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How Do I Keep My Car Coronavirus-Free?

Even as we lock ourselves indoors, grocery store runs are still a fact of life. But you don’t need a blow torch and microscope to keep your ride corona-free.

If you know what’s good for you (and the rest of us), you’re at home, snug as a bug in a rug and not taking any chances being on the outside. I do realize, though, that there is this thing called “food” that we all need, and that most of our victory gardens aren’t yet operational.

And because we need stuff that we can’t make, grow or isn’t easily delivered, inevitably we will end up in our cars. Which brings me to the question at hand: When picking up that necessary sustenance (or conducting whatever other essential errand), how do we keep our respective vehicles coronavirus-free?

For answers, I called the one place that I’m sure has been getting this question on repeat: My local car wash. Well, actually, I called a bunch of car washes, because for some reason, car washes aren’t considered “essential businesses” in California. “Oh, yeah, we’re getting asked about that a lot,” says Eric, a manager at one car wash in L.A. that was answering their phone. “What we’ve been telling people who’ve called, since we can’t be open due to the quarantine, is that their cars can be kept clean the same way they’re hopefully keeping themselves safe from the virus: With a lot of soap and a disinfectant. Start by focusing on the places in your car you touch the most: Your steering wheel, seat belt, radio dial, shifter and door handles.”

Obviously, those are the places where you put your hands every time you drive, and they’re fucking filthy. Take the steering wheel: A study by found that the average steering wheel is six times dirtier than the average cell phone screen, four times dirtier than a public toilet seat and two times dirtier than public elevator buttons. 

Holy. Shit.

That said, don’t just break out the soap and disinfectant willy-nilly before going to town. Have a plan in place, Eric says. “Start by cleaning with a soap that’s safe to use on your interior — a bit of dish soap with water will do in a pinch, though. Get all of those areas I mentioned lathered up and then dry them off with a microfiber cloth. That should clean off a lot of any potentially dangerous microbes on the surface of your car, preparing it for step two: Disinfecting. Using a disinfectant like [70 percent] isopropyl alcohol, spray it on the surface and let it air dry. That should, hopefully, kill anything that wasn’t cleaned off with soap.”

Now that your car is clean, it’s time to figure out how to keep it that way. Conventional wisdom suggests that latex gloves and hand sanitizer might be all you need to prevent coronavirus from getting into your now clean car, but it’s not that simple. While you should definitely wear them on your busy hands when cleaning your car, as my colleague Andrew Fiouzi reported last week, wearing them to, say, the grocery store isn’t as effective because we all still touch our faces 20 times every hour — gloves on or off. 

Instead, the best way to prevent coronavirus from entering (or re-entering) your car after your grocery runs is exactly what the CDC suggests: By being hyper-vigilant about touching things and then touching your face, avoiding getting close to other people and washing your hands as often as possible. If you’re not somewhere you can wash your hands, carry a personal-sized bottle of hand sanitizer with you and use it often, then wash your hands as soon as you get home. And if you think you’ve engaged in any risky behavior (squeezed any avocados, lately?), consider cleansing your car all over again.

Because with a bit of elbow grease — and lots of soap — your car can remain as clean as a whistle.