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How to Clean Up Kids' Messes

BY: Aimee Algas Alker | Jun 14, 2018

Kids create their own special kind of messes. How to clean up kids' messes can stump even the most seasoned parent, especially when faced with the frustration of finding face paint on the new couch. How to clean crayon off walls, how to clean up grass stains, how to clean up glitter—these are questions we are here to answer.

This is part of a series. We've already covered the kitchen, bathroom, and the rest of the home.


A common scenario: You discover a lollipop your child "saved for later"—by dropping it on the windowsill. Days ago.

How to Clean Up Candy

  1. Scrape as much as possible, as gently as possible

  2. Add some dish soap to a cup of hot water, and soak a dish cloth in it

  3. Press the damp dishcloth to the hardened candy for at least a minute

  4. Leave the dishcloth to soak and soften the candy for about 15 minutes

  5. Wipe the stain away with the dishcloth

Hot tip: Spraying it with a vinegar solution in warm water can also help break down the candy residue

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No canvas is so inviting as a blank wall, as the parent of any budding artist can tell you. But even though it seems like it will never wash away, cleaning up crayon on the walls just takes a little bit of elbow grease.

How to Clean Up Crayon

From walls

  1. Heat the crayon marks with a hair dryer to soften the wax

  2. Scrub it off with a washcloth dipped in a solution of warm water and dish soap

  3. For more stubborn stains, a damp melamine eraser, like the Magic Eraser ($15.19 for an eight-pack), could do the trick

  4. For really dark stains, mix a paste of baking soda and water to scrub off the marks (or if you can handle the odor, spray it with WD-40). Clean off the residue with the soapy water.

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  1. Dip a toothbrush into undiluted vinegar.

  2. Scrub the stain from the back first until it fades.

  3. Launder as usual.


  1. Dilute some dish or laundry detergent with an equal measure of water.

  2. Dip into this a light-colored rag or sponge, then scrub the crayon away.

  3. Use a water-soaked rag to rinse away the remaining detergent.

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Face Paint

The greasiness and pigmentation can make it difficult to remove face paint from clothing or other fabrics. Oil-free makeup remover can be a good solution, or try this technique.

How to Clean Up Face Paint from Clothes

  1. Dampen a washcloth or rag with water and add some grease-fighting dish detergent, like Dawn ($39.05 for a six-pack)

  2. Scrub the stained area with the cloth.

  3. Rinse until the stain disappears.

  4. Wash in cold water to make sure all of the grease is gone.

Hot tip: This technique can also help remove stubborn face paint stains from skin.

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If you've ever experienced a glitter spill, you know that a dustpan and broom just aren't enough; even a vacuum for some reason will leave behind random specks. The best part is, if your kids are little enough to be entranced by glitter, they'll love this cleanup technique.

How to Clean Up Glitter

  1. Wrap your kid's hands or feet in loops of tape, sticky side out.

  2. Have them stomp or swipe at all glittered surfaces.

  3. Vacuum whatever's left.

Hot tip: Make it a game: try some freeze dancing to go along with the cleanup task.

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Grass Stains

Grass stains are the bane of many a parent's existence—they're pervasive and hard to remove. One tip is to NEVER use hot water; always use cold.

How to Clean Up Grass Stains

  1. Pretreat the fabric by soaking it in detergent, dish soap, or vinegar—or even a paste of sugar and water—for 30 minutes or more.

  2. Use a toothbrush to scrub the pretreatment into the fabric.

  3. Wash as usual, and before drying, check to see if the stain has disappeared. If not, start over, with the same pretreatment or another

Hot tip: Rubbing alcohol makes a great pre-pretreatment. Dab it onto the stain and let it sit for a few minutes before you start with step 1.

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When I was 9, I fell asleep with gum in my mouth and woke up to gum everywhere: knotted in my hair, pressed into my pillowcase, stuck to my clothes. If only my mother had known then what I know now.

