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Clean, Sanitize or Disinfect? Safe Car Cleaning

Medical supplies, delivery service and technology - 3 best stock investments for March 2020. The saying "hindsight is 20/20" has never held truer. Hindsight also tells me I should remove my rings before using hand sanitizer. What will hindsight teach us about sanitizing our vehicles?

Safe interior car cleaning

Before developing a habit of slathering your seats with bleach and hand sanitizer, let's address some common questions and hopefully reduce any potential regret on that front. What level of precautionary cleaning does a vehicle really need? What cleaning products should be avoided and how can damage from long term use be prevented?

First, let's clarify the commonly interchanged words "clean", "sanitize" and "disinfect".

Cleaning removes dirt, dust and germs from a surface. It won't necessarily kill the germs, but reduces the potential for spread.

Disinfecting kills germs by the use of chemicals, such as bleach. These chemicals come with a "dwell time" or "contact time" - the amount of time the surface must remain visibly wet with the disinfectant in order to be effective. This won't necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove the germs.

Sanitizing could involve cleaning, disinfecting, or a combination of both. Sanitizing procedures lower the number of germs to what is considered a safe level. According to the EPA, surface disinfectant products are subject to more rigorous testing, and have a higher bar for effectiveness than surface sanitizing products. There are currently no sanitizer-only products on the EPA's list of disinfectants approved for use against SARS-CoV-2.

What products are safe for vehicle use? Most chemical disinfectants, including chlorine (bleach) and hydrogen peroxide, are too harsh or toxic for use on a vehicle's interior surfaces. Even alcohol, a common recommendation, can damage leather and vinyl after time. Car care experts and car manufacturers alike agree that good old soap and water (an effective weapon against COVID-19) provides the best cleaning solution for vehicle interiors. (Note: See the CDC article "Cleaning and Disinfecting for Non-Emergency Transport Vehicles" if you have transported someone known or suspected to have COVID-19.)

Regardless of your chosen product, clean with care. Aggressive scrubbing can damage clear plastics and the paint or decals on all those dials, knobs and buttons. Use soft cloth or microfiber. On leather surfaces, follow up each cleaning session with a leather conditioner. Wear gloves and launder your cleaning cloths after each use.