Surviving (and Thriving) Iowa Winters with Kids: The Ultimate Tip List

Until you experience it, it is hard to fully describe an Iowa winter. Follow these tips for surviving and enjoying winter weather — these ideas are also helpful reminders for Iowans who might “forget” how to best deal with the snowy season.

Helpful Tips for Iowa Winters

Iowa Winters: Car Care and Safety

Got gas?

When I was a young driver, I remember my grandma telling me to never let my gas tank get below half a tank in the wintertime. In case you were to get stuck somewhere, you will have enough gas to stay warm. Also, dirt trapped in the fuel tank can get in the fuel filter, which could cause damage to your car. Last, having plenty of fuel will assist you should you get stuck in traffic or if traffic slows or completely stops on a highway. 

Warming up your car

Warm up your car before going anywhere in the wintertime. Allow extra time to do this. A warm car is especially important for kids. No one likes getting into a cold car. Don’t forget to open your garage door if you have a garage. If your garage is closed, the car will cause toxic carbon monoxide poisoning.

Windshield wiper fluid and winter preparedness

Use wiper fluid that does not freeze. It should say on the container what temperature it protects against. Ideally, the wiper fluid should also have a de-icer component so when you are driving in freezing rain or snow, it will melt quickly and will not impede your vision. It is also a good idea to have a mechanic check your car’s tire pressure, fluid levels, and tire tread level. You will want to have good tires that can withstand the cold and that have a good tread level that will give you the optimal ability to stop. 

Things to have in your car

I keep an emergency kit in my car all year round. I change it out from the summer to winter. It is a very simple smaller tote. In my winter kit, I include extra hats and gloves for every person in our family. In addition, I have snacks and bottled water for if we get stranded somewhere or get stuck in traffic. I also have band-aids and other first aid items. I also keep extra blankets in the car. This is obviously for if we were to get stranded, but also for warmth when you are coming out to a cold car. I know my kids love having a blanket to cuddle up with until the car warms up. I also keep in my kit Tylenol or another similar pain reliever. 

In addition to my emergency kit, I always have a pair of jumper cables. If you ever have a dead battery it’s key to have. In addition, be sure to have a good ice scraper and a long brush or ice scraper. It is important to not use a credit card or driver’s license to scrape your windshield because those will snap. Small shovels help if you are ever stuck.  

An emergency kit of Iowa winter

Driving in Iowa winters

How do you drive in snow, ice, and cold? Drive slow and allow plenty of stopping distance in the snow and slush. It also takes longer to stop when the roads are wet or covered. In addition, it always takes longer to get places so always allow extra time!

Car seats

If you have a child who is in an infant seat or any car seat with a five-point harness, do not put them in their winter coat and then in the car seat. When a child has a bulky and puffy coat on, that coat or snowsuit will compress which makes the harness straps too loose. In the event of a car accident, the straps do not bring the child to a gentle stop when wearing a big puffy coat. This could cause head injuries if the child comes too far forward to hit the seat in front of them or the child could come out of the car seat altogether. This is nothing to mess with. I remember when I was a first-time mom, the idea of this happening scared me so much.

Car seat technicians say to put nothing thicker than a sweatshirt or fleece on your child under the harness straps of a car seat.

So how do you possibly keep kids warm during these frigid days while in the car? As mentioned above, start your car before you leave to warm your car up. Also, dress your kids in fleece or sweatshirt. After you buckle them in, wrap them in a blanket over their car seat straps (for kids in convertible, combination, or booster seats). For kids in infant seats, wrap a blanket around them in the same way. In addition for infants, you can buy car seat covers that go around the entire car seat that keeps the heat in. This is easy because you can easily take the car seat out with your child still in without fear of them becoming cold. Obviously, you should still dress babies in hats and mittens, but the car seat cover prevents them from having to have a coat while in the car seat.

With not wearing coats in the car seats, what do you do with their coats? This is the part that takes time and patience. Once you get to your location, after your kids are unbuckled, have them get their coats on before you exit the vehicle. Yes, this takes time, especially if you have more than one child. I feel like with anything in the winter everything takes longer. To be honest, in the wintertime, our kids keep their coats in the car so once again they have them and we know where to find them. This may not work for you, but with busy mornings and getting everyone where they need to be, keeping coats in the car is one less thing to worry about when you are trying to get out the door. Safety is always the best policy so allow a few extra minutes for kids to get things on when you arrive at your destination.

For more amazing information about car seat safety, car seats, and kids’ safety in general, visit the University of Iowa Safety Store. Their trained professionals can guide you in best practices for keeping kids safe and can help you find car seats and kids’ safety gear at a reduced price. This site is also a great resource for information about how to best dress and safely travel with your kids in the winter.

Iowa Winters: Winter Gear

What to stock up on?

It is so important to have a good coat. Remember, that the best and warmest coats may not always be the most stylish. Ideally, you would also have waterproof gloves for every family member. The knit mittens and gloves while cute, do not keep your hands warm if they get wet . . . which happens easily when scraping snow and ice.

Simply, invest in a great coat. Some friends I know love the Columbia Omni Heat coats because they are lightweight due to the lining on the inside that traps in the heat. Others love North Face, and coats that have multiple layers and are easy to take linings out or add layers in. I personally have a down coat that is longer and goes past my bottom. That is super helpful when the cold winds are biting.

I love buying winter gloves, coats, and snow pants at Costco because they have great prices and usually a decent selection — especially for kids. Sometimes you can get a set of snow pants and winter coats for kids at Costco for a very reasonable price. Another great option is to garage sale in the warmer months. You can find coats, snow pants, and boots for cheap!

