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Drive Clean: Tips for Keeping Your Vehicle Spotless Inside and Out


Cars can get dirty very easily. Car exteriors seem to be magnets for dirt and other contaminants. At the same time, vehicle interiors suffer from dirt, dust, pollen, moisture, food particles, bacteria, viruses, fungi and more.

According to Steve Lee, AAA Car Care Plus manager and ASE-certified automotive technician, it’s more important than ever to keep vehicles as clean as possible.

“Vehicle steering wheels, gear shift handles and trunks are laden with germs, which is scary when you consider that many infectious diseases are spread by our hands,” said Lee, “Maintaining a clean vehicle can help keep you and your family healthy, and also improve the resale value of your car.”

Washing car tires

AAA recommends washing your car every one to three weeks and waxing it two to four times a year, depending on vehicle use, road conditions and weather. When cleaning the exterior of your vehicle, remember:

  • Cleaning tools such as wash mitts, sponges, towels and brushes should be made of soft materials that will not scratch the paint or other surfaces.
  • Cleaning products should be specifically designed for automobiles; household cleaners often contain ingredients that can damage the vehicle finish and other parts.
  • Pay attention to the vehicle’s underbody. Removing dirt and other deposits helps prevent rust and corrosion.
  • Wheels, tires and the wheel wells that surround them are often the dirtiest parts of a car. As a result, most professional detailers recommend cleaning them first, with dedicated sponges and wash mitts for the tire and wheel surfaces and soft bristle brushes for tougher deposits and harder-to-reach areas.
  • To prevent water spots, dry your car immediately after washing.

Cleaning car dashboard

Confined spaces frequented by people are prone to microbial activity, and vehicle interiors are no exception. Microbiologists at Queen Mary University of London, England found that many parts inside vehicles, including the steering wheel, rear seats and gear shift lever contain more bacteria than public toilet seats.

To prevent potential health risks, experts recommend properly cleaning the interior of the vehicle, including the trunk on a regular basis. Interior cleaning begins with removing all loose items from the car and trunk. Then, vacuuming out any dirt or crumbs. Once the car is free of debris, it’s time to apply an interior cleaner.

  • Pay most attention to high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, steering wheel, turn signals, wiper signal levers, seat belts and buttons on the radio or dash.
  • Alcohol solutions containing at least 70% alcohol are effective at killing the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but could damage leather seats if used too frequently. Soaps or detergents, specifically formulated for vehicle interiors are also good options.
  • Avoid using bleach, hydrogen peroxide or ammonia-based products, as they can damage upholstery and other surfaces inside the vehicle.
  • To prevent mold and mildew, allow damp carpet and upholstery to dry completely before reinstalling floor mats or other coverings.