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Challenge: Traveling with Kids

What I Keep in My Barf Cleanup Kit for Road Trips

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Car sickness is one of the most dreaded complications of a family trip. No one wants to deal with a sick kid, but unfortunately it does happen. My own kids have thrown up in the car dozens of times over the thousands of miles we have traveled. In fact, my youngest child got sick in the car this past weekend!

I've learned that it's helpful to be prepared for this happening by bringing a "barf cleanup kit" on every road trip. We don't always need it, but when we do we are VERY glad we have it.

One thing you'll notice that I don't have any harsher cleaners on this list like upholstery cleaner, Lysol, etc. This is because most younger kids who are traveling (and susceptible to making bigger messes) are in car seats or booster seats. There are strict guidelines on how to clean these. As a Child Passenger Safety Technician, I've learned the basic rules on how to properly clean car seats both by studying manuals and by my own experience. Always refer to your car seat manual for directions.

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Here's what's in our barf cleanup kit:

1. A bath towel

This can have many uses. What I usually do is put the towel on the lap of the child who seems like they may about to be sick, or throw it on top of a child who is throwing up to try to contain the mess until we can pull over. This is especially helpful for babies and little kids who can't hold a bag to throw up in. A towel is also useful for after the fact for cleanup because it is very absorbent and you can wrap clothes and other things up inside of it.

2. A roll of paper towels

These can be used similarly to the towel to try to contain the mess as a child is getting sick, but it is more helpful for cleaning up afterwards. Whatever is leftover after you wipe down the mess with a towel can be better cleaned by paper towels. And yes, bring the entire roll. Trust me.

3. Gallon size Ziploc bags or hospital barf bags

Older kids can use these to throw up in if you are unable to pull over before they get sick. They are big enough to contain large amounts of vomit so you can minimize cleanup. You can purchase hospital barf bags (emesis bags) on Amazon. What I like about the Ziploc bags is that you can seal them up and they have a very strong hold. You can also secure emesis bags by twisting them. When you are able to make a stop, you can just toss the bag in the trash.

4. Bottled water

Having water on hand is helpful for hydration and cleaning. You can use water to clean off your child, rinse out their mouth, wet down paper towels or other items for cleaning.

5. Baby wipes and sanitizing wipes

Having both wipes and paper towels may seem redundant, but I've found that both can be helpful depending on the size of mess you are dealing with. My husband and I usually divide and conquer while cleaning up: one person cleans up the child while the other person cleans up the car and car seat. Having multiple cleaning tools makes it easier to get both jobs done. Baby wipes are of course helpful for cleaning off your child. I always keep sanitizing wipes in my car because many times things happen when you aren't near a bathroom, and being able to wipe down your hands after you are done cleaning feels SO much better.

6. A gentle soap such as Dawn dish soap, Johnson & Johnson's baby wash, or Dove bar soap.

This is what you can use on a paper towel with water to clean your car seat. As mentioned above, harsh cleaners can break down the material and compromise the integrity of your car seat. Even things like vinegar and essential oils aren't permitted for use on car seats; while they may be natural, there are other reasons that they are harmful for your car seat. Read more about these reasons and cleaning your car seat on Car Seats for the Littles.

Here's my general approach to cleaning our car seats: After wiping out the bulk of the mess with dry paper towels, I use a paper towel with a bit of water and soap to wipe down the fabric, plastic, and harness straps. I keep going until I feel like most of the vomit has been removed. Then I use wet paper towels without soap to "rinse" any remaining soap off. Keep in mind that it will most likely still smell bad. Dealing with the smell will have to wait until you reach your destination and can give your car seat and car a more thorough cleaning however your car seat manual suggests (pro tip: letting your car seat dry in the sun after you clean it can help remove stubborn smells).

7. Grocery sacks

You can use these to place your paper towels and other trash in for easy disposal or to hold your dirty clothes and towels until you get to your destination. In a pinch, plastic grocery sacks can also be used as a barf bag, although they may not completely hold everything since there are sometimes holes in the bags. Keep in mind that paper bags and sacks will likely break apart when wet (I know this from experience).

There you have it! This list of items is simple, but ends up being extremely helpful if you find yourself in a situation where your child gets sick in the car. The same methods are also great for potty accidents or other messes that you encounter along the way. No one wants any of these things to happen, but they are often a reality of traveling. Being prepared reduces stress and speeds up cleanup so you can get back on the road and transition to a more comfortable environment so your child can recover. Best of luck, mama! You got this!

What do you like to bring with you to be prepared for road trip messes? Share in the comments below!

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