CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Thanks to the Coronavirus, many of us have spent plenty of time cleaning and disinfecting our homes. For those who still have to report to work, you’ve probably bombed your desk, keyboard, and mouse with disinfectant sprays and wipes. You make a habit of wiping off your phone and we all have dry hands now because we wash our hands or use hand sanitizer so much. It may be a new way to go about our daily routine, but this combined with social distancing is the most effective way to slow the spread of Coronavirus. One place you may not have thought of, however, is your car.

I keep it clean, but germs lurk everywhere!

When was the last time you cleaned your car, let alone sanitized and disinfected it? It probably has been a long time. You may clean your bathroom every week, but your car? It can wait, right? Think about all the things you touch only to then get in the car and touch your steering wheel, gear shift, and touchscreen. Actually, don’t think about it, because your steering wheel likely has more germs on it than your toilet!


We use these words interchangeably, but all three of them are different, and it is important to know. Your various cleaning supplies and car detailing supplies will fall into these distinct categories

  • Cleaning: To get rid of dirt, grime, marks, etc.
  • Sanitizing: Reducing contamination, number of germs
  • Disinfecting: Killing all germs

The problem with a car is that we have many different types of materials in it, and the chemicals used to sanitize and/or disinfect can potentially harm the materials in your car, so we have to go about things a little differently. Bleaching the entire interior will kill all the germs, but it will also ruin the plastic, leather, vinyl, wood, aluminum, carbon fiber, etc. as well as the car’s resale value. What may work on hard plastic could damage the richest leathers, some chemicals are good on metallic trim, but not on open pore wood trim. So we need to balance things out.

This also requires some trial and error on your part. The plastic on the doors will be different on a Chevy compared to a Mercedes-Benz, and could react differently. The same goes for leather.

We also need to pay attention to how long the product needs to sit on a surface. Disinfecting wipes can clean with a simple wipe, but to sanitize, they need to stay wet on the surface for a number of seconds, and it may take a number of minutes to fully disinfect. This could mean multiple wipes over one area for minutes. It’s this process that could damage your car’s interior as well.

Pay attention to the instructions on how long a surface needs to remain wet to clean, sanitize, or disinfect.

The good thing is that any cleaning, sanitizing, and/or disinfecting is better than nothing. Even something as simple as getting the trash out of the car will reduce the number of surfaces Coronavirus can linger on. Remember, it can live on hard surfaces in some cases over 24 hours, so we need to do what we can. In this article we will talk about the spots you should clean vs. disinfect to help slow the spread and kill the virus, while balancing the integrity of the interior materials. In the end you’ll also be familiar with some car detailing products to continue to make your car look like new!


  • Gloves since you are touching a potentially dirty surface within your car.
  • Vacuum to get all the debris out of your carpets, seats, air vents, trunk, and door pockets.
  • Automotive interior cleaning spray to clean the interior.
  • Automotive leather cleaner for seats, steering wheel, and gear shift.
  • Bucket of dish soap and water to clean the interior.
  • Microfiber cloths to apply the cleaning product to the interior surface.
  • Dusters to remove leftover fibers.
  • Glass cleaner to clean your windshield and windows.
  • Disinfecting wipes or spray to do the heavy sanitizing and disinfecting. Be sure they do not include bleach (Sodium Hypochlorite).

If you are unsure if your disinfecting wipes are effective against Coronavirus, check out the EPA’s website for a list:


You should do this in a garage or out of direct sunlight on a cool day for best results.

When was the last time you disinfected your car keys?
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Put on plastic or latex gloves.
  • Take disinfecting wipes to your keys and exterior door handles.
  • Clean the car from top to bottom to not miss any spots. Cleaning is described below.
  • Disinfect the main touch points in your car. Disinfecting is described below. These are the surfaces designed to be touched the most.
  • Take your gloves off without touching them.
  • Wash your hands again for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.


