COVID-19: How to Clean & Disinfect Your Car

May 12, 2020

Keeping surfaces clean has taken on new meaning, and in the midst of a viral pandemic, there’s never been a better time to get a quick refresher on cleaning and disinfection best practices.

If you’re like everybody else, you’ve already stocked up on hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, and numerous cleaning products for your home. Now, you might be asking yourself: “what about my car?”

The coronavirus may be an invisible enemy, but the right cleaning regimen will help you drive safely and with peace of mind.

We’ve got the information you’ve been wondering about. Our guidelines will help you maximize disinfection efforts while being gentle on your vehicle’s interior. 

First things first: Bring in the vacuum

It’s worth vacuuming your vehicle to get rid of excess dirt and debris. While the vacuum won’t do much to stave off or kill infectious germs, it’s still worth doing if you’re going all out to disinfect your car. If you plan on using a vacuum at a gas station or car wash, you could wear disposable latex gloves and toss them once you’re done.

What cleaning agents should you use?

Whether you’re dealing with vinyl, leather, fabric or a mixture of different surface types, microfibre towels are probably your best bet for ensuring you cover a lot of ground without being abrasive. The finer fabric does a good job picking up dust and dirt and works fine with various cleaning agents.

Alcohol will figure into this because of its germ-killing properties. You’re better off with 70% isopropyl, which is a common ingredient in various disinfectant wipes, too. Even if you have 99% rubbing alcohol, you can dilute it by mixing it with distilled water at a 70/30 ratio to concoct something similar to isopropyl, which is better at killing the microbes and germs that cause viruses or fungi. If you have an empty spray bottle, you can create an aerosol mixture that you can conveniently spray onto the towel directly. 

In contrast, you should steer clear of any bleach, hydrogen peroxide or ammonia cleaning products. Those are not safe for any vehicle’s interior and could do more harm than good. Soap and water mixtures are always a better alternative, and achieve the same result, as would isopropyl alcohol. For touchscreens, try using a screen cleaner similar to those available for mobile devices. A glass or mirror cleaner for windows is also a good idea.

Handling leather & fabric

These are two surfaces that need special attention. Isopropyl alcohol may not be ideal for either of them, though you may be able to use it with fabrics if you’re gentle enough. Leather and softer vinyl surfaces may have been coated with urethane from the factory for extra protection, but you should also be careful about any colour treatment the automaker used.

If in doubt, consider a leather cleaner and conditioner as an option. The cleaner may also work well on softer vinyl or imitation leather because of less friction with its consistency. Just beware of scrubbing too hard. Slow and deliberate is safer and more effective.

The same goes for fabric with soap and water. Laundry detergent or dish soap is a good option, but a gentle approach is necessary to avoid water seeping too far into the fabric or cushions, which can lead to unpleasant smells or mould later on.

Prioritize high-touch surfaces

Think about all the nooks and crannies you or passengers touch. Door handles, buttons, locks, screens, knobs, levers, seatbelts, seat adjusters, glove box, sun visors, rearview mirrors and, of course, the steering wheel. Wiping all of those down can help remove any potential pathogens lurking on these surfaces. 

Do the same for exterior surfaces (if you aren’t going to the car wash), like door handles and high-touch areas around the trunk anytime you have a passenger. It’s especially important if you’re a taxi or rideshare driver, where various hands are touching the same areas on the outside of the vehicle.

Good habits go a long way

It never hurts to keep some cleaning staples in your car’s glove box, emergency kit, or console at all times. Disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers are recommended, and it’s smart to sanitize your hands before you touch the steering wheel when getting into the driver’s seat. 

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