How to Disinfect Your Car’s Hotspots

Published April 6, 2020
disinfecting car steering wheel

You want to know how to best disinfect your car's hotspots without harming the interior of your car. Hotspots are the areas you use the most when riding in your vehicle.

Four Highly Germy Hotspots

Four hotspots in your car that are pools for germs are the seats, door handles, steering wheel, and the trunk. This last hotspot might surprise you. It may surprise you more that the National Institutes of Health reports MRSA has been found in 2% of automobiles.

Nine Times More Germs Than Public Toilet Seats

In 2011, Consumer Reports alerted car owners to a Queen Mary University of London, England, study that found the average automobile has 700 bacteria per 10 square centimeters compared to 80 bacteria per 10 square centimeters found on public toilet seats. A whopping 1,000 bacteria per 10 square centimeters were found in the average car trunk. The study also found that the average person only cleans their car once a year.

What Not to Use to Disinfect Your Car

There are some disinfectants you don't want to use on your car since these products will damage and even ruin your car upholstery. These include the germ killing go-tos of hydrogen peroxide and bleach.

Woman wiping down car steering wheel

Clean First and Disinfect Second

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), cleaners and detergents remove dirt, soil, organic matter, and dust. These products make it so the germs can be washed away with water, but they do not kill germs. The CDC goes on to explain that dirt and other organic matter will prevent disinfectants from doing their job. Based on this information, you should first clean your car with quality car cleaning products.

  • Remove all car mats and clean them outside the car and leave for now.
  • Use a cleaner for car carpeting and allow it to dry before going further (follow manufacturer's instructions).
  • Vacuum the car.

How to Disinfect Your Car and Its Hotspots

Once your car is clean, you can begin disinfecting it. The best thing to do prior to using any kind of disinfectant is to test it on a hidden area of your car. The CDC advises that disinfectants should contain a list on the label of the types of germs it kills. There should also be an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) registration number to authenticate it. Three popular types of disinfectants are Lysol, Clorox and 70% Isopropyl Alcohol Wipes.

Clean Leather and Disinfect Cloth Upholstery

The dyes used in car leather can be damaged by disinfectants. The chemical reaction to the surface coating on leather will usually breakdown and the exposed leather will discolor.

  1. Most car companies, like Volvo Cars of Dayton, warn that the dye or staining used in car leathers may be damaged with the use of alcohol. These companies advise that you use warm soapy water with a sponge or soft cloth.
  2. Wring out the soft cloth or sponge so you don't leave a trail of water and soap behind.
  3. This is especially vital for cloth upholstery since water residue can set up an environment for mold and mildew.
  4. Wash the seats with gentle strokes. Harsh vigorous strokes could harm the upholstery.
  5. Use clean water and a fresh sponge or soft cloth to rinse the seats, but don't use a lot of water.
  6. Wring out the soft cloth or sponge of clean water and wipe down the seats. You can repeat this process as often as necessary until the seats are clean.
  7. Use a soft dry cloth to further wipe down the seats to ensure you have removed all moisture.
  8. For fabric upholstery, you can use a spray disinfectant like Lysol, but first test an inconspicuous area to make sure you won't damage the upholstery.
Cleaning leather car interior

Disinfection of Non-Leather Vehicles and Hard Surfaces

You can usually use a disinfectant on hard surfaces without concern of damaging your car. However, you should always test on a small area, such as a dashboard corner, back of a steering wheel, or hard-to-see area of a seat or console.

Steering Wheel

One of the top four germ-bearing areas of your car is the steering wheel, so test out the disinfectant you chose to use on the back where it won't show. If you have difficulty seeing the results, use a small hand mirror held behind the spot on the steering wheel so you can see if the application of the disinfectant caused any damage. If it didn't and you feel it's safe to use, you can begin cleaning the steering wheel.

  1. Don a pair of disposal plastic gloves.
  2. You may prefer to use wipes of one of the three disinfectants Lysol, Clorox or 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.
  3. Place one wipe in your gloved hand and grip the steering wheel.
  4. Move your hand with the wipe underneath it in a rocking motion back and forth so the wipe in your hand moves over the front and back of the steering wheel. You can use one wipe in each hand to speed up the process, if you prefer.
  5. Throw the wipe(s) in a garbage bag and repeat as often as necessary until you've completely cleaned the steering wheel.
  6. Next tackle the center area of the steering wheel with a fresh wipe; be sure you clean the steering column.
  7. Make sure you wipe down any levers and the ends of levers, such as windshield wipers and cruise control.
  8. Clean any steering wheel command buttons, such as radio and cell phone controls.
  9. Use a clean soft dry cloth to wipe off what you just wiped down to ensure you aren't leaving residue liquid/chemicals behind.

