Wiping Windows Easier

While it’s fairly straightforward to clean drool off of windows, without a special coating to make the process easier, you’ll be using a lot of elbow grease. Especially if you have a breed that’s known for its slobbery kisses (hello bulldogs, Newfoundlands, and Saint Bernards!), you may want to consider applying a glass coating that will make wiping your windows a breeze. Coating sprays fill in the microscopic pits on your vehicle’s glass, making the surface smooth. They help repel contaminants, dirt, and oil, making cleaning faster and simpler.

Harnesses Keep Pets in Place

Creating a designated space for your pet will keep the mess limited to a smaller area, making cleanup simpler. The best way to keep pets in place is to use a harness attached to the seat belt. The harness will prevent your pet from roaming around the vehicle and, more importantly, it will keep both you and your pet safer. Harnesses come in a variety of styles to accommodate different pets’ comfort preferences. Check your state’s laws for rules on pet transportation, and look at the fine print to be sure the harness you’re considering has been tested for safety. You may also want to consider keeping especially excited pets in a travel kennel.

Floor Liners Protect Carpets

If your pet hates harnesses of any type and your state doesn’t require them for safety, you may decide to forgo the harness for a short trip where you won’t encounter dangerous traffic. In this case, you will probably want to cover your floors with plastic liners or floor mats. You can purchase cargo mats if you have a hatchback or SUV that will accommodate your pets in the cargo area. Manufacturers also offer mats that are specifically designed for your make and model of car.  

Especially if you’re planning to go on a hike or to the lake where Fido’s fur is likely to pick up mud and debris, these liners are a great idea. You’ll be saved from doing a heavy-duty scrubbing when you return home, and you’ll look forward to the trip a lot more if you know you won’t have to deal with a messy chore when you get back.

Ramps Eliminate Disembarking Scratches

When a pet jumps in and out of the car, scratches, and tears in seats can result. Foldable ramps make it easy for your pets to enter and exit your vehicle without that wild lunging that flings sharp nails across interior plastic. If you have a small or older dog who has difficulty getting up into the car, ramps can help protect their physical safety as well. Your pet will probably appreciate the assistance as much as you enjoy avoiding ugly scratches! When you’re finished using the ramp, simply fold and store in your trunk.

Air Fresheners Can Make the Ride More Enjoyable

As much as we love them, let’s face it: pets are often smelly. If you’re going to enjoy your ride with your animal friends, you may want to try an air freshener. Essential-oil fresheners are all-natural and provide a scent that isn’t cloying. They’re available in commercially-produced versions, or you can create your own from your favorite oils. Peppermint and eucalyptus are popular choices for eliminating odor. (Just be sure to keep your pet from getting into the oil, since some are toxic to canines). You can also make an all-natural gel air freshener or use baking soda.

Mid-Trip Maintenance Keeps It Fresh

It’s always a good idea to keep a lint brush or a handheld vacuum in the car for quick maintenance cleanings. You may also want to stock a small bottle of cleaning spray and a terry cloth for wipe-downs mid-journey. A totable cleanup kit that you keep in your car will prove handy. This kit should contain things you often wish you’d brought with you on your journeys — including paper towels, wipes, and plastic bags. If you keep these items in an easy-to-carry bag or organizer, you can simply bring your kit along with you no matter what car you’re using for the trip.

Before you head out on your next journey, review the ideas in this guide and spend a few moments preparing your car for the trip. While it’s impossible to completely pet-proof any area, these tips should go a long way toward protecting your car from the inevitable. With a fresh vehicle, your adventures with your fluffy companions will be much more enjoyable!

Next Article: How to Prepare Your Car for Long-Term Storage to Prevent Deterioration