Before you begin sanitizing your vehicle, be sure to wash your hands.

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If you have them, it’s a good idea to wear disposable gloves.

Below, we are going to look at tips on how to disinfect and clean your car. Vehicles interiors are often made from many different surfaces and materials, and you will want to clean the interior without damaging the materials.

It is important to note that we are not health experts, and that there are many additional precautions recommended by the CDC to prevent the spread of COVID-19. That said, we have implemented practices recommended by the CDC, and listened to experts on what will work to disinfect your car.

The first step to cleaning and disinfecting your car interior is to choose the cleaning agents and materials you will use. Depending on whether you have leather, cloth, or imitation leather upholstery, steps and cleaning agents will vary. This section will cover choosing cleaning agents for different materials to make sure cars are disinfected without unnecessary damage.

Isopropyl alcohol

Isopropyl alcohol is a proven disinfectant, and is also safe to use on most car interior surfaces. In fact, it is used in many production plants to put a final touch on interior components before they are shipped out. Isopropyl alcohol will remove many stains, smudges and residues, as well as kill bacteria and viruses. However, that stain removing quality can also cause problems with leather.

If your vehicle has a leather interior, it probably has a thin protective coating to prevent discoloration. Isopropyl alcohol can deteriorate that coating and even remove the dye from the leather itself. We have special instructions for cleaning leather surfaces below.

It is safe and easy to use isopropyl alcohol that is 70% or higher to wipe down hard surfaces in your vehicle. That includes steering wheel, dash, armrests, console, seat adjusters, shifter, cupholders, doors, handles, and more. Alcohol is also suitable for cleaning imitation leather upholstery.

Everything listed above is a “high touch” area, which you should prioritize when disinfecting. Things like the ventilation grilles and knobs, as well as the rearview mirror are all common touch points in a vehicle. All wiping and cleaning should be done with a microfiber cloth if you have one available. Not only do they do a great job of trapping dirt, but they also prevent scratches.

Cleaning Leather Interior

For leather steering wheels, seating, and trim, a combination of soap and water is a safe and sufficient way to clean them. Do not scrub hard when cleaning your leather interior, and avoid excess suds and water. Hand washing has been recommended as a primary way to protect oneself from COVID-19. This is not only because soap can kill the virus, but also because the friction of washing contributes as well. Washing gently with soap and water is effective, and will also protect your leather upholstery.

Car interiors are engineered to be durable, and expected to hold up to years of wear and tear. However, rough scrubbing or the use of incorrect cleaning agents can lead to scratches and discoloration. A wipe with alcohol on hard surfaces and gentle circular cleaning on upholstery are best practices for both cleaning and maintaining your car interior.

One important thing to avoid, is using too much water when cleaning your seats. Especially when it comes to cloth interior, excess water can seep into the cushions. This can cause the growth of mold and that musty smell you get if you leave your windows open in the rain.

When washing the seats of your car, it is best to wet a cloth or sponge with soap and water and gently wipe the seats in a circular motion. You do not want to leave excess soap or water, as it can take a long time to dry. Isopropyl alcohol can safely be used on non-leather seats, but it is only ideal for imitation leather.

Experts recommend that once your car’s interior is disinfected, it is important to wash your hands before getting in. This will help keep your car a clean place, and reduce the chance of a virus making it into your vehicle. The steering wheel is one of the dirtiest places in your car due to constant touching, and having clean hands will go a long way to keeping it clean after being disinfected.

Common Touchpoints

Door handle(s)
Liftgate or trunk release handle
Engine start button
Seat adjustment controls (and seat memory buttons)
Rearview mirror
Side mirror controls
Whole steering wheel, buttons and tilt/telescope adjustment
Turn signal and wiper stalks
Seat belt buckle (receptacle and tongue)
All dashboard controls
Any center console controls
Overhead controls
Grab handles
Armrests, center console latch
Glove box, vents, etc.

Are There Disinfectants I Should Avoid Using in My Car?

If you want to avoid damaging your  interior surfaces, don’t use bleach or hydrogen peroxide to disinfect. These can damage the vinyl and plastics in your cabin. You should also avoid any ammonia-based cleaning products used to clean glass, as they can break down the vinyl on the dashboard. Heat and light may then cause your dashboard to become sticky.