Disinfect Everything You Touch

Anything that you touch should be disinfected. So, basically all of the interior of your car. Some areas that may need extra-special attention include:

Review Mirror

Clean with a glass cleaner and whatever you used to clean the other hard surfaces, such as a car cleaning product. Use a disinfectant wipe and follow with a soft dry cloth. You may need to use a window cleaner if the disinfectant leaves any paths on the mirror.

Door Handles

Clean your door handles on the inside and outside. Use disinfectant wipes to make sure the handles are clean and follow wiping down with a soft dry cloth.

Disinfection and cleaning of car interior

Infant Car Seats

You want to remove the infant car seat so you can clean the back seat. Set the infant car seat on the driveway and clean it the same way you did the interior car seats. Be sure you also clean the metal parts of the car seat with a recommended car cleaner for metal/chrome. Once you've dried off the infant car seat with a soft dry cloth, wipe it down with the disinfectant wipes, including the seat belts. Wipe with a dry, soft cloth to remove any residue.

Other Car Hotspots to Disinfect

There are other hotspots you need to disinfect once you've cleaned your car. These are areas that you touch whenever you're in the car.

  • The gear shift handle is a germ collector.
  • Any door controls such as door locks, electric windows, and electric seats.
  • Air vents harbor germs and any mildew/mold from the filters. Be sure to check the air filters in your car and replace with new ones.
  • Armrests on the door and seat need to be disinfected.
  • Sun visors and visor mirrors are touched frequently.
  • Cup holder are especially nasty since spilled drinks often set up conditions for bacteria growth, mildew and mold.
  • Center consoles and dashboards need to be disinfected.
  • Radio controls and knobs are areas you most likely touch anytime you're in the car.
  • For disinfecting a touch screen, always double-check with the manufacture's guidelines. If you know it's safe to disinfect the screen, then use diluted alcohol on an anti-static microfiber cloth. Be very gentle when you wipe down the screen.
Cleaning car center console

How to Clean Seat Belts

Clean the seatbelt house with a hard surface car cleaner. Allow it to dry thoroughly before disinfecting.

  1. Pull the seat belt forward until it stops and buckle it to the seat.
  2. Clamp off the belt at the housing so it can't be retracted. You can any type of clamp or even a clothespin on each side of the belt to ensure it doesn't come loose.
  3. Use a cleaner specifically made for cleaning the car seatbelt. This is usually a spray and you use soft bristled brush to work it into the belt fabric in movements that go with the grain of the belt.
  4. Following the manufacturer's directions. If you need to rinse, make sure you remove all the moisture from the belt.
  5. Dry the belt with a soft microfiber cloth or towel by wrapping it around the belt and squeezing it between your hands.
  6. Leave the belt buckled to the seat for at least a day or overnight to ensure there is no moisture left in the belt.

Disinfect Car Seat Belts

Once the seats belts are clean and have dried, you can begin disinfecting them. You will use the same steps 1-2 that you used when cleaning the seat belts.

  1. Before starting, test the disinfectant wipe on the underside of the seat belt before using it.
  2. Disinfect the belt and wipe down with a soft dry cloth.
  3. Leave for a few hours to ensure it is completely dry.
  4. Wipe down the seatbelt housing with disinfectant and cloth dry.
  5. Wipe down the belt buckle.
  6. When you release the seat belt to allow it to retract, be sure to disinfect the end of the seat belt buckle before allowing it to retract and touch the housing.

Disinfect the Car Trunk

The car trunk was discovered to harbor the most germs. Consider that germs attach to shopping bags and other items that you put in the trunk.

  1. Most trunk carpeting can be removed.
  2. Place on carwash concrete and spray wash it, rinse with clean water and allow to dry in the sun.
  3. At home, place on the driveway, use a hose nozzle spray setting add a little soap to the carpet and work up a lather.
  4. Use a soft bristle brush to clean the carpeting.
  5. Rinse with clear water.
  6. Allow to dry in sun.
  7. Make sure the carpeting is completely dry before returning to the trunk.
  8. While the carpeting is out of the trunk, wipe down the interior the disinfectant wipes.
  9. Replace dried carpeting in the trunk.

Disinfect the Exterior of Your Car

Wash your car with soap and water. Rinse away the germs with clean water. Unlike the interior of your car, the exterior can be soaked with soap and water. Just as washing your hands gets rid of germs, so does the soap and water for your car with the rinse water carrying the germs away.

Avoid Recontamination of Your Car's Hotspots After Disinfecting

You want to avoid re-contaminating your car after disinfecting it. Use hand sanitizers, gloves to pump gas and make sure you also disinfect your car keys!

How to Disinfect Your Car’s Hotspots