Strollers by their very nature are destined to get dirty—gross, even. Their pint-sized passengers eat in them, sleep in them, soil their diapers in them, and the result can be an unholy mess. Spilled milk, cookie crumbs, mashed fruit, and the dregs of leaky diapers stain the fabric and creep into the corners and crevices of your baby's ride. Time to make a pit stop for a deep cleaning.

For grime-fighting advice, we turned to Joan Muratore, Consumer Reports' resident expert on baby and kid products. Muratore not only oversees CR's stroller tests but has also assessed the ease of cleaning of hundreds of kid products. Here are the tools, strategy, and steps she uses to clean a yucky stroller.

The Tools

  • Hand vacuum or dust brush
  • Terry-cloth towels (2 to 3)
  • Large bowl or bucket
  • Warm water
  • Mild dish or laundry soap
  • Toothbrush
  • Wooden grilling skewers

The Strategy

To prevent spills from getting caked on in the first place, it's best to clean them up immediately. For wet messes, like yogurt, puréed baby food, or apple sauce, Muratore suggests using a plastic knife or spoon to scoop up the bulk of the spill.

“If your kid spills applesauce while you’re out, it’s easy to find plastic cutlery at a fast food restaurant or supermarket to clear the majority of the mess,” she says. “That’s better than trying to wipe it up with paper towels, which can work the spill into the fabric of your stroller.”

Deep cleaning requires a different approach. Muratore recommends using each tool from her cleaning kit one at a time on the entire stroller, rather than trying to clean one section at a time. The lone exception is the wheels, which you'll do last.  

1. Remove Crumbs With a Hand Vac

You can sweep away crumbs with a brush, but it's more effective to go over the stroller with a hand vacuum to suck up all the miscellaneous crumbs. The Shark Pet Perfect II SV780, $60, performed well in our hand vacuum tests. You can also use the upholstery attachment of a full-size vacuum.   

2. Detach the Removable Parts

Parts like storage trays, cup holders, and even fabric seats can be easier to clean when removed from the frame of the stroller. Check the manual to see which, if any, parts can be put in a washing machine or dishwasher. If so, that's easier than cleaning them by hand in the sink. “Take photos of anything you remove, in sequence, so you can look at the photos when you have to re-attach them,” Muratore says.  

3. Get Into Crevices With a Toothbrush

Once the stroller is free of crumbs, you’ll need a toothbrush dipped in warm, soapy water to scrub any caked-on gunk from the corners of the fabric seats. A toothbrush also works well for spot cleaning any stains. For fine cracks and creases, like those in the harness buckle, Muratore prefers wooden grilling skewers. “The points are perfect for getting into those tight spots, and skewers are a little stronger than toothpicks,” she says. Once the crud has been loosened you’ll wipe it away in the next step.  

4. Scrub Fabric With a Terry-Cloth Towel

Assuming the fabric seat and most of the plastic trim pieces can’t be removed—and they can't on most strollers—start at the top of the stroller and use a terry-cloth towel dipped in warm water with mild soap to scrub the stroller down, wiping away any debris you picked or scrubbed out in the previous step.

Use a soap recommended by the manufacturer in the manual or on the tag under the fabric seat. If there is no recommendation, start with mild dish soap or laundry detergent. “Test the soap first in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it doesn’t stain the fabric,” Muratore adds.

If you own one of the few strollers with a removable fabric seat, Muratore advises putting it back on the frame while wet. “Most seats are a tight fit, so they’re easier to slide on while the fabric is still wet—then just let it dry in place.”  

5. Clean and Lubricate the Wheels

Once you’ve cleaned all the fabric surfaces, tackle the plastic or rubber wheels. Because they come in contact with the ground, they're dirtier than the rest of the stroller, and you don't want that dirt coming in contact with the area where your child sits. Let the wheels fully dry. Check to see if the manual recommends periodically lubricating the wheel bearings. If it does, use the lubricant recommended by the manufacturer, or spray liquid lubricant at the point where the wheel attaches to the frame.

The Easiest Strollers to Clean

If you're in the market for a new stroller, there are a few key things to look for that will minimize the time you'll spend cleaning it. First consider an infant car seat carrier for your baby's first year of life—the sleek frames are typically all-plastic and can be easily wiped down. All four car seat carriers in our ratings perform well enough to recommend, but the Chicco KeyFit Caddy, $100, partners with our top-rated car seat, the Chicco KeyFit, $180.

Beyond that, Muratore suggests avoiding models with piping or ruffles on the seat, and looking carefully at the crevices in snack trays, handles, and baskets, where dirt typically collects. The fewer the better. Finally, consider models in darker colors or busy patterns, which can help conceal stains between cleanings.