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Water Cooler: How to disinfect a car and limit the spread of COVID-19

UPDATED: Thu., Nov. 12, 2020

A crew from JK2 Detailing shines up a Porsche 718 Cayman GTS before placing it into the Spokane Auto Show in February 2019 at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cleaning common surfaces inside the car to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.  (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)
A crew from JK2 Detailing shines up a Porsche 718 Cayman GTS before placing it into the Spokane Auto Show in February 2019 at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends cleaning common surfaces inside the car to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)

Unless you’re a meticulous car owner, most vehicles tend to become dumping grounds for empty coffee cups, miscellaneous crumbs, mysterious smudges, pet hair, kids’ toys and the forgotten fast-food wrapper. Cars don’t always get the regular cleaning treatment our houses do, and because of that they can harbor tons of germs.

Not only do crumbs, spills and other bits of food act as breeding grounds for bacteria and germs, but many surfaces of the car are touched between interactions with dirty surfaces like gas pumps, car keys, cash and cards. With the pandemic being the obvious reason to improve the hygiene of your vehicle, here are a few tips on how to get the job done.

Wipes and sanitizers

A preventative measure is to keep disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer in an easily accessible spot, like a door pocket or cup holder. If you have to touch a bunch of surfaces while rummaging for these items, it kind of defeats the point. Sanitize your hands and keys upon entering the car but before touching anything else to help prevent spreading germs to other commonly touched surfaces, like the steering wheel, gear shifter, door handles, window switches, center console and cup holders.

Before disinfecting, you want to just start with old-fashioned cleaning. Cleaning removes debris, stain, gunk and germs from the surfaces which allows disinfecting to be used as a second step to kill surface bacteria and viruses without interference from other substances. Start with a quick vacuuming to remove crumbs and dust. Then you can use a commercially made car cleaner or a soap-and-water solution for the first round of surface cleaning.

CDC guidelines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using EPA-registered antimicrobial products, diluted household bleach solutions or alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol to disinfect cars and kill the virus that causes COVID-19.

Use the manufacturer’s instructions for application and concentration. That said, bBe wary with harsh bleach solutions and ammonia-based cleaners because they could potentially damage the vinyl, plastic and fabrics in the car’s interior. Most auto care professionals recommend disinfecting wipes to do the job. Use your digression and wWhatever you choose as your cleaning solution, it’s a good idea to keep the windows rolled down and then doors propped open to ensure airflow as you work.

Surface types

Give extra detailed attention to switches and knobs on the doors and handles. Start with a microfiber cloth to remove dust and other small particles. Don’t spray solutions directly on them as the liquid could seep under the fixture and cause damage. Wet a cloth or cotton swab and then apply that to the surface.

When cleaning interior fabrics and carpets, be careful to not soak the materials too deeply unless you have tools available to help the drying process. If the materials take too long to dry, all your hard work could go to waste as excess moisture potentially creates bacteria and mold growth. Let mats and carpets dry completely before returning them to the car.

Leather upholstery will be the most sensitive to cleaning products, and alcohol is not recommended as it can dry out and damage the material. Gentle soap and water can clean and disinfect the leather if cleaned thoroughly, and it is recommended to follow up with a leather conditioner.

Be cautious when cleaning electronics and touch screens as they are extremely sensitive to harsh chemicals and excess moisture. A lightly moistened disinfecting wipe is typically recommended. Something specialized for glass, like eyeglass wipes, can be even better for screens. Make sure all electronics are turned off before cleaning.

For a clean finish, don’t forget to wash the inside of the windows. They aren’t as important in the disinfection process, as they aren’t touched as often (that is, of course, unless you have children) but it will make the deep- cleaning process feel complete and will help reduce glare from smudges and grime, which is especially helpful in cold weather .

Rachel Baker can be reached at rachelb@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5583

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