autoTRADER.ca | Evan Williams | 03/19/2020

You’ve cleaned your whole house from top to bottom, you’ve scrubbed the doorknobs, brushed your teeth, you’ve even flossed for the first time in months just because. What about your car? Maybe you’re concerned about the coronavirus getting inside your ride, but you can’t just break out the hand sanitizer and rub it into your seats, can you? Here’s how to sanitize and disinfect your car the right way.

To start, no, you can’t use hand sanitizer gel on your car seats. The amount of alcohol that they contain combined with sitting on the surface and the other additives in the gel could really do a number on your leather, and it’ll just soak into your cloth seats. You also really shouldn’t just spray your car down with bleach either — it can cause some serious damage.

There is still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, but Health Canada says that human coronaviruses like this one are most commonly spread through respiratory droplets from a cough or sneeze, close personal contact like touching or shaking hands, and touching something with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, and eyes before washing your hands.

Wiping it Down for You

Vigorous washing of surfaces with soap and water can help kill the virus. The U.S. Centres for Disease Control says to use soap and water to clean hard surfaces, especially high-touch surfaces. That would include your door handles, steering wheel, gear shifter, turn signal stalks, interior switchgear, buttons, etc. Make sure you wash thoroughly and typical car soap should help do the job. Be careful to not scrub too hard on older surfaces, especially leather seats, as you could damage them.

Alcohol solutions with at least 70 per cent alcohol are effective, according to the CDC. Consumer Reports spoke with Jeff Stout of Yanfeng Automotive Interiors to check in on if you can use that in your car. Stout says that the company, which is the largest automotive interior supplier in the world, uses isopropyl alcohol to clean parts in factories.

“We will use that to clean smudges or any kind of last-minute details before we ship the product,” Stout says, adding that all of the company’s products, from chrome trim to faux leather, are tested to be safe with pure isopropyl alcohol. He even says you can use it on cloth upholstery.

On fabric seats, soap and water, as well as alcohol, both work well, but be careful how much soap and water you use. It’s hard to rinse soap from your seat, and you don’t want to soak the foam with water and end up with mould down the road.

Avoid using bleach inside your car, especially on screens, and avoid ammonia-based cleaners (like glass cleaners) on your screens as well. Both can damage the coatings on the screens, and bleach can damage your interior. Alcohol should be fine on these surfaces.

Microfibre cloths are the best for use on your interior. On hard surfaces, they won’t drag dirt or other particles causing scratches, and on soft surfaces, they won’t tear and break down into the surface like paper products will.

For leather seats and steering wheel covers, gentle soap and water is best for frequent cleanings. Alcohol should be safe, but use it too often and you could remove the dyes and coatings from the surface. Scrub the surfaces, but again use caution around any seams and cracks to ensure you don’t make them worse. Use a leather conditioner to help keep your seats in top shape, but maybe hold off on that until things are back to normal and you’re not cleaning as frequently.

If you’d rather clean with pre-packaged solutions like disinfectant wipes, that’s fine too, though they can be tough to find right now. Just check the label to ensure that whatever you use is car-safe, and test everything you use on a surface that’s less conspicuous. In case there’s a problem, best that it’s under the dash or floor mat than right and in the middle.

One last suggestion: whatever you use to clean your car, don’t mix cleaners together. That even applies to spraying two nearby surfaces with different solutions when both are still wet. Mixing the wrong cleaners can produce toxic gasses, a problem much more immediate than a potential virus. And when you’re done, go wash your hands. Maybe twice, just to be sure.

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