Disinfect Your Car’s Interior for Flu Season

Disinfecting and cleaning your car with soap and water and 70% isopropyl alcohol will keep your car clean and you and your passengers safe.
Written by Jason Tushinski
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Wondering how to disinfect the inside of your car for flu season? All you need is soap, water, and 70% isopropyl alcohol to keep everyone healthy during the colder months.
Before you aim a bleach-filled power washer at your car’s interior to blast any coronavirus or flu particles to smithereens, lower your weapon and keep reading. Good ‘ol soap and water, 70% isopropyl alcohol, and just a little bit of elbow grease are more than up to the job of ridding your car’s interior of any flu particles.
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What to use to clean your car’s interior

When you’re cleaning your car to rid it of viruses, skip the hard-target search for industrial chemicals and stick with the tried-and-true—soap and water and isopropyl alcohol. Oh, and a little bit of effort.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), both soap and water and isopropyl alcohol will kill flu and coronaviruses and are safe to use inside a car. No need to worry that you’ll ruin your upholstery or interior finishes.

Soap and water

Soap and water are often all you need. You’ll need to scrub a bit because, by themselves, soap and water won’t kill the flu or coronaviruses. But combined with your elbow grease, the soap and water will break the viruses’ protective shell and then the soap will kill the virus.

Isopropyl alcohol

Unlike soap and water, 70% isopropyl alcohol will kill viruses on contact.
Pro Tip To get that fingerprint-laden touchscreen clean, use a damp cloth with soap and water or a disinfecting wipe.

What not to use to clean your car’s interior

You should never use bleach, hydrogen peroxide, or ammonia to clean the interior of your car. Besides damaging (or ruining) your leather upholstery or discoloring your car’s fabrics, these chemicals can be harmful to your health when used within a confined space.
Other substances like vinegar, tea tree oil, and vodka have not proven effective in cleaning and disinfecting the interiors of vehicles.
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What you need to clean your car’s interior

Besides soap, water, and isopropyl alcohol, you’ll need some other items if you’re going to thoroughly disinfect and clean your car’s interior. Here’s what you should have on hand:
  • Rubber gloves
  • A mask
  • A vacuum
  • Wipes for your car’s touchscreen
  • Microfiber cloths—they absorb and then sweep away dirt and dust particles, and won’t scratch your car’s surfaces
  • Bucket for soap and water
  • Work clothes or disposable gown
  • A brush to scrub away any stains
  • Window cleaner to use on windows and glass surfaces after disinfecting
  • Leather conditioner

How to sanitize your car interior and kill any viruses

Before you begin cleaning, open all windows and doors so that the cleaning products don’t bother your nose or throat. Follow these steps to give your car a deep, disinfecting clean.

1. Wash your hands

This should go without saying—wash your hands thoroughly before starting to clean and use rubber gloves while disinfecting and cleaning your car.

2. Wear a face mask

We’ve all become used to them by now, but it's a good idea to wear a face mask while cleaning out your car. This protects you from dust, dirt, cleaning fluids, and any potential virus residue on the surfaces of your car.

3. Vacuum

Remove the floor mats, give them a good shake, and then vacuum the interior. Try and get into every nook and cranny to suck up as much dirt and dust as you can. Don’t forget to give your floor mats a good vacuuming, too.

4. Get a bucket ready

Get a bucket with some warm water and soap, mix it up, and get it ready to go.

5. Wash your seats

You want your microfiber cloth to be damp with water and soap. A little bit of laundry detergent will work, as well.
Give your seats and upholstery a good scrubbing—but don’t scrub too vigorously as too much water and soap can leave your seats saturated. This can cause water to seep into the material, leading to mustiness and mold growth.
Wipe dry with a dry cloth.

6. Scrub the floor mats

Your floor mats take a beating, so give them a good scrub—especially any rubber parts that absorb water. Wipe them down with a damp cloth then dry them with a towel.

7. Use isopropyl alcohol for high-touch areas

On high-touch surfaces, 70% isopropyl alcohol is your best bet. Dab a microfiber cloth in the alcohol and then wipe down all levers, your steering wheel, every knob, and your door handles.
Let the alcohol dry for 5 to 10 minutes to kill any virus particles and bacteria.

8. Disinfect and clean windows

Before spraying window cleaner, use soap and water, isopropyl alcohol, or a disinfectant wipe to wipe down all your windows. After your windows have been disinfected, wipe them dry and then spray your windows with window cleaner, then wipe dry again.

9. Dispose of gloves and wash your cloths

Get rid of the rubber gloves (and any personal protective equipment) you wore while disinfecting and cleaning. Throw your dirty cloths into the wash.

10. Wash your hands

Give your hands a good scrubbing with soap and water for 20 seconds.

Disinfecting leather

If you don’t clean your car’s leather upholstery, it may dry out and crack.
Dab your microfiber cloth with warm water and soap, then thoroughly scrub down your seats. Apply a leather conditioning product to protect and extend the leather’s life.
Key Takeaway Don’t scrub your leather seats too hard or you may remove the dye from the leather.

Why clean a car’s interior?

Virus particles can last on surfaces for hours or days—and cleaning your car regularly keeps you (and anyone who rides with you) safe.
Whether you have a long commute or drive a taxi or rideshare vehicle, it's a good idea to thoroughly clean your car often. This is especially true if different people are in and out of your vehicle on a regular basis.
Luckily, disinfecting and cleaning your car is easy—at minimum, all you need is soap and water, some isopropyl alcohol, a few microfiber cloths, and a bit of effort. You’ll be safer because of it.

If you’ve had COVID-19

If you, a family member, or close contact have contracted COVID-19, have your car professionally cleaned.
Most professional detailers use EPA-certified cleaners that disinfect and clean your vehicle while killing the COVID-19 virus. These products won’t harm the interior of your car.

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