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Sanitizing Your Car to Kill Viruses and Bacteria

antibacterial cleaning supplies

Coronavirus has been declared a global pandemic. Good personal hygiene is critical to avoid catching the virus, but what can you do to kill viruses and bacteria in your car? Haynes offers some timely advice​.

The World Health Organization warns that traveling on public transportation while Coronavirus - or COVID-19 - is spreading should be avoided. Coronavirus affects the lungs and airways, and the symptoms are a cough, a fever and shortness of breath; it is spread just like a cold or the flu. Around four fifths of infected people experience a mild illness and make a full recovery, but people over 65 years old and those with underlying health issues such as diabetes and asthma can develop complications. A perfectly healthy person with no symptoms can put grandma in an intensive care unit of the hospital, or even kill them.

You can avoid interacting with the public by using your own car, but there are risks here, too. Word is this virus can live for days on hard surfaces. Everything you touch before you get into your car can be spread to the steering wheel, shift lever, key, seatbelt and much more - so you need to deal with things as soon as you get in.

Cleaning your hands of Coronavirus (and others)

If you have it, or can get hold of some, keep a bottle of anti-bacterial hand sanitizer in the car or in your pocket. Ideally, this will contain a large percentage of ethanol, which is effective at killing coronaviruses such as the flu and the version that causes Covid-19. Use this as soon as you take your seat in the car and before you touch anything - preferably before you've even closed the door. Rub the gel onto the palms, backs of your hands and between the fingers - it'll evaporate quickly and you'll be able to get on with driving within half a minute or so.

Can't get hold of gel? Anti-bacterial wet wipes are your next best option. Many wipes have been proven to be effective against the flu virus, which is in the same family as the current 2019 novel Coronavirus. Again, make sure you wipe all parts of your hands and fingers, and dispose of the wipe once used. Don't be tempted to reuse it or share it with anyone else.

How long can Coronavirus survive on car surfaces?

Early research by The Journal of Hospital Infection indicates that Coronavirus can survive on plastic, glass and metal for up to nine days, which is about four times longer than the average flu virus. So it's absolutely vital that you clean the car as well as your hands.

However, the gels and wipes you use on your hands can damage plastics and leather, so Haynes recommends using standard car interior cleaning products for this job. Normal hand soap and water is effective at removing the virus from your skin, so most cleaning supplies should work in your car as well. Spray or pour the product onto a paper towel or a clean cloth and thoroughly wipe the door handles, steering wheel, indicator and wiper stalks, gear shift lever, handbrake lever, stereo buttons, ventilation dials, electric window buttons - and anything else you're likely to touch. Try not to let any liquid seep into any buttons.

Last, but by no means least, your car's touchscreen. Refer to your handbook for the best cleaning product to use on it. Once the cleaning is done, dispose of the paper towel and put the cloth in the washing machine. Then thoroughly wash your hands again.

Head here for more car cleaning tips

Can car passengers pass Coronavirus on to me?

If they're infected (and they may not show symptoms), then yes, it's quite likely. After all, they'll be sitting within a few feet of you and breathing the same air. Taxi drivers and their passengers are at a higher risk of being infected.

You can reduce the risk by lowering the driver's and rear passenger's windows a little, which will create a flow of fresh air through the car. Masks may also minimize the number of water droplets in the air, but their use hasn't been proven to be hugely effective. Also keep a box of tissues in the car for passengers to cover their nose and mouth if they cough or sneeze, to minimize the spread of disease.

If you're traveling as a family and normally live together in the same house, then driving around in the same car is unlikely to put you at higher risk of becoming infected. However, make sure that the rear door handles, window switches/handles, seatbelts and buckles, child seats and window glass are cleaned as often as possible, and make sure everyone uses hand wipes or gels before they get into the car. Otherwise you'll have to clean everything again.

Can I catch Coronavirus from someone else’s car?

Yes. So our advice here is to use the hand gel once you've got in and put your seatbelt on. Then avoid touching any other part of the car until you get to your destination. If you do find yourself opening a window or fiddling with the heater controls or stereo, don't touch your face afterwards. This is an easy way to infect yourself.

What about gas stations?

You may think that Coronavirus wouldn't fare well at an inhospitable place such as a gas station, but with different people handling the pumps every few minutes, there's every likelihood of contamination. So buy yourself a box and put on a pair of the disposable gloves before pumping. Try to use a 'pay at pump' facility, if available.

If you can't pay at the pump, avoid having to use the chip and PIN machine in the shop by making a contactless payment with your card or phone. Either way, use your hand gel once you're back in the car. Also bear in mind that you may have spread the virus to your purse or wallet when you made payment, so pay special attention to that once you're home.

How long will Covid-19 be around for?

There is really no way to tell at this early stage. Possibly until a vaccine is developed, which is likely to be at least a year away. But there is also the chance that Covid 19 will always be around, like flu viruses.

Even when a vaccine is distributed, this virus is unlikely to disappear altogether. However, as people recover and build up immunity, the rates of infection will fall. But until then, the risk for all of us remains high so we should all become very diligent about cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and our hands.