Coronavirus: how to clean and disinfect your car

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Person cleaning car dashboard

Driving hasn’t been totally banned during the UK lockdown, but leaving your home is only permitted for specific, essential reasons, such as buying food and commuting to and from work if you can’t work from home. 

Even though people are making far fewer journeys in their cars, it’s important to remember that COVID-19 can last on some surfaces for up to 72 hours, so there’s a chance your vehicle could harbour the virus. 

With that in mind, we've got some easy tips to help keep your car safe and clean – inside and out.

Safety first

Just as healthcare workers must use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), you should exercise caution when cleaning your car – especially if you're worried there may be traces of the virus inside or on your vehicle.

  • Wear a pair of disposable gloves, or dishwashing gloves, that can be discarded after use. If you have access to a disposable apron or face mask, use that too. If not, washing your clothes after cleaning your car is advisable
  • If you wear a face mask, make sure it covers your nose and mouth and don’t touch it without washing or disinfecting your hands as you may have touched a contaminated surface
  • Make sure you have a plastic carrier bag or bin liner handy to dispose of your PPE after use, or any rubbish and used tissues you might find. Seal up the bag when you’ve finished and put in straight in your dustbin
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after cleaning your car. If that's not possible, use a hand sanitiser with a minimum of 60% alcohol content to kill off the virus 

Cleaning products

Use disposable cloths, wipes or paper towels if possible. If you must use re-usable cloths, wash them after each use at 60°C.

There’s a mixture of surfaces inside and outside a car. Be cautious about which cleaning products are used, because you could do lasting damage to certain plastics and vinyls, for instance.

Good old soap and warm water is your best all-round cleaner, but washing-up liquid and other household detergents can also be used. Also, feel free to use your existing detergent-based car cleaning products. 

Soapy water is also recommended for leather seats, steering wheels and trim. However, don’t not scrub hard when cleaning your leather interior, and avoid excess suds and water.

For disinfecting, avoid using anything with bleach or hydrogen peroxide, though alcohol-based products (eg isopropyl) are suitable for most areas. Before you use any product, check the instructions to ensure it can be applied to plastics, upholstery, leather, touchscreens or paintwork.

Top tips

  1. It may sound obvious, but clean your car first, then disinfect
  2. If you can, treat your motor to a regular car wash (at home or at a service station) to make sure it’s not harbouring the virus in places you may have missed 
  3. If you have one, use a damp microfibre cloth to wipe off any residue soap suds from surfaces before disinfecting

Touch points

When cleaning and then disinfecting, focus on the areas that are touched most frequently:

  • External door handles – the first point of contact with any vehicle 
  • Front cabin – steering wheel, control stalks, switches and buttons, infotainment touchscreen, central console, gear lever, handbrake, climate controls, cup holders, internal door releases, glove compartment inside and out, sun visors
  • Rear passenger area – cup holders, arm rests, switches and buttons, USB sockets areas, internal door releases
  • Seat belts and clips are easily forgotten during the cleaning process. Don’t forget the rear passenger area and child seats, if you have them
  • All seats – adjustment controls, head rests and seat pockets
  • Floor area – remove mats if possible and vacuum them outside before scrubbing with soapy water. Allow them to dry outside before replacing. Lightly scrub carpets too, or use a carpet shampoo, but don’t saturate them
  • Boot latch and lid – this is especially important after a food shop, as the virus can be spread from the shopping trolley handle or basket to the latch/lid edge of your car’s boot
  • Boot interior – again, after a food shop this is where your bags have been stowed, so best to clean and disinfect this area too
  • Engine bay – if you’ve carried out any routine maintenance, then the bonnet release lever/button, oil filler cap and dipstick, plus coolant and windscreen fluid caps should be on your list
  • Car keys – don’t forget to clean/disinfect your keys, especially if they’re shared with a partner. Remember, your keys will also be taken into your home 

And finally…

Once your car's interior is cleaned and disinfected, it's important to wash your hands (and make sure your passengers wash theirs) before getting in from now on. This will help keep your car a clean place and reduce the chance of COVID-19 making it into your vehicle. 

I'm an experienced journalist, digital editor and copywriter, now specialising in motoring. I’m editor of Automotive Blog and have worked across the media in newspapers, magazines, TV, teletext, radio and online for household names including the BBC, GMTV, ITV and MSN. I’ve produced digital content in the financial sector for Lloyds Bank, Nationwide and the Money Advice Service. I'm married with two children and live near Bath in Somerset.

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