How to Disinfect Your Car Interior

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Man disinfecting the interior of a car

With the majority of the country currently under some form of statewide shelter in place order people are driving considerably less than they normally would. Despite this, it is extremely important to know how to clean and disinfect your car interior to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Taking proper precautions when shopping or running necessary errands is great but if you are not disinfecting your car’s interior you still risk infection from the virus being alive on the interior surface of your car. 

Which Parts of Your Interior Should You Disinfect?

Ideally the whole interior of the car should be cleaned periodically, however the most essential parts to disinfect with regard to coronavirus are the “high touch” areas of the car. These include the steering wheel, climate controls, seat belt latches, and infotainment controls. Washing your hands after a shopping trip protects you but since the virus can survive on surfaces for several hours, getting back in your car and touching your steering wheel puts you at risk. There are elements of the outside of the car that should be frequently disinfected as well; like the door handles and gas cap. 

The back seat is also important. Many drivers rarely end up in the back seat of their own car but if they have children or passengers they will need to disinfect the touch points in the back such as arm rests, grab handles, and window controls.

What Cleaning Products Should I Use to Disinfect Your Car?

The best cleaning materials with regards to protecting against Covid-19 are water, soap, and alcohol solutions containing at least 70% isopropyl alcohol. These will be the most effective products you likely have around the house to kill the Coronavirus according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A thorough scrub will be necessary though. Similar to how you must wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to break down and destroy the virus, you will need to apply the same logic to the surfaces in your car. 

Soap is the safest way to clean the interior of your car if you have a leather or imitation leather upholstry. Alcohol based solutions can wear down the protective coating on these materials and lead to damage if used to often. Upholstery should be cleaned gently and not scrubbed too aggressively. If you are cleaning cloth seats be sure not to oversaturate with water and soap. Do not let the cleaning materials completely soak through the seats. If this happens it will be very difficult to completely dry them out. 

Special care should be given to the touch screens and other areas that have  sensitive electronics. Too much water or cleaning solution on these surfaces could potentially lead to damage. 

Do not use cleaning products that are ammonia based or contain bleach and hydrogen peroxide. These can cause serious damage to all interior materials. 

Steps to Disinfect Your Car Interior

  1. Mix a soap and water solution.
  2. Using a microfiber towel apply a moderate amount of the soap and water solution to high touch areas of the interior. Gently scrub the surface you are cleaning for at least 20 seconds. 
  3. Using another microfiber towel, dry off the cleaned surface
  4. Repeat the process on other high touch areas of the car.
  5. Once the whole interior has been cleaned let the car sit with the windows down for at least 15 minutes to air out and dry more thoroughly
Woman cleaning car radio with microfiber cloth

Other General Safety Tips

Minimizing time spent in a car with other people is one of the most essential things you can do to reduce the risk of coronavirus. Avoid ride sharing service since it will put you in close contact with someone new in a car that may not have been disinfected recently. If you must be in a car with someone else roll the windows down about 2 inches. This creates circulation of fresh air and reduces the chance of an airborne spread of Covid-19. If the windows are completely closed and an infected person is in the car the virus will accumulate in the cabin in fine aerosol particles being breathed out by the infected person. Having the windows rolled down slightly reduces this by putting fresh air in the cabin and pushing out the already breathed air. 

Disinfecting Other Types of Transportation

If you need to disinfect another type of transportation such as a bicycle or motorcycle the same basic principles outlined above apply. Any high touch surface should be cleaned and disinfected. Fortunately other modes of travel are less likely to have other people in them so the exposure to potentially infected people is reduced. Safety gear such as helmets and gloves should be disinfected just as the interior of a car would be. 

A Warning Regarding Leather

Almost all leathers that you find in a car interior are not only sealed with a protective coating, but are also dyed before their installation in a car. Scrubbing too vigorously can remove the dye which will make the leather look dirty and discolored. After cleaning it is wise to apply a leather conditioner on any genuine leather surfaces.

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