We scrub, we sanitize and we disinfect almost everything that touches kids these days, but we may just be neglecting an inconspicuous culprit of filth: car seats.
According to a recent study conducted by car seat manufacturer Maxi-Cosi, of the 506 parents polled, over half wash their car seats just a few times a year. With 85 percent of these parents allowing their kids to eat while strapped in, it doesn't seem surprising that 36 percent of them would find three or more different food groups crammed in the tiny crevices of their seats. (Fun fact: Fish-shaped crackers are the most common snack found in car seats, according to the survey.)
If you're still not convinced that car seats are worth your precious scrubbing energy, just know this: Scientists at the University of Birmingham found an average of 100 potentially dangerous bacteria and fungi in each square centimeter of the car seats they tested this past July. That's twice as many germs as they found in toilet seats.*
Luckily, HuffPost Parents enlisted the help of Becky Rapinchuk, the meticulous "homekeeping expert" behind Clean Mama, to explain how to avoid letting our car seats turn into oversized petri dishes.
"Car seats are really only cleaned when necessary -- usually a spill or getting sick in the car -- so trying to figure out how to get it apart and cleaned properly can be confusing," she said. "With all the holes, loops and attachments, it's next to impossible to get the cover removed, let alone figure out how to put it back together."
Rapinchuk said that she often gets asked about how to clean a car seat, so she knows the drill. Her first tip is to read the manufacturer's recommendations before cleaning and make sure that you don't need to use your car seat for 12 to 24 hours (so it has time to fully dry).
Then, follow the rest of Rapinchuk's instructions:
1. Remove the car seat from the car.
2. Take a picture of it with your phone, so that you can see where all of the straps and accessories go. This will make it easier to put back together once it's clean.
3. Vacuum the car seat's crevices.
4. Remove the car seat's cover from the form.
5. Place the cover in the washing machine on "cold" and "gentle" with a mild detergent -- no fabric softener.
6. Once it's washed, place the cover over a chair or your dryer to allow it to air dry completely before putting back on the car seat form.
7. Refer to your picture to help put everything back together.
That's it! Got anymore tips for cleaning car seats? Share them in the comments.
*It's worth noting that researchers have found that some exposure to germs is actually good for kids, a theory known as "hygiene hypothesis."