PUTTING THE BRAKES ON YOUR CRUISIN’ MOVIN’ GERM MACHINE
If there’s one thing that Covid-19 has taught us it’s that all the things that we take for granted that are spick and span are anything but clean – and that includes your car!
While that’s quite a reasonable assumption if you are still navigating the neighbourhood in your favourite old banger, it’s going a bit too far if you’re swanning around in a shiny new Beamer, right? And, while it may seem feasible to worry about infection spreading in a crowded public minibus taxi, there can’t be that much of a problem in the family car?
Well, maybe all is not what it seems.
Scientists and writers have gone as far as suggesting that your steering wheel could be just as dirty as a toilet seat – a shocking revelation that has been backed by a fair bit of research. One study conducted by CarRentals.com found that the average steering wheel had 629 colony-forming units (CFU’s which indicates bacteria per square centimetre) – which was four times more than a public toilet seat at 172 CFU!
The message that we will take from this and into the future post Covid-19 – and especially as restrictions themselves are reduced – is that the very places and areas that we spend most of our time in and that we touch the most are the ones that need a bit of special attention.
As South Africans, our homes and our cars are actually our real comfort zones and the places in which we spend the most time. Even in the earliest days of lockdown, most of us pulled off our masks with a sigh of relief as soon we had offloaded our shopping and slammed the door shut. After all, we were in a safe private rather than a public space – or so we thought.
The reality is that our vehicles harbour a huge amount of germs and bacteria. Calculate just how long you probably spend per day in your car. Let’s say it takes 30 minutes to get to work each day. This is an hour spent in your car travelling to and from work, without taking into account any detours to pick up milk and bread or visit your mother-in-law.
All told, this amounts to 260 hours a year spent in your vehicle.
Plus, very often, there is not always only one person in the vehicle.
The message that we will take from this is that the very places and areas that we spend most of our time in and that we touch the most are the ones that need a bit of special attention.
For those of us who spend a lot of time behind the wheel – think of those who are on the road all day as part of their jobs, Moms who are picking up kids from school as well as sports practice and then delivering them to friends for sleep overs – that’s a very conservative estimate indeed.
While the pandemic has prompted many of us to think that germs are brought into our cars from outside when we have been in a high risk environment, the so-called new normal is going to teach us that it goes further than that.
We not only need to make sure that we keep germs out of our cars but make sure that our cars do not become breeding grounds for bugs other than Covid-19.
Most of the germs and bacteria that could actually breed in our cars probably come from eating and drinking – whether that’s the dropped sweets, chips, bits of edible ‘this and that’, coffee and cool drinks that your kids spread around or the crumbs and spills from that breakfast that you eat en route to work.
The same goes for even the snacks that us adults pop into our mouths as we drive from A to B.
Dropped sweets are often the biggest offenders – those delightful sticky ‘things’ that your child expresses great delight in finding on the floor or shoved down the back seat and then defuzzes and pops into his or her mouth.
Then there are those bottles of not-quite finished juice or crumb filled old sandwich wrappers that find their way into the panels of the front doors.
Sweaty bodies after gym or a run aren’t that clean either and simply hopping in, starting up and heading home for a shower means that much of the sweat and grime seeps into your seats long before you make it to the bathroom and reach for the shower gel.
Many of us also regularly drive around with our pooches on the back seat.
We could go on and on …
So, how often do you clean your car? Most people only clean the insides of their cars once every three months at the most. Making sure that the outside is free of mud and grime happens more often.
But it is recommended that you should clean your car thoroughly both inside and out at least once a month – and even more if you have quite a few passengers on a regular basis.
GETTING A HAND ON CLEANING
Let’s start with incoming germs as per the Covid-19 pandemic. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that the coronavirus is mainly spread through respiratory droplets and that people contract or even transmit it by touching surfaces on which these droplets fall and then touching their faces.
