Washing hand and cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces are two of the best ways to defend against spreading the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As COVID-19 spreads, you’ve probably already learned the proper technique for washing your hands and heard about which household cleaners can destroy the coronavirus.
You should clean frequently touched surfaces in your car, including the steering wheel, door handles, shift lever, any buttons or touch screens, wiper and turn signal stalks, passenger and driver door armrests, grab handles, and seat adjusters, according to Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center.
That’s especially important if someone with symptoms of COVID-19 has been in your car.
If you’re a taxi or ride-hailing driver, driving a rented or shared car, regularly cleaning these surfaces is a must. And everyone should make a habit of cleaning or sanitizing their hands before they start get into their vehicle.
No Need For Special Cleaners
A car’s interior is less durable than, say, a kitchen counter. So how do you protect those surfaces without damaging them? With a few exceptions, many of the same household cleaners that kill corona-viruses on hard surfaces at home can also clean a car without damaging its interior. Chances are, you have some of these products in your home.
Alcohol solutions that contain at least 70 percent alcohol are effective against coronavirus, according to the CDC. For the most part, nearly every interior surface of a vehicle can be cleaned with isopropyl alcohol, says Jeff Stout, executive director global innovation at Yanfeng Automotive Interiors.
Yanfeng supplies interior parts for almost every major automaker. If you’ve been in a car, you’ve probably seen or touched something Yanfeng has made-and it uses isopropyl alcohol for cleaning parts in its own factories. “We will use that to clean smudges or any kind of last minute details before we ship the product,” Stout says. All the company’s products-from plastic trim to painted chrome to imitation leather-have been tested to ensure they don’t degrade when exposed to pure isopropyl alcohol. Stout says that it’s even possible to rub the exterior surface of soft cloth upholstery with alcohol in order to clean it.
Whatever you do, don’t use bleach or hydrogen peroxide on the inside of your car. While they can both kill coronaviruses on surfaces, they will likely damage your car’s upholstery. And do not use ammonia-based cleaners on car touch screens, as they can damage their anti-glare and anti-fingerprint coatings.
Vigorous washing with soap and water can also destroy the coronavirus Coronaviruses are surrounded by a protective envelope that helps them to infect other cells, and destroying that envelope can effectively disarm them.
“Friction from cleaning also participates in the destruction,” says Stephen Thomas, M.D., chief of infectious diseases and director of global health at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.
“You want to do the best with what you have, so even soap and water can chip away at the risk.”
Soap and water are also safe for most car interiors-especially fabrics and older leather that may have begun to crack.Just be sure not to scrub too hard, says Larry Kosilla, president of car detailing company AMMO NYC and host of a popular YouTube channel about car detailing.
“70% Alcohol solutions with at least this percentage of alcohol are effective against the coronavirus on hard surfaces”
Most car leathers and imitation leathers have urethane coatings for protection, which is safe to clean with alcohol.
But over time, the alcohol can leave it susceptible to damage and discoloration, says Dara Ward, senior marketing director at Katzkin, which manufactures leather interiors for vehicles. “We do recommend simple Ivory soap and water to clean spots and spills on our leather-trimmed interiors,” she says.
Most leathers are dyed, and vigorous cleaning can remove the dye. Kosilla says he’s heard from car owners who think their light-colored leather is getting dirtier as they scrub it, which isn’t the case.
“It’s not getting dirtier, you’re removing all the color on top,” he says.
Take care of your leather upholstery after you clean it, saysJohn Ibbotson, chief automotive services manager at CR. “You should use a good leather cleaner, then a good leather conditioner afterwards,” he says. If your car has fabric upholstery, Kosilla warns against cleaning it with too much water or too much soap.
“The goal is not to create too many suds. If you get suds, you’ll have suds forever,” he says. In addition, if you soak through the fabric down to the cushion beneath, it could end up creating a musty smell or encouraging mold growth in the cushions. Instead, Kosilla recommends lightly agitating the fabric with a small amount of water and laundry detergent.
Both Stout and Kosilla recommend using a microfiber cloth when cleaning.
That’s because they’re made of fabric that consists of tiny little loops that capture and sweep away dirt and dust particles before they can scratch delicate or shiny plastic surfaces. By comparison, the dirt and debris in your car can stick to even the cleanest paper towels or napkins and scratch surfaceslike sandpaper,” Kosilla says.
Once you’re finished cleaning, don’t forget to wash your hands before and after driving. It’s a good habit to get into even when COVID-19 isn’t spreading, as it will keep your steering wheel and other frequently touched surfaces in your car from looking dingy.
Don’t Track It Inside
But all of the effort in cleaning the interior can be for naught if you aren’t careful when outside your car, particularly when pumping gas. For many people who still regularly drive, the trip to the gas station is inevitable, as is touching the pump handle and payment keypad. High-touch areas like pump handles and credit card keypads could have the virus present.
CR’s auto experts suggest several ways to approach this task.
- Consider carrying disposable nitrile or latex gloves to use when gripping the pump handle. Short of that, you can try to use paper towels that are at the pump or have some with you to cover your hands when you grip the handle.
- Do the same to isolate yourself from the keypad when entering payment information.
- Invert the gloves and throw them away, and also any paper towels you might have used. Use hand sanitizer to make sure your hands are clean before you get back into your car.
- Cleaning your hands after you’re done seems like the quickest, easiest precaution. But consider having disinfectant wipes handy for wiping down the gas pump handle and the payment keypad before pumping.
Watch this video for How to Safely Kill and Clean Coronavirus in Your Car