While everyone's hopefully on the same page about the importance of washing your hands during the coronavirus pandemic, other crucial cleaning practices are getting less attention. Commutes might be canceled for now, but you should still know how to properly clean and disinfect your car in case you need to run to the grocery store or see a doctor. It doesn't matter how many times you glob on hand sanitizer — if you have a dirty steering wheel, you could pick up germs every time you put your hands at 10 and 2.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings." In other words, in order for you to be able to properly sanitize your car, or any surface, it first has to be clean. Whereas sanitizing kills germs that aren't visible to the naked eye, cleaning wipes away what you can see. For example, you can clean coffee stains out of your car cupholders, but that doesn't mean the cupholders are sanitized.
When it comes to your car, the cleaning agents that the dealership endorses might not fight against a resilient virus that can live on surfaces for multiple days. However, automotive experts at Kelly Blue Book warn car owners not to use bleach or hydrogen peroxide on the vehicle’s interior. "Both chemicals can put a welcome end to the coronavirus, but they will also cause damage to the vinyl and plastics used in most modern vehicles today." Instead, they suggest opting for bleach-free disinfectant wipes, or soap and warm water.
Before you start cleaning your car, make sure that you crack a window, or keep a door open, so that you're not trapping yourself in a small space with chemicals. And before you start blasting germs, tidy up and wipe down your car, even if it looks clean. Remember: you can't sanitize your car without cleaning out the grime first. Next, read the label of any cleaner that you're using, and follow the intended directions carefully.
Sanitize The Heck Out Of The Steering Wheel
Your steering wheel might not look dirty, but it's actually four times dirtier than a toilet seat, according to a 2019 study by CarRentals.com. To clean it, you'll want to use a disinfectant wipe, and get in the practice of doing this every time you get in the car. Avoid bleach and peroxide when it comes to cleaning your car — you can accomplish the level of cleanliness desired with a solution of at least 60% alcohol and/or Clorox wipes. Make sure you wipe down every inch of the steering wheel, not just the places where you think you hold it.
Wipe Down The Handles, Buttons, Gears & Knobs — Anything You Touch
If your car has a touch screen, you'll want to use a microfiber cloth so you don't destroy the surface of the screen. Apple recently stated that it's OK to use Clorox Disinfectant Wipes on their touch screens, so you should have no issue wiping down you car's screens with them either. It might take a long time and many wipes, but it's crucial that you wipe down every single button, knob, dial, gear, and crevice. Make sure you're not just cleaning the tops of buttons — you should also cleaning the underside of the button, where you actually touch it. Clean the cup holders, the gas cap, the trunk handle, the wiper level, the turn signals, the dashboard, and the arm rest. And don't forget to hit the knobs on your radio, the dials on the vents, your windows (which you likely cough and sneeze on), the sun visor, and the mirror you flip open. Pretend that you will be judged by your cleaning skills with a UV blacklight — anywhere that a germ might land needs to be scrubbed, wiped, or sprayed with a disinfectant.
Gently Clean The Upholstery
If your car's interior is leather, you can still use alcohol and/or Clorox wipes to clean it because they don't have bleach, but note they will be drying on the surface. Yahoo! Finance suggests using soap and water on leather in lieu of alcohol based cleaners, to minimize the drying effect. If you do use an alcohol-based cleaner, Vox reports that a small amount of alcohol goes a long way and that you'll want to follow up your cleaning with a leather conditioner, to replenish the hydration, after the cleaning routine. Get get every inch of your car's cabin, from the seats, to the head rests, to the dividers.
Spray & Vacuum The Carpets
If you have the means to vacuum your car at home, this is ideal, as a public vacuum a the gas station is going to be a germ hotspot. At the very least, if vacuuming isn't an option, get some Lysol Disinfectant Spray and go to town on your car's carpets and any cloth upholstery.
Disinfect Your Nasty Keys
Your car keys are filthy, and now is the time to clean them. But before you disinfect them, you'll need to get the grime off. If you have a plastic key fob, remove this from the key chain and wipe it down with a disinfectant. If you have metal keys, separate them from anything plastic or electronic and put them into a bowl. Fill the bowl with warm water and a few drops of dish soap. Swish your keys around in this bath, and if you have an extra toothbrush or small scrubber, you can bring this in to really get the grime loose. Next, dry your keys off and wipe them down with isopropyl alcohol and/or disinfectant wipes.
Reduce The Germs You Bring Into Your Car
Getting gas isn't optional, so you have to do so with caution. You can wear a cloth, rubber, or leather glove while pumping gas and make that your gas-pumping glove — just don't use latex glove because doctors need them more than you do. If you do use a glove, make sure it has its own special place, like in the pocket on the side of your car door. Use it to open your gas tank, hold the gas pump, and handle the transaction. Then sanitize your hands after taking it off. If you can use a credit card and avoid going into the gas station at all, that's ideal. Bring your hand sanitizer with you when you go to pump the gas so you can disinfect your hands before getting back in the car.
Don't Forget Your Bike
With people avoiding mass transit, bike shares are seeing a spike in riders. New York City alone had a 67% increase in bike share users in the last month, The New York Times reports. With more riders, comes more germs, so you'll want to minimize what you touch, and make sure that what you do touch, is clean. Use an antibacterial wipe to clean off the handlebars, gages, breaks and seat. Under no circumstances should you touch your face while riding a bike, so make sure your hair is tightly secured before taking off. If you want to be extra safe, Consumer Reports suggest wearing gloves while biking, and if you're feeling unwell, avoid riding your bike altogether.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.