It is also important to have a good pair of waterproof snow boots. I am not talking about Ugg boots or similar types of fashion boots. I am talking about the lace up, sometimes clunky boots. These not only protect your feet from the cold, but they also have a decent grip on the bottoms to prevent you from slipping on ice. Get yourself some adult snow pants, too! These come in handy for any outdoor time you have with your kids whether that be building a snowman or shoveling your driveway.

Also, buy warm socks. A lot of moms I know prefer the wool boot socks. These are sure to keep your feet warm.

Another must have for winter are fleece lined leggings. If you are like a lot of moms who love leggings and a big sweater or sweatshirt, fleece lined leggings are a must have. These will keep your legs warm when out and can also serve as a great base layer when wearing jeans. 

Ways to organize gloves, mittens, and hats

So . . . how do you keep track of all of the winter things?

To be honest, this is hard. For us personally, we have a cloth basket in the car that we keep our hats and gloves in. That way they are always in the car when we need them.

I know other moms who will hang a cloth shoe organizer on the back of the door in the garage to put gloves and hats in. This will hopefully ensure both gloves are kept together. In addition, if your child’s gloves have hooks on them, I recommend hooking them together so they are more likely to stay together. Additionally, when we are outside playing in the snow, we have our kids take off snow clothes in the garage before coming inside. This keeps the wet clothes in the garage for them to dry. It also prevents our kids from tracking wet snow in the house!

organzing winter items Iowa winters

Kid specific gear

If you have school-aged kids, they will need snow clothes for recess. This includes a winter coat, snow pants, a hat, gloves or mittens, and boots. It is very important that you have all of these items and send all of these items to school in the winter months. They will still go outside for recess when it is cold. That varies by school, but usually if it is 20 degrees or above kids will go outside.

With that being said I have a few recommendations for keeping track of things:

  • Label everything. Label every mitten, coat, hat, snow boot, and pair of snow pants with your child’s name.  Many people shop at the same stores and so it is very likely kids will have the same of something as their peers.
  • Also, a lot of kids have black snow pants so if you can find a different colored pair, you may be better off. 
  • Find an easy way to transport snow stuff to and from school each day. We have found the easiest way is to give our kids each a reusable grocery bag to put their things in. This is easier for kids to carry with the handles and it is more durable than a plastic or paper bag. Oh and label the bag too.
  • Wash all of the snow gear each weekend. We especially wash hats and coats to prevent lice. Lice is very bad, especially in the winter. In addition to washing their items, I also spray their hats and coats with “Fairytale Spray” to hopefully prevent lice.  

Home maintenance

There are so many ways  to winterize your homes and to keep the cold air outside.

Change the direction of ceiling fans

One direction is for winter and one is for summer. In the winter, ceiling fans should rotate clockwise at a low speed to pull cool air up. The gentle updraft pushes warm air, which naturally rises to the ceiling, down along the walls, and back to the floor.

Change your furnace filter

This is easy to do and the filters are found at most grocery and hardware stores. Also, just like your car, you should have your furnace serviced to be sure it is running correctly. You do not want your furnace to stop working in the bitter heart of winter.

Seal your windows with plastic to keep cold air out

You can also buy cushy draft stoppers to put in front of your door to prevent cold air from coming in underneath.

Outdoor Hoses

It is also important to unhook any hoses from your outside spickets. If the hose gets left hooked up and freezes, a pipe could break which would bring water into your basement. Definitely unhook the hose.

Dryer Vents

In addition, clean out the dryer vents that are outside. This can prevent minimum buildup of lint in the lint filter as well as the seamless passage of air in the exhaust vents. In the wintertime, we tend to wear thicker clothing that has more lint. Lint is highly flammable so it is very important to clean out vents to prevent fires. 

Iowa Winters: Removing snow

It is very important in Iowa winters to have a good shovel. In fact, more than one is best practice. Many hardware stores and grocery stores sell shovels. Personally, I prefer ones with a bent handle so it is easier on your back. Shoveling snow is hard work and so if you have a shovel that can make life easier, I highly recommend it.

If you can afford one, it is also nice to have a snowblower. Snowblowers are amazing for the heavier snows that we get in Iowa. A snow blower is not necessary for an inch or so of snow but is very handy for heavy accumulation. When looking for a snowblower, look for one that is easy to start and push. You can buy a brand new one.  However, a lot of the time, people are selling them on the local garage sale pages. Obviously, with anything make sure it works and find out specifics with how it works. If you can manage it, snow blowers can be a lifesaver in the winter months. 

Whoa! That was a lot of information.

To be honest with you, I am not a fan of the cold. However, Iowa winters are beautiful and there is nothing like the sight of freshly fallen snow.

Winter also brings joy and timeless memories of building snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, squeals of laughter from my kids, and topping it off with warm cups of hot chocolate. 

What are your best winter weather tips?


Brenda is an Iowa native who has lived in the Iowa City area since 2005. She is married to her love, Robert, since 2012. Brenda is an elementary teacher by trade. She spent almost nine years as a stay at home parent but is now back in the classroom spending time with her school kids and being a mom to her own kids. She is the mom of three; Gabe (April, 2013) Maggie (April, 2015), and Julianna (September, 2017). Brenda enjoys being active by running and working out. She also enjoys trying new recipes, volunteering, playing board and card games, and being involved in church. Brenda is an elementary teacher and loves cheering on the Cubs, UNI Panthers, and the Iowa Hawkeyes. It is a busy but beautiful life!


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