Coronavirus car care tips

How to keep your car clean and working during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Coronavirus is the biggest topic on everyone's minds at the moment. With everyone thinking about hand washing and device cleanliness, it would be easy to forget your car.

Here are tips on keeping your car clean and operational.


You must maintain your vehicle. Doing so prolongs the life of some of the most costly parts and means it is ready to go whenever you need it. Unfortunately, many people neglect to keep up to regular car maintenance.

It is especially important now that you carry out some basic car checks. We've published 31 vehicle maintenance tips and talked about ways to keep your car healthy (mechanically speaking).

If you're going to be working from home or travelling less, your car would really benefit from a little extra help.

Short journeys around town aren't very good for modern engines, especially those with catalytic converters or diesel particulate filters (DPF). These need a fairly good run to initiate a clean-out process every so often. Check your manual on the conditions required to trigger this process and keep on top of that. You can also add additives to your fuel to help keep the fuel system clean.

Regular use of a car keeps the battery topped up. If you park your car up for a while, it could drain the battery, especially if there's a minor fault somewhere, or you have extra security devices or systems constantly drawing juice from the battery. If you have one, hook the car up with a smart charger. If not, try to keep using it as best you can to restore the battery. The biggest single demand placed on your car battery is starting the engine. If it doesn't start first time, check the battery voltage, otherwise, you could totally zap all the energy from the battery, causing it to go flat. Have a set of jump leads handy in case you need to start a flat car. If possible, park the car in a garage or under a carport.


As this form of coronavirus is new, it is not possible to say with surety how long it lives on surfaces. Some studies suggest it could still be viable after 3 days, depending on the surface (72 hours for plastic or stainless steel).

Other materials like steel could see the virus reach half-life at 13 hours, polypropylene (used heavily to make car plastic components, such as car carpet fibres) has shown a 16-hour average half-life.

Cars are built from many different materials, so how long any viral elements hang around will vary.

UV light, emitted by the sun, is known to be harmful to microbes, so this may help keep virus levels in cars controlled, though many car manufacturers now install UV-attenuating glass. Apparently, specific UV waveforms can disrupt a virus's genetic make-up, rendering it unable to reproduce. It has not been verified how effective UV light is in killing coronavirus, so do not rely on this method alone.

The best bet is to regularly clean frequently touched surfaces in your car after use.

Car cleaning method

You'll need either some alcohol (like ethanol or Isopropanol/Isopropyl) over 70% strength or a mild soap detergent. Potentially, even a white vinegar solution could be safe for use on the car's plastic and vinyl components. I have used diluted dish soap for years on many different cars and not noticed any problems, but please try it on an out-of-sight area first to see how your car's interior reacts to the fluid. The reason even just a basic soap works, is it attacks the virus's outer fatty layer, causing it to break apart.

Another thing to be aware of, there are a lot of electrics in a car. So make sure your towel or cloth is not dripping wet, otherwise, it could cause an electrical short. Using excessive amounts of water on your seats could cause them to get overly wet and develop an unpleasant smell.

Whatever you use must be safe for your car's interior, so test a small and out-of-sight patch to ensure you don't end up damaging the entire surface. Car interior factories actually use solutions of alcohol to give components a final wipe before assembly or shipping. These brands say this should work on faux leather, painted parts, plastic parts and even cloth upholstery. If you look in your owner's manual, there should be a section on cleaning the interior and which products to use.

  • Step 1: Empty out the interior

    Take out any loose items, rubbish, debris and coins. Put them somewhere safe, where they can't transfer contaminants to surfaces like your kitchen counters. This will help you fully see areas of filth accumulation and stop you clogging up your vacuum. Take a peek down the abyss between the front seats and the centre console, you may well find a small fortune down there.

  • Step 2: Vacuum

    Take a vacuum (or stiff brush) and suck up any dust, loose particles and fuzz. Work from the top down in a methodical manner. Make sure you hit all those crevices in seat cushions and stitched seams. Don't forget to lift out your mats and shake them off before vacuuming. Then you can access the often extremely dusty footwell carpeting. Vac out those areas too.

  • Step 3: Wipe

    Take your cleaning solution of choice (or the one recommended by the carmaker) and begin wiping the car's interior surfaces. On plastics, you should be able to somewhat firmly agitate the surface. This will lift stuck-on and baked-in dirt. Keep cleaning your cloth, you don't want to spread the muck around. If the car manufacturer says it is safe to do so, leave the soap for 20 seconds to kill any germs, before wiping away (ideally, with a second, damp cloth).

Some of the high priority areas to clean on your car interior

Areas of a car interior to concentrate on.

Here's a list:

  • Door handles: Interior and exterior, don't forget the boot
  • Steering wheel: Studies have shown the steering wheel could be four times dirtier than a public toilet seat
  • Gear stick/shifter/handbrake
  • Buttons (think radio, climate control, hazard lights, keyless ignition)
  • Keys and fobs: Don't forget to wipe your keys or fob
  • Switchgear: Indicator, cruise control and wiper stalks
  • Vents for air con
  • Sun visors
  • Rear-view mirror
  • Seat adjusters
  • Arm rests
  • Cup holders
  • Touchscreens: Be extra careful with the solution you use, how damp your cloth is and how much pressure you use
  • Window winders/controls
  • Glove box handle
  • Mirror adjusters
  • Windows: Clean your windows, where sneezes and cough aerosol particulates can land
  • Seatbelts: Make sure you wipe the belt itself, as well as the buckles

For cleaning leather and cloth seats, there are commercially available products specifically formulated for keeping those fresh and in good condition. Otherwise, you may find a fabric detergent (watered down) can work wonders on old, dirty seats. Child seats should be lifted out and cleaned according to the manufacturer's recommendations.

When you're done, you might wish to leave the doors open to let the interior dry naturally. It'll help get rid of some of the moisture created by cleaning.

Cabin air filter

Passenger compartments have cabin air filters, sometimes called dust and pollen filters, to sift out airborne debris and detritus. Some are just basic concertinaed/pleated felt-like paper, while others have activated charcoal. These need replacing at set servicing intervals, so if your car hasn't had it swapped for a while, you should do so. It would be worthwhile considering a full service at the same time. Have your air conditioning system checked over too, because these may have an additional filter and can be cleaned to reduce odours and the growth of mould, fungi and bacteria.

There are companies that specialise in cleaning and servicing car A/C units, as well as products on sale that help kill bacteria hidden in the ducting and vents.

Some Teslas have HEPA air filtering which, the automaker states, captures "fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, as well as bacteria, viruses, pollen and mold spores". It is called Bioweapon Defence Mode. The Model S (from 2016) and the Model X both have this feature.

Wash your hands

If it hasn't been drummed into yet, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. You could end up cross-contaminating your car if you're not careful, so keep cloths separate and wash them hands. And do not touch your face, no matter how much it might be itching. Be sure to wash the cloths afterwards or dispose of them responsibly.

Filling up at the petrol station

Don't forget to keep your hands clean at petrol stations. When you pick up the handle, you're holding a pump that has passed through countless hands. While petrol garages will no doubt be stepping up cleaning, you can forgo some of the risks by wearing gloves while you fill up. Failing to clean your hands afterwards could transfer contaminants straight to your door handles, wallet or purse, a card machine, your phone and so many other places.

It is fair to say that we live in concerning times, but follow advice from the World Health Organisation and ensure simple hygiene practices like hand washing to prevent spreading the disease.

Further information

To learn more about coronavirus and how to prevent its spread, head to our COVID-19 information hub. Also, check out the highly trusted resources below.

Picture: GettyImages

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