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How to disinfect your car: 6 steps to follow

21st Mar 2020 5:00 am

As the threat of COVID-19 rises, taking basic precautions becomes all the more essential. We tell you how to disinfect your vehicle’s cabin and minimise the risk.

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The coronavirus outbreak has become a serious cause for concern over the past few months, prompting the World Health Organisation (WHO) to characterise the disease as a pandemic. And while the situation might be grim, recent events have proven the effectiveness of following simple protocols towards arresting the rapid spread of the disease. Basic efforts like social distancing and maintaining a proper hygiene can make a marked difference.

Just as maintaining a sanitized environment at home and at the workplace is crucial, so is ensuring clean surroundings in your vehicles. Here are the six main things you can do to keep the COVID-19 threat at bay while travelling in our own personal space.  

Exercise personal hygiene

Maybe the most rudimentary measure, and yet the most crucial, is to continue practising personal hygiene even in your vehicle. Washing your hands before heading out for a drive can prevent contagions from contaminating the vehicle in the first place. And do remember to wash them again after completing your trip to ensure the safety of others.

Coronavirus primarily spreads through respiratory droplets, so cover your mouth properly while coughing or sneezing. Keep a box of tissues in the car and a trash bag as well for safe disposal. Having a sanitizer handy is also a good idea.  

Give the cabin a thorough cleanse

Respiratory droplets from an infected person can contaminate surfaces where the virus can remain active for a few days. But before you start disinfecting, it is important to note that these chemicals are fully effective only when the surfaces are free of dirt and grime.

So first, give the interiors a once-over. Vacuum clean the cabin and dust-off surfaces including the dashboard, door pads and the seats. Don’t forget to clean the grime from all the nooks and crannies too.   

Disinfect frequently touched surfaces

Now that the cabin is free from dirt, let the disinfection begin. Start from the frequently touched surfaces including the exterior and interior door handles, steering wheel, gear shifter, hand brake, sun visors, grab handles, seat adjustment levers, seatbelt buckles, dashboard, touchscreens and all the buttons and knobs throughout the cabin. And don’t forget that key fob!

Sanitize these surfaces by giving a thorough wipe down with a disinfectant to neutralise any contagions. Repeat the process every now and then, since these surfaces are highly prone to contamination due to being in constant use. 

It is important to note that in order to prevent damage to cabin materials and electronics, the disinfectant should be carefully chosen. Not all home cleaning agents are suitable for use. Bleach, hydrogen peroxide and ammonia-based products would be too harsh for a vehicle’s interior and are generally not advisable.

Car care brands like Armor All and Nippon Paint offer a variety of interior cleaners and shampoos specially meant for cabin materials. Some brands even offer disinfectant wipes which can be kept handy to give the cabin a wipe down regularly. Though these products aid cleaning and neutralise germs to a certain extent, their effect on coronavirus hasn’t been tested.   

If it’s difficult to get your hands on any of these items, then there’s good old soap. Any soap has the ability to destroy viruses, including coronavirus, by taking apart the outer layer of fat surrounding the virus. It is for this reason that leading medical authorities advise to wash hands with soap for 20 seconds and why the same substance can also be used for disinfecting your ride. However it’s recommended to go for a milder variety like generic shampoos to prevent damage to interior trims.

Dampen a cloth with some soap water, give areas like the dashboard and door handles a good scrub and then wipe off with a dry cloth. Exercise extreme caution so as not to damage any of the electronics. If residual marks of the soapy solution are left behind on any of the surfaces, they can be removed using interior dressers like waxes and polishes from any of the vehicle detailing brands.     

Another effective disinfectant is alcohol. According to international medical bodies, rubbing a sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol can help decontaminate your hands and a similar solution can be used for vehicle interiors as well. Surgical spirit, which is widely available across pharmacies, has at least 70 percent isopropyl alcohol content that is generally considered safe for cabin materials. This can be applied to a cloth and give a wipe down to the frequently touched surfaces. Moreover, disinfectant sprays available at medical stores could also be used, though it is always advisable to apply them on a small inconspicuous area first to observe the effects and then proceed with caution.

An additional tip for wiping down any of the cabin surfaces is to only use a microfiber cloth which can capture dirt effectively and prevent scratches to touchscreens and glossy interior trims. Moreover, microfiber is also much better at absorbing water and other liquids instead of just spreading them around like a normal cloth would.    

Clean the upholstery

Headrests, seatback pockets, backrests and armrests are other places that should be cleaned as well. Here too, alcohol as well as soap water can be used across a variety of upholsteries ranging from leather and leatherette (vinyl) to fabrics. However, keeping a few things in mind is a must.

In case of leather upholstery, repeated use of alcohol or aggressive scrubbing with soap can lead to discolouration, so exercising some restraint is recommended. After disinfection, special products like conditioners can be used to ensure that the quality of leather is maintained.

Fabric upholstery presents its own challenges. Too much soap water can not only stain the fabric, but also seep into the cushioning to make matters worse. The trick is to use a small quantity to dampen a cloth for wiping down the seats.         

And if you’re still a bit apprehensive, then there is always the option of getting steam cleaning or dry cleaning done by professionals.

Service the air-conditioning system

Since many of the COVID-19 related fatalities can be attributed to comorbid diseases, it is a good idea to rid your HVAC system of any harbouring bacteria and fungi. Have the system serviced by professionals. Should you opt for the ‘do-it-yourself’ approach, remember to clean the air filter and spray the air-con vents (including the rear AC vents) with cleansing agents offered by any of the car care brands.   

Practise social distancing 

Cutting down on avoidable human interactions is probably the most effective way to limit the spread of the disease and the same can be extended to your vehicle use as well. For starters, avoid handing over your car to the valet. At fuel stations, maintain a safe distance from pump attendants and even try paying using digital wallets.     

After your home and office, it’s probably your vehicle where you spend most of your time. If you or anyone else showing symptoms has travelled in the car, then it makes disinfecting the cabin all the more important. Frequent sanitization is a must for fleet operators to ensure the well-being of passengers. So follow these steps to minimise the risk from contagions and stay safe. 

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