How to Clean Your Car During the Coronavirus Pandemic
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How to Clean Your Car During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By David Undercoffler | April 16, 2020

By this point in the coronavirus pandemic, you should be well-versed in the basics of the CDC’s guidelines on hand-washing (often -- or use hand sanitizer), face-touching (never -- and wear a mask when you go in public), and disinfecting commonly-touched surfaces (simple soap and water work great).

But what about your car? While you’re likely using it less during this time, it’s also likely that when you are using it, it’s to take you to crowded places where you could potentially come in contact with COVID-19, like the supermarket or the bank. Or you’re giving a ride to someone with a pre-existing condition or someone who is elderly, which puts them at a higher risk of a severe infection due to this coronavirus.

So here are some tips for cleaning the important parts of your car to protect you and your loved ones from coronavirus. Grab a pair of disposable gloves and read on.

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What to use to clean your car of coronaviruses:

Start with a microfiber cloth. These will clean interior surfaces better than a standard paper towel (which you may be out of anyway) or common rag.

Basic soap and water will work on most surfaces. Much like washing your hands with soap and water for 20-plus seconds is essential to ward off infection of the coronavirus, it’s just important when cleaning the inside your vehicle. The best part is that almost any household soap will do; it doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive or even anti-bacterial.

This soap also doesn’t need to be an industrial-strength cleaner that could potentially damage the materials inside your car; the mild soap will be easy on your interior, whether you have expensive leather seats or cheap older vinyl.

To use soap and water, make sure you’re scrubbing hard enough and long enough to clean the surface but not too hard where you’re damaging it or wearing it down.

You can also use cleaning sprays with at least 70 percent alcohol. Check out this list of EPA-approved cleaners for your soft materials; just be sure not to pick any that include bleach or hydrogen peroxide because...

Bleach can damage your interior. As you might imagine, these can stain or damage your car’s surfaces, so avoid using them at all costs.

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Isopropyl alcohol works great. Again, you don’t need fancy or expensive cleaners to rid your vehicle of any potential coronavirus contamination. Isopropyl alcohol is a great alternative, and it won’t damage the materials inside your car, be they faux-leather seats, plastic, or metal (if you have real leather seats, it’s best to use soap and water as mentioned earlier).

Clean seats and carpets differently. Obviously, using soap and water or isopropyl alcohol applies to hard surfaces only; for cloth seats and upholstery, too much water or soap can lead to the cushions or fabric smelling bad or even growing mold. Instead, try a little water with a light touch of laundry detergent (too much can cause too many bubbles, which could lead to mold). Or choose a disinfectant from the EPA list we mentioned earlier.

Be careful with touchscreens. Many automakers recommend you keep water and ammonia-based cleaning products away from touchscreens. Instead, use a bleach-free disinfecting wipe.

How to disinfect your car of coronavirus:

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Start by simply cleaning out the car. Take this time to just clean the interior; get rid of all that unnecessary stuff that takes up space and isn’t essential. Then wipe down and clean your interior as you would normally. Then, move on to disinfecting.

Test any kind of cleaning product first. Find a hidden or inconspicuous spot inside your vehicle to test any cleaning product you're considering using. That way, if it does cause damage to the material you were planning to use it on, you’ll know without creating an unsightly spot or damaging a surface.

Start by cleaning the most common touchpoints. This may sound obvious, but it’s best to start cleaning the parts of your car that you touch the most often.

Outside the car, this includes the door handles, gas cap and cover, rear trunk release, and even your car keys themselves.

Inside, sit in the driver’s seat and clean everything you can reach. Start with the door handles, the door armrest, turn-signal stalk, headlight switch, power window buttons or window crank, the steering wheel itself, windshield wiper stalk, the shifter, the touchscreen (see above for how to clean this) the parking brake lever, the center console, the glovebox handle, the seat belts and buckles, and any buttons on the overhead console.

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Then sit in the front passenger seat and repeat the process; look for any common spot people might touch and wipe it down. Repeat in the rear seats. Then move on to the larger surface areas like the seats and door panels.

Take your time. Whatever you use, take your time to scrub the areas for the same 20-plus second time that you would if you were washing your hands.