As we continue to make our way through the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been a growth in the awareness of potential germ and bacteria covered surfaces. While precautions and awareness have been focused on public areas, as you leave these public areas, you make your way back to your air tight enclosed vehicles.
As we potentially take bacteria into our vehicle, it’s important to take the time to properly clean all surfaces, especially those surfaces you touch regularly such as the steering wheel, gear selector, seats, and your keys, and here's how.
What to Use
When focused on killing bacteria on non-porous surfaces, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that you should be using wipes or sprays that contain at least 70% alcohol in order to reduce the potential for COVID-19.
While these wipes and sprays are essential to your protection, they can also negatively affect your vehicle’s interior. These cleaners clean the wax coatings off of the various surfaces, which are essential coatings to protect your vehicle from moisture, corrosion, and the Sun’s UV rays.
This means you should first be cleaning your vehicle with alcohol to disinfect it, followed by an interior cleaner to add that protection back in.
Where to Clean
As you begin cleaning the interior of your car, truck, or van, you may find yourself overwhelmed at all the surfaces that need cleaning. With this in mind, it’s often better to focus on individual sections of your vehicle to ensure you don’t miss anything (or get overwhelmed).
As you make your way through public areas, bacteria in the air has a tendency to cling to fabrics such as your clothes. Once you get back into your vehicle, your clothes press up against your seat for the drive.
It’s important to clean your seats thoroughly by first using the 70% alcohol wipes or spray (though you should consider spot testing first in an inconspicuous area to make sure the alcohol isn’t too strong that it will damage or discolor your seats).
Once the alcohol has dried, apply an appropriate cleaner for the material type, using an upholstery or interior spray for plastic and vinyls, and using a leather cleaner and conditioner for all leather interior pieces.
It’s best to focus on one seat at a time, working your way from the top to the bottom to ensure you don’t miss any sections. Be sure to clean the seat adjustment controls as well. For fabric seats, alcohol cleaning sprays allow you to mist over fabrics to disinfect them as good as possible. Avoid soaking your cloth seats with alcohol.
Seat Belts and Buckles
Every time you get into your vehicle, you should be grabbing that seatbelt and pulling it across your body to secure yourself in.
This means the seatbelt touches not only your hands, but also the front of your clothing. Be sure to wipe both sides of the seatbelt with alcohol, followed by a thin layer of upholstery or fabric spray.
(Tip: This is also a great time to inspect your seatbelts. If you find any tears or fraying along your seat belt, be sure to replace them, as seatbelts are essential if you were to end up in an accident.)
Regardless if you’re wearing long sleeves or short sleeves, many of us lay our elbow on the armrest as we drive down the road. These surfaces should be cleaned thoroughly to ensure they are clean the next time you get in your vehicle. This includes the console found between the front seats, and the armrests found on each door, including the rear for those with passengers.
Even if you sanitize your hands once you get into the vehicle, you have grabbed the handle to open your door, and the inner handle to pull the door shut. You should be sure to clean both surfaces thoroughly.
Window Buttons and Door Locks
Many drivers find it relieving to feel the breeze on a cool day as they take a nice drive. This means the window buttons and door locks get their fair share of touch-traffic as well.
Once these areas are clean, it’s highly important to coat them with appropriate plastic conditioners to avoid cracking, drying out, or other forms of damage from the sun and moisture.
Radio and Temperature Controls
Many drivers get into a vehicle and turn the switch to get the music flowing, causing this to be an important surface to clean.
From the hot summer heat to the cold winter days, at some point in time you will be adjusting your temperature controls, too.
Be sure to wipe these surfaces thoroughly, getting fully around the knobs and switches.
The most hands-on piece of your vehicle is hands-down the steering wheel. This means it should be cleaned often.
Be sure to wrap your cleaning rag or towel around the steering wheel to ensure you clean the steering wheel thoroughly. This includes all buttons, turning signal or blinker switches, headlight switches, and all other driving control switches you may have touched.
Regardless if you drive a manual or an automatic, you have placed your hand on some sort of a gear selection handle or lever. Be sure to clean from the top to the base.
One thing many people forget to wipe down is their keys. You touch your keys as you leave, as you go into a store, they go with you into the store, you touch them again as you come out, as you begin to drive home, and as you enter your home. Keys become a major potential for spreading germs and bacteria, and should be cleaned thoroughly.
Fuel Tank Access
When pumping fuel, you will have hands on a pump handle held by numerous people throughout the day. Be sure to clean both your access door, and the fuel cap itself.
Carpet and Luggage Racks
As you make purchases while you’re in the store, you then bring them out and begin loading them into the vehicle for the drive home.
First, begin using a standardized location where you will put the things you purchase such as groceries; this could be somewhere such as the trunk. Now that you are always placing your purchases in one spot, you are able to better clean the handle to open the door or trunk lid, followed by the option to lightly mist the carpet to kill all potential germs.
Sanitizing As You Go
One habit many people have gained since the beginning of COVID is the idea of carrying hand sanitizer in their vehicle and using it each time they get into their vehicle. This has created the option to sanitize as you go, but more than your hands, to sanitize the things you touch.
As you get into your vehicle and grab your hand sanitizer, consider adding excess hand sanitizer into your hands, and then simply wipe your hands across the various surfaces you know you will be touching, such as your door handle, steering wheel, gear selector, keys, and seat belt.
The same could be said when you get out to fuel your vehicle, a bit of hand sanitizer will help decrease the potential for germs being spread on surfaces such as your card, the key pad, the handle, your fuel access door, fuel cap, door handles and more.
We benefit as a whole to spray a bit of extra hand sanitizer into our hands and wipe down not only our personal surfaces, but these surfaces you know will be used by others throughout the day.
Remember, the hand sanitizer needs to be at least 70% alcohol to be effective on surfaces.
To better understand how often you use your vehicle, you really have to look at how often you’re traveling or going out and about for errands. For example, if you simply drive to work and home every day and hardly deal with people, you would need to deep clean your car far less than individuals who go out and about frequently to run errands or if their job requires them to go from place to place.
Regardless, be sure to take the time to deep clean your vehicle periodically to better fight the spread of illnesses and bacteria. You should always be focusing on the idea of killing off the germs with alcohol or similar proven cleaners, followed by protective coatings for your vehicle that promote longevity.
This also becomes a great time to wipe down all handles and latches, regardless if they’re being used regularly. All internal cleaning should be followed with material-specific cleaners, and the same should be followed for external cleaners, being sure you add a protective layer such as a spray on wax coating or spray on ceramic coatings.
Whenever you’re wiping down surfaces throughout your vehicle which could be scratched from sharp debris or dirt, be sure to use a quality microfiber towel to wipe all the surfaces clean.
While our vehicles become the epicenter of our travel, they become a risky area for bacteria and germs and should be cleaned to prevent any potential spread.
Using the right cleaners and targeting the high traffic areas will ensure your vehicle is kept clean and safe for you and the whole family.