COVID-19 and Spring Cleaning Your Vehicle

How to clean and disinfect your vehicle to help minimize the spread of COVID-19

AAMCO  | 04/03/2020
Vehicle Maintenance

Car Spring Cleaning - COVID-19

With the change in seasons from cold weather to warm, it's usually a chance for us to spend more time out of the house. Although COVID-19 has kept many of us indoors, a car ride to see the spring blossoms and newly green scenery is an excellent way to continue social distancing. It's also a good excuse to get on top of some much-needed spring cleaning. Now more than ever, it's important to clean and disinfect your vehicle which may minimize the spread of coronavirus to you, your family, and your community.

The Big Clean

Before cleaning your vehicle, wash your hands. Afterward, put on a pair of disposable plastic, latex, or rubber gloves. Remind yourself not to touch your face while cleaning. 

Start by removing all items that need to be thrown away or recycled, set aside any toys or dishes that need to be washed and disinfected, and place any clothing or blankets into a pile to launder. Second, vacuum your vehicle from top to bottom, starting with the ceiling and working your way down to the floor. Remove the floor mats to get to the dirt underneath. Vacuuming will take care of any small, germy particles and debris that could also scratch or damage surfaces and upholstery while cleaning. Lastly, use a damp cloth for a quick, overall wipe-down to remove any surface dirt and grime inside the vehicle. 

Cleaning Agents and Materials

It's no secret that there's currently a shortage of many sanitizers, disinfectants, and other cleaners. Conveniently, an effective (and cheap) way to clean and disinfect your vehicle's interior is to use soap and water. A versatile DIY cleaning solution is 5 parts warm water to 1 part castile soap or liquid dishwashing soap. 

Never use harsh cleaners that have bleach or hydrogen peroxide in them on the interior of your vehicle. Additionally, ammonia-based cleaners can damage the coating of touch screens. If available, alcohol wipes are suitable to use on most hard and soft surfaces of your vehicle as a disinfectant, but they can also damage touch screens and certain types of leather upholstery over time.   

Be Thorough

When you begin cleaning, give all the high-touch areas of your vehicle extra special attention, such as the steering wheel and its attachments, climate controls and vents, seat belts, glove box (inside and out), and door handles. Make sure to think of the areas other frequent users of your vehicle touch, particularly windows, cup holders, and the backs of the front seats — where children often sneeze, cough, and wipe their hands and feet.  

Continue to thoroughly wipe down and scrub every nook and cranny that germs can hide in. Use a toothbrush, cotton swabs, and a soft-bristled brush to ensure you're getting right into the grains of every surface. 

Some of the most often missed areas include underneath and between the seats, the center console, and the rims of the rearview mirror. Work methodically: Start at one end, open every door, and clean every inch until you get to the other end.

For carpets, work a small amount of laundry detergent or carpet-cleaning shampoo into the carpeting using a soft-bristled brush. Wait for 10-15 minutes before wiping up as much of it as you can with a damp rag. For additional stain removal, repeat this process multiple times if necessary. 

Cleaning Vehicle Upholstery 

When cleaning your vehicle's interior, here are a few general tips:

  • Avoid harsh detergents or solvents since they are never suitable for any vehicle's interior, including carpets. 
  • Light, repeated applications of cleaning solutions are more effective in removing dirt and stains than one heavy, saturated application. 
  • Excessive use of water can seep into the vehicle's cushions and encourage mildew. 
  • Microfiber cleaning cloths are highly recommended because they are more effective at absorbing water and trapping dirt. 
  • Alcohol-based wipes, if available, are acceptable for disinfecting and treating stains on hard and soft surfaces of your car, including most upholstery. 

Here are some additional tips for cleaning different types of upholstery:

Fabric Upholstery

This type of material tends to be more susceptible to seat staining from liquid spills, greasy food, and body oils (particularly around headrests). 

To Clean: 

  • Lightly spray cleaner directly onto upholstery.
  • Allow the cleaning product to penetrate the fabric before blotting with a clean, damp cloth. 
  • For more stubborn stains, lightly scrub them with a soft-bristled brush and repeat as many times as necessary. 
  • Weather permitting, leave the windows open to allow for quicker and more complete drying.  

Tips: Using a high-quality fabric protectant after cleaning can save some headaches and scrubbing down the road. Although a fabric protectant will not guard your vehicle against the coronavirus, it can protect it against the damage of spills and other mishaps and makes future cleanings easier and more effective.

Vinyl Upholstery

Vinyl upholstery is durable and requires little maintenance. Most all-purpose upholstery cleaners will suffice. 

To Clean: 

  • Add a small amount of cleaner to a clean, damp cloth and wipe down upholstery.
  • For additional stain removal, use a soft brush.
  • Reapply if necessary.

Leather Upholstery

There are two types of leather upholstery in cars: coated and uncoated. 

Coated leather is leather with a clear, synthetic covering added. This type of leather treatment is used in virtually all modern cars today, regardless of price, make, or model. When it comes to care, coated leather is identical to that of any other synthetic leather or vinyl. 

Uncoated leather does not have a synthetic coating and is common among vehicles manufactured before 1990. A few modern luxury vehicles also use uncoated leather. In these cases, it is essential to get the right cleaner that is leather safe or use a DIY leather cleaning solution. 

If you're uncertain whether the leather upholstery in your vehicle is coated or uncoated, here's an easy way to find out: On an inconspicuous area of leather, apply a droplet of water and leave it there for 20-30 seconds. If a spot remains once you remove the droplet, the upholstery is uncoated. 

To Clean: 

  • Add a small amount of leather cleaner to a clean, damp rag. 
  • Using small, overlapping circles, gently rub the cleaner into the leather. 
  • Wipe excess cleaner off with a clean, dry cloth.

Tips: Avoid any product not specifically made for leather, which can result in a split, cracked, or dull surface. It's worth noting that water stains leather, so don't use too much during the cleaning process. 

Cleaning Up

When finished, dispose of any water carefully. Remove your gloves and dispose of them properly, as well as any used rags or cloths. Thoroughly rewash your hands and remove any soiled clothing.

Additional Notes and Resources

Cleaning and disinfecting your vehicle may help keep COVID-19 at bay, but this process may not be feasible on a daily or weekly basis. Using hand sanitizer and wiping down surfaces with disinfecting wipes are significant coronavirus deterrents. However, getting into the habit of washing your hands before and after any activity - such as before entering and after exiting a vehicle - is the most dependable way to keep your vehicle at its cleanest and you at your healthiest.

Both the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) are excellent sources to learn more information about health and safety to ensure you're doing your part to help curb the COVID-19 outbreak.


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