The outside of your car will get dirty, but COVID-19 likely wont be there.

Since the car is exposed to the elements, constantly being hit with the sun’s radiation, it is relatively germ free. You can wash it, but the virus isn’t going to survive on it no matter how dirty it is. You can disinfect the door handles, but that’s really all that would be needed on the exterior.


Using dish soap works great and is gentle enough to be used on multiple surfaces.

To clean your car’s interior, many car detailing products do have a solvent in them, but if you don’t have this, a simple solution of dish soap and water is going to go a long way. Like we hear from the doctors on TV, soap and water is very effective against the spread of the virus because the soap combined with the scrubbing action breaks down the layer of COVID-19 that allows it to stick to surfaces and also prevents it from replicating. The great thing about soap and water is that it is gentle. It won’t stain surfaces like a harsher chemical will, and you can use it on essentially any surface in the car. Keep in mind, this won’t disinfect (kill), but this will drastically help.

Using automotive cleaner:

Always apply the cleaner to the cloth first to avoid over-spray. Many of these products can air dry, but you should check to see if you need to wipe up the residue. Since it was designed for automotive use, you know it won’t harm the interior. You can use leather cleaner in the same way.

Using dish soap and water:

  • Drench a cloth, preferably a microfiber one, into a solution of dish soap and water. Wring out the cloth and apply it to the desired surface.
  • The water can be any temperature.
  • Use a gentle scrubbing motion to loosen up grime.
  • Avoid using a cloth that is too wet to avoid moisture and electrical issues.
  • Wipe up the soap with another microfiber cloth.
Using a microfiber cloth with soap and water to clean the radio and climate control buttons. Use a dry cloth to wipe up extra moisture and residue.

Again, the best way to do this will be from a top down approach. Get the sun visor down to the lowest plastic trim. Don’t forget to get the windows too.


Since this is the step that will use the harsher chemicals, this will require some trial and error on your part as well as a choice. Are you satisfied with your clean car, or do you want it disinfected too? Are you worried about disinfecting wipes damaging your surfaces? If you want to continue to sanitize and disinfect to really kill everything using disinfecting wipes, I’d stick to the touch points that you use every day. Those would include:

  • Exterior and interior door handles
  • Steering wheel
  • Touchscreen
  • Radio and climate control knobs
  • Gear shift
  • Cup holders
  • Seat belts
Disinfecting the steering wheel. These can have more germs on them than a toilet seat!

Remember, sanitizing those areas requires them to be wet for 10-20 seconds depending on what you are using. If you want to disinfect, then those areas need to remain wet for potentially minutes. It is up to you how deep of a clean do you want.

Disinfecting the touchscreen. Plenty of germs can live on here, but it is easy to clean.

The reason I would avoid disinfecting other places like your dashboard is because it isn’t worth the risk to potentially damage or stain it since you don’t touch those places often. You have already cleaned those spots, but subjecting an area that gets so hot and sees sunlight to those harsh chemicals may dry or stain them may not be worth it. If you are unsure how a product will react, try an out of sight spot to test it.

A good place to test how a disinfectant works on a surface is to test it on a small spot out of sight. The back of the steering wheel is a good place.

Now that you are done, wipe off any areas with residue and dust away any particles.

Sweep away any leftover fibers.


Now that your car is cleaned, sanitized, and disinfected to your liking, keep it clean by washing your hands and maybe keep a few gloves and hand sanitizer in your car. A little work and you can help slow the spread of COVID-19 and have a cleaner car in the process.

Don’t put a large bottle of hand sanitizer in your car. When it gets really hot in your car, it could potentially ‘boil’ and ruin the bottle, making for a very clean mess you’ll have to clean up.

The gloves and hand sanitizer will come in handy when you are filling up. Gas pumps are notoriously gross with how many people touch the screens, buttons, and nozzles.

Use gloves or a paper towel when handling gas nozzles.

Hopefully you find these tips useful and stay safe out there!