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COVID-19 Vehicle Disinfecting

When I started this website in December 2019,  I had no idea I would be sharing tips on how to disinfect your vehicle’s interior from a global pandemic.  The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused most of us to re-examine how we go about our daily life in a safer way.  We have all gotten pretty good at proper hand hygiene and wearing masks in public places, however, who has thought about disinfecting your car?  There is a right and wrong way to do it (of course!), so let me share what I have learned.

Hot Spots to Clean in Your Vehicle

As you can see in the image at the top of this page, there are six (6) key “hot spots” in our vehicle’s interior.  These hot spots are the most touched surfaces, and need special attention. I am going to add a 7th hot spot–your car keys and fob!  

The number one hot spot is the steering wheel.  The good folks at CarRentals.com have determined the steering wheel is the dirtiest surface in your car.  In fact, they state it is…

  • 2x dirtier than a public elevator button
  • 4x dirtier than a public toilet seat
  • 6x dirtier than the screen on your cell phone

On a side note, they also note that the handle on a gas pump is almost 12,000 times dirtier than a public toilet seat!  I am going to leave that with you to ponder.

Please note, I am only addressing the cleaning and disinfecting of the main surfaces inside your car.  I do NOT advocate ingesting any cleaning material to fight the virus within the human body.

Experts from Consumer Reports, Kelley Blue Book and Hagerty Insurance seem to agree on the technique and materials to use to safely clean your car’s interior.  Links to their articles can be found at the bottom of this page.  The process is summarized below for your convenience.

Unique Characteristic of COVID-19

When devising a way to clean and disinfect hard surfaces, it is important to note that this virus can live on solid surfaces for 2-5 days, depending on the material. It is particularly tough due to the protective envelope surrounding the virus.  Your cleaning and sanitizing/disinfecting process needs to take that into account.

As such, here is the recommended two-step process for making your vehicle’s interior safer from the virus:

Cleaning Process

I covered interior cleaning in another article that included a video.  I would recommend you take a look at Video:  Interior Cleaning Tips for more information.  In short, here are some products you can use on the hard surfaces (not carpet or cloth):

  • Interior cleaning solutions available at an auto parts store or online.  Here are some choices on Amazon.com
  • Household soap and water.  Some people use a little bit of Dove soap mixed with water
  • My personal favorite:  Murphy’s Oil Soap

No matter what cleaning product you use, it is important to agitate the surface with a brush or small washcloth.  The idea is that you need to break down the protective envelope around the virus.

Right after you clean a section of your interior, wipe it dry with a microfiber towel.  Don’t let it dry without wiping it with the towel first.

Sanitizing/Disinfecting Process

After cleaning, the challenge begins.  It is critical that you use the right product in this step – using the wrong one will damage your hard surfaces.

DO NOT USE these products.  They will ruin your vinyl and leather and hard plastic surfaces: 

  • Bleach
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Any ammonia-based products.  

Many interior detailers recommend using one of the following products.  All of these are relatively safe to use on your interior.:

  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol content)
  • Disinfecting wipes (Lysol) 

Be sure to test the cleaner on an inconspicuous spot on your interior–like the back side of your steering wheel.  If it does not discolor the material, use the product on all of the hot spots.  I would not recommend rubbing alcohol on leather seats as they can remove the dye from the leather.  Unless you drive around without wearing pants, your leather seats should not be considered a hot spot!

IMPORTANT TIP:  The effectiveness of the above products is dependent on the “dwell time” it sits on the hard surfaces.  This is best explained from the label on a container of Lysol Disinfecting Wipes:

  • Use enough wipes to thoroughly wet the surface
  • For sanitizing, allow the surface to remain wet for 10 seconds
  • For disinfecting, allow the surface to remain wet for 4 minutes
  • Allow to air dry.  As such, do not perform this process if the vehicle is sitting in the sun.  It is best to perform this task in the shade or in a garage.

I hope you found this information helpful.  Considering the efforts you put into protecting yourself when making your essential shopping trips, it is easy to forget about the vulnerable spots in your car.  Don’t!  If you show your car some love, it will love you right back!

If you have any questions or thoughts, please leave a comment below or go to Ask The Nanny.

Sources for this article are listed below:

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Rodney

    Great tips. Im going to add the use of leather and plastic conditioners after the surfaces are sanitized. Been putting this off but know it’s time. Be well.

    1. Bill

      Thank you. It wasn’t until a friend of mine asked about disinfecting his car that I researched the topic. I like your idea of using a conditioner after disinfecting. Probably not necessary after the first or second time doing it, but not a bad idea going forward.

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