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How to Disinfect Your Car During the Coronavirus Pandemic

With the government urging us to stay at home, learning how to disinfect your car might not seem like the best use of your time right now. But even for those most committed to following the requests for social distancing, unexpected needs might require running an errand in the car. Life goes on, after all.

In any event, minimizing the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19 should be a top goal — and that includes the family vehicle.

What Is the Coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as SARS.

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. Severe infections can cause pneumonia, SARS and kidney failure, which can be fatal.

How Is the Coronavirus Spread?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that the virus seems to most often spread person-to-person. The most likely way to catch it is by being in contact with or being near an infected person.

It can, however, also spread through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects — such as your family vehicle. When an infected person sneezes, droplets are deposited on surfaces. And if the virus is on an infected person’s hands and they touch a surface, they leave the virus behind.

Touching a contaminated surface, though, is much less effective in spreading the disease than person-to-person contact.

How Long Can the Coronavirus Live on Car Surfaces?

Experts report that the virus that causes COVID-19 can survive as long as 72 hours on the types of plastic and metal surfaces found in nearly every vehicle. Although we couldn’t find any specific references to coronavirus survival on leather and cloth seating surfaces, some experts suspect that survival of the virus is more robust on hard surfaces, like metal, than it is on softer surfaces, such as cloth or leather.

What Safely Disinfects Coronavirus in Your Car?

According to Consumer Reports, look for any solution containing at least 70% alcohol. It specifically identifies a mix of 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water as a safe disinfectant for just about every surface in your car, whether plastics or imitation leather. The mixture is commonly sold as rubbing alcohol by most pharmacies as a disinfectant for cuts, scrapes and burns.

If you can’t find rubbing alcohol, Consumer Reports [suggests applying soap and water with a microfiber cloth. If you have a leather interior, you should use a leather conditioner after washing it. There’s also some modern technology that can help keep coronavirus out of your car which you can read more about here.

Which Coronavirus Disinfectants Will Damage Your Car’s Interior?

Many products commonly found on grocery store shelves will disinfect for COVID-19, but many of them will damage your car’s interior surfaces. Bleach and bleach-based products, for example, are effective disinfectants, but they’ll damage your car’s interior. Steer clear of any disinfectant containing hydrogen peroxide, too. If you’re wondering which disinfectants are safe to use in your car, you can read more about them here.

When Should You Disinfect Your Car for Coronavirus?

We suggest using common sense when disinfecting your car. You can obviously disinfect your car as often as you want. Triggers for taking on the task, though, should include an infected person being in the vehicle. A best practice would also be to disinfect your car before transporting someone extremely susceptible, such as an elderly relative, a baby or someone with immune system issues. Here are some more quick tips on reducing the risk of coronavirus when buying or selling a car.

Which Surfaces Should You Disinfect for Coronavirus?

Disinfect any surface you might touch. That means pretty much everything. Begin on the driver’s-side door and work your way across the instrument panel to the center stack and the front passenger door.

Wipe down every switch, knob and button. Don’t forget those power seat adjusters on the side of the front seats. If your car has manually operated front seats, wipe down any adjustment handles, even the ones under the seat. Pay special care to the steering wheel, shift knob, grab handles, air vents and center console. Remember the overhead console, too, as well as the switches for the reading lights, power moonroof and anything else overhead.

Repeat the same full coverage in the rear-seat areas.

What’s the Bottom Line?

A little common sense goes a long way. Every trip to the grocery store doesn’t have to trigger a major vehicle clean-up so long as driver and passengers sanitize their hands and follow other best practices laid out by WHO and the CDC. 

Looking for more info relating to you, your vehicle, and the COVID-19 pandemic?  Check out more of Autotrader’s Coronavirus content.

Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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