Hard surfaces like metal or plastic harbour the virus longer than softer surfaces like fabric. So it makes sense that now would be a good time to clean and disinfect these sorts of surfaces inside your car – and make this part of your regular routine.
As mentioned, the dirtiest part of your car is probably the steering wheel – it’s the first thing you touch when you return home from shopping, the next thing you touch after you have keyed in a pin number after filling up or taking a parking tickets from a dispenser.
Next on the list of most touched automobile surfaces are your gear lever, door handles, window switches/winders and the centre console, seatbelts and the touch screens that control your radio, telephone and satnav.
The trick is to stop or minimise germs before they enter your car – without being completely paranoid, of course.
Keep wipes and/or a small bottle of hand sanitiser in your car or in your bag and sanitise your hands immediately after you have been in a public place or have used a public device. The sanitiser needs to contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective against Covid-19 and most other germs.
Keep the sanitiser out of direct sunlight and heat as the alcohol will lose some of its effectiveness overtime if left in these conditions. It’s best to replace it frequently to make sure it remains effective against bacteria.
Also remember to wipe down your car’s outer door handles regularly as they are another main ‘touch’ area.
After grocery shopping, place your groceries in the boot of your car and then sanitise before climbing inside and touching your steering wheel. This goes for school bags and luggage as well. Place them in the boot and not on the car seats.
THE BIG CAR FACELIFT
So, let’s get down to the actual cleaning. The CDC recommends that, when ‘disinfecting transport vehicles’, you don personal protection equipment and gloves. But I’m going to assume that we don’t all have PPE’s waiting around in our cupboards for car-wash-day and simply suggest that you wear gloves. That way, you can dispose of the gloves and wash your clothes when you are finished.
Firstly, remove large rubbish items such as till slips, empty packets, bottles and any large pieces of rubbish by hand. Then, brush or vacuum seats, under seats, between seats, centre consoles, cup holders, around the gear lever, carpets and loose mats.
You are now ready to clean and disinfect.
As the CDC says: “‘For hard non-porous surfaces within the interior such as hard seats, arm rests, door handles, seat belt buckles, light and air controls, doors and windows and grab handles clean with detergent or soap and water prior to applying disinfectants.”
But also remember that most products containing bleach, hydrogen peroxide and ammonia could ruin the interior of your vehicle. It’s best to ask someone in store to recommend a suitable cleaner rather than simply dip into the household cleaners. Even then, test a small patch on an out of the way spot to make sure that no harm is done.
If, for some reason, you are unable to purchase a preapproved disinfectant for cars, then simply use soap/detergent.
For soft or porous surfaces such as fabric seats you can use a car or carpet shampoo. Work up your solution into a lather and lightly use the suds with a cloth or sponge to wipe down your seats, carpets and upholstery. Remember to sponge down the loose mats as well. Let the carpet dry thoroughly before replacing the removable mats.
Don’t soak anything directly in the solution as, apart from taking a long time to dry, it could encourage bad odours and even possibly mould and bacteria.
Disinfecting wipes can be used on most surfaces and are a great way to disinfect without causing damage. Just make sure that they don’t have any abrasive material in them as these could scratch the surfaces. If your disinfectant is a liquid, then apply the spray or liquid solution to a cloth, and then wipe down the area.
For frequently touched electronic surfaces, consider using wipes.
Finally, a note if you have leather upholstery. Leather needs more ‘tender loving care’. Alcohol is not recommended for cleaning leather as it could break down the protective layer and promote cracking. Soap and water work well for cleaning and disinfecting but go carefully and don’t make the leather soaking wet. Apply a leather conditioner after cleaning to protect the material and stop it drying out.
If you decide that car cleaning is not for you, there’s no harm in delivering your car to the closest car wash for a thorough clean or even a valet. Ask how the cleaning is done and what materials are used if you are in any doubt as to whether they are going to be effective. You could also hang around and watch – bring a book or buy a coffee – just to make sure that all is done the way you would like it to be.