There are some facts about the world that are simply not up for debate. Like: Humans breathe air, cats sleep exclusively on favorite black sweaters, and parents will always be searching for how to clean the big messes our kids make.

So I took a look at 5 of the most common kid-made cleaning problems that I deal with myself all the time, and I white-knuckled it to put all those quick-fix cleaning promises and household hacks to the test.

My goal: To show you what really works, and what isn’t worth your time when it comes to cleaning kid messes.

Chocolate ice cream stain down a newly laundered white t-shirt? Hot pink Sharpie scribble on the wall? Slime dribbled on your favorite jeans?  Got you covered!

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How to clean the 5 biggest kid messes, from Sharpie on the wall to Play-Doh in the rug

1. Problem: How to get Sharpie off the wall

Solution: Rubbing alcohol

How to get Sharpie off the wall: Tips for cleaning the biggest kid messes

For this experiment, my two kids were beyond thrilled that I actually asked them to write on the wall. With a Sharpie. I might as well have just announced we were going to live at Legoland.

Surely as a parent, at some point you’ve googled solutions to this common kid-made disaster. Most blogs suggest using nail polish remover or isopropyl alcohol to get rid of the permanent ink. But one blog found success with hand sanitizer, and since we buy that stuff in, like, gallons, that’s what I tried first.

How to get Sharpie off the wall: Two solutions, side-by-side

Hand sanitizer vs rubbing alcohol: No contest!

The Sharpie started coming off right away…until, it didn’t. It took another four or five applications of liberally applied sanitizer before the marker seemed to be erased almost completely.

After that, I went for the Q-Tips and rubbing alcohol to swab out the marks baked into the nooks and crannies of my wall.


Next time (because you know there will be a next time), I’ll start with rubbing alcohol first.

Related: 30 ideas for what to clean when you’ve only got 10 minutes  

2. Problem: How to get Play-Doh off the rug

Solution: A stiff-bristled scrub brush

How to get Play-Doh out of a rug: Tips for cleaning kids messes

When it’s fresh and squishy with that new Play-Doh smell, the stuff is nothing like those dried-out chunks that seem to Krazy Glue themselves to carpet fibers. I’ve tried removing it with my fingers, and with a paper towel but to no avail.

Then I read that a sturdy scrub brush can loosen up the clumps, followed by a vacuum to suck up any leftover dough dust.

The after shot: Tip for getting Play-Doh out of a rug

So I painfully squished some pink Play-Doh down into my rug and let it set for a day. (And yes, this was as nerve-wracking as you might expect.)

When it had achieved roughly the same texture as concrete, I broke the Play-Doh apart with my fingers, then brushed.

And brushed……and brushed, using a stiff-bristled scrub brush.

After about 3 minutes, there were still some stubborn little bits, so I wet them down with some water, dried them a bit, and brushed again.


Related: A helpful guide to chores for kids by age. Because, free labor!

3. Problem: How to get chocolate stains out of clothes

Solution: Dish soap

How to get chocolate off of clothes: Tips for cleaning kids' messes

Chocolate is my kids’ favorite food group, evidence of which is all over their clothing. I had previously believed that un-Hersheying a shirt just isn’t a thing that can happen, so this was a problem I was particularly interested in trying to solve.

Also, all the tutorials suggest you’ll get the best results with fresh stains; once you’ve already run your clothing through a dryer, it’s likely to set. So I took our freshly chocolate-d shirt and tried solutions for getting out chocolate stains which ranged from club soda to baking soda to heavy cream.

I had most success with regular old dish soap, thanks to a chocolate removal tutorial from The Spruce.

I rinsed the cocoa spot directly with cold water, then rubbed my liquid dish soap into it. After letting it sit for 5 minutes, I soaked the shirt in cold water for 15 more minutes.

Then, rub dish soap into the stain one more time and rinse clean. You can repeat this every 3-5 minutes and rinsing until the stain is gone.

And yes, it will be gone.
How to get chocolate off of clothes: The after shot!

I am still fairly incredulous that it worked — though I do feel see just the tiniest ghost of the stain left behind. Maybe next time I can hope that the stain ends up on a brown t-shirt?


4. Problem: How to get glitter out of…everywhere

Solution: Play-Doh (Really!)

How to clean up glitter: Tips for cleaning kids' messes

It’s easy to see why so kids are so fast to gravitate to crafts that call for glitter. Of course it also happens to be the craft supply with a well-earned rep for getting into absolutely everything, thus causing parents everywhere to uh, skip over the glitter-mandatory crafts when those pop up in a search.

If you’re the cool mom who lets your kids go nuts with glitter, you’ll want to be sure to have a good glitter-removal trick up your sleeve.

Related: Your smartphone is gross, and other reasons to spring clean your tech

I tried some of the more common solutions first, for getting glitter off my glass-topped coffee table, including using a lint roller or loops of tape to pick up those shiny suckers.

They work fine to start, but to  clean up what was left because there will always be glitter left, I turned to Left Brain Craft Brain’s suggestion: rolling a ball of Play Doh over the glitter to pick it up.

How to clean up glitter: Two popular solutions put to the test

Whoa — it worked like magic!

(And if that ball of Play Doh leaves remnants on the carpet, well, see #2.)

5. Problem: How to get slime out of fabric

Solution: White vinegar

How to get slime off of clothes: Cleaning kids' messes

DIY slime is trending all over the place with kids right now, which means it is also trending all over clothing —  and rugs and tabletops, too.

It seems like the goop would be a headache to get out of textiles, but it turns out it’s pretty easy if you use distilled white vinegar and water.

(Again, Left Brain Craft Brain to the rescue!)

With all the confidence in the world, I dribbled slime onto a sweater the way I figured my kids probably would, smooshing it down, and then sitting on it for about ten minutes to really seal it in there.

How to get slime off of clothes: The one solution that really works!

I scraped off the extra slime (from both the sweater and my jeans — this turned into a twofer!), soaked the spots in distilled white vinegar for about 5 minutes, then rinsed with cool water.

I laundered my clothes as normal and…completely gone!

And in case you’re wondering, there was no leftover pickle-y vinegar smell, either.