How to Clean Up Gum


  1. Rub one of the following on to the wad of gum: coconut oil, peanut butter, softened butter

  2. Massage the oil into the wad to loosen its grip, then pull it out

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  1. Rub the gum with a sponge soaked in a little rubbing alcohol

  2. Let it sit for a few minutes

  3. Scrape the gum off with a spatula or butter knife

  4. Repeat as necessary

  5. Launder as usual

Bottoms of shoes

  1. Place the shoe in the freezer until the gum hardens, or speed up the process by hitting it with the spray from some canned air (try Maxwell canned air, $17.22 for a two-pack)

  2. Scrape the frozen gum off with a butter knife.


Play Dough

Play dough gets everywhere; whenever my daughter plays with some, I'm stepping on those hard crunchy crumbs for days afterwards, even when I've vacuumed. And if it finds its way to the carpet . . . ugh.

How to Clean Up Play Dough from the Carpet

  1. Allow the dough to dry completely; cover it with cardboard to ensure no one steps on it and makes the mess worse.

  2. Use the brush tool on the vacuum or any stiff cleaning brush to loosen and break up the dough, then vacuum it up.

  3. Clean up the rest with a rag and soapy, cold (never hot) water

Hot tip: Use the same technique on clothes, except after step 4, allow the stain to soak in dish soap, then throw it in the wash as usual

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The ingredients in slime make it especially tricky to clean, as typical detergents won't quite do the trick. What will? That age-old remedy, vinegar.

How to clean up slime

Clothes, carpet, upholstery or other textiles

  1. Remove as much of the excess slime as you can. Dab it with your hands or a dry paper towel if still wet, or scrape it off with a butter knife or spoon.

  2. Soak the garment in distilled white vinegar, for five minutes, which should soften any remaining slime.

  3. Rinse with warm water, then, if it's clothing, wash the garment as usual.


  1. Remove excess slime as above.

  2. Make a paste with baking soda, water, and just a bit of vinegar. Make sure it's thick and not at all runny by adding more baking soda as needed.

  3. Apply the paste to the stain, and let it sit until dry, about two hours

  4. Scrub off the dried paste with a dry paper towel


Even with a dedicated sticker station, my daughter manages to get stickers in the strangest places: on the back of the couch, on the floor, even on the wall next to the toilet. What makes them tough to clean up is what makes them so attractive to kids: the adhesive.

How to Clean Up Stickers


  1. Blot with rubbing alcohol and let sit for about 5 minutes

  2. Rinse with cold water

  3. Rub detergent onto the clothing and let it soak in

  4. Wash on cold

  5. Before drying, check to see if all the adhesive has been removed; if not, start over.

Hard surfaces, such as plastic, wood, or metal

  1. Soak the adhesive with vegetable or coconut oil (or peanut butter!) for at least an hour.

  2. Soften the adhesive with the heat from an hair dryer

  3. Wipe off the adhesive

  4. Clean the remaining adhesive and oil with hot soapy water


  1. Scrape off as much of the stickers as possible without damaging the wall

  2. Remove as much of what's left as possible with a pencil eraser.

  3. Soften what's left with a hair dryer, as above.

  4. Clean the remaining residue with hot soapy water


  1. Depending on how old the sticker is, you may have to try to scrape some of it away. Use something gentle, such as a bowl scraper or this scraper for cast iron skillets ($13.99 for two)

  2. Soak the sticker in water by using a damp cloth.

  3. Soak a paper towel in nail polish remover (with acetone) or rubbing alcohol and rub it onto the sticker to degrade the adhesive--after about 30 minutes, it should easily rub away

  4. Clean what's left with hot soapy water


Tomato Sauce

Pizza, pasta, ketchup—kids love them, but those stains are so stubborn.

How to Clean Up Tomato Sauce

  1. Rinse the stain with cold water, from the back of the stain

  2. Put on a pair of gloves

  3. Mix a tablespoon of ammonia with a half-cup of cold water or a 1:3 hydrogen peroxide:water solution (be sure to test this to make sure it doesn't cause discoloration)

  4. Apply to stain and let sit for 30 minutes

  5. Rinse thoroughly

  6. Wash as usual

Hot tip: Pre-treat the stain using the steps outlined above for grass stains

Need some cleaning supplies?

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