How To

Quick Tips to Keep Your Car Clean During COVID

Here are a few helpful tips on from us and an expert in the field of auto detailing
Dan Heyman

As kids and parents prepare to plan for schools reopening – if they reopen, that is, as the jury is still out on whether or not COVID-related closures should continue into the school year – and prepare to formulate plans on how to best ensure that the kids are travelling to and from school in as clean an environment as possible (and that everyone else is once your kids step out), keeping your vehicle clean is more important than ever before.

Of course, the need to clean one’s vehicle regularly is not such a simple ask. We all lead busy lives and after household duties, work and any leisure activities we and our children are able to enjoy, car cleaning tends to fall pretty far down the list. Now, however, while we’ve all become adept and cleaning our childrens’ hands when they return home from any activity, we need to do the same for our cars if we’re going to be using them for school runs.

If your busy schedules don’t allow for entire interior detailing appointments every time your kids step out of the car – and if your lives are anything like ours, we doubt they do – here are a few helpful tips on from us and an expert in the field of auto detailing on how to keep your car clean “on-the-fly”, as it were.

Wipe, wipe, wipe and wipe some more

Ed Marchese is the general manager of J.S. Auto Detail and Media Fleet Services in Vancouver, B.C. His company provides services from basic cleaning and detailing all the way up to professional cut and polish services, and while many of his clients are bringing in their own personal cars, he also services various fleets from the film and TV industry, the public sector and importantly for journalists, the fleet vehicles that we are provided for car testing.

While wiping a car down is important, Marchese says it’s not as simple as one may think: “Do not use Clorox, Lysol wipes or bleach for interior cleaning. Those will ruin the leather and plastics over time. For at-home use, (warm water) and dish soap is the best choice.”

Having said that, he does say that there are various companies that develop Lysol wipe-style systems specific for automobiles. Turtle Wax, Armor All and Meguiar’s all make wipes that are vehicle-interior specific. Canadian Tire has these and others available online.

But where are we wiping?

When it comes to press fleet distribution, Mondays tend to be the busiest as that’s typically when journalists swap cars. Before COVID, Marchese would be able to clean and turn around a car in an hour. Now, however, manufacturers are requiring more precise cleanup jobs, roughly doubling the time it takes Marchese and his team to prep the interior of a car; according to him, what used to take 20 minutes now takes 40 minutes. Of course, not everyone has 40 minutes to spare whenever they get the kids back home from school, so there are certain areas that Marchese says one needs to focus on:

Seatbelts and buckles

If you’re not using a child’s seat, this is probably #1 on your punch list when it comes to cleaning and disinfecting. Seatbelts and their buckles get manhandled every which way and since they sit so low in the car and can get buried in seat cushions, they aren’t as susceptible to the UV exposure that we’ve learned tends to kill COVID. Clean these. Clean them well, and clean them often. While working over a whole interior may take time, wiping down seatbelts does not.


And while we’re on the subject of “must-clean”, make sure you get on these, and quick. The storage bin cover between the front seats, the armrests mounted to the doors and of course those on either side of second-row captain’s chairs in SUVs and minivans should all be taken care of. Since they’re usually pretty broad surfaces, this should take even less time than the seatbelts. A helpful reminder: don’t just clean the armrests on your doors – you’ll want to clean the area on the door card mounted behind them as well.

Door pulls and releases

Once you’ve done the armrests it makes sense to move to the door pulls and releases, as they tend to be part of the same assembly as the armrest. Like the armrests, these are the one area that will get lots of traffic.

Quick Tips to Keep Your Car Clean During COVID

Window and door lock buttons

Also in this general vicinity are the window and door lock controls – be sure to give them a scrub as they are fun for kids to play with even if they have absolutely no intention of actually rolling down the windows. Although, while summer is waning, there’s still plenty of hot weather to come and those window controls are going to get used.

Quick Tips to Keep Your Car Clean During COVID

Climate control buttons

Cleaning all the buttons and knobs up front is important – and can be somewhat time-consuming – but don’t let that have you forget to clean the rear seat climate control buttons, usually mounted to the rear of the centre console. These can be reached by kids sat in the back, and will be as we continue to deal with warmer temperatures. Again, an easy job that shouldn’t take too long.

So that takes care of the kids. What if you happen to share your car with someone else? Perhaps your teenager has just got their learner’s permit, and wants to go out with some friends…

Quick Tips to Keep Your Car Clean During COVID

Steering Wheel

Obvious, yeah? Well, not so fast. While one might quickly scrub the wheel rim down, there’s a lot more to it than that. The steering wheel hub – often the landing spot for airborne spittle – should not be forgotten, nor should the spokes. Also: wheels these days contain ever more complex button sets; each button should be paid close attention to. And don’t forget the steering column adjust lever or button, either.

Quick Tips to Keep Your Car Clean During COVID

Gear lever and other control knobs

The gear lever is probably the next most-obvious arear to make sure you cover during wipe-down. Forget these at your peril.

One should remember that seat controls should be carefully cleaned, as they are oh-so-appealing to toy with. I know, as my daughter loves them. Be sure to give them a scrub, as well as the fore/aft levers below the seat cushions. If you have older kids that can safely sit in the front passenger seat, then chances are that glovebox lever is either going to get played with or brushed against once or twice.  And don’t forget about that neat little fold-out sunglasses door at the top of your windscreen because before you know it, you’ll instinctively reach for it and realize that it didn’t receive the once-over.

Quick Tips to Keep Your Car Clean During COVID

Hood/gas-tank release levers, and door handles

These are easy to forget since they’re so neatly tucked away and barely used…until they are. Worth a once-over, considering how quickly it can be done.

While it is suggested that UV exposure can take care of surface-level COVID in about five minutes, it would still pay to make sure that your door handles are good to go. Stay ahead of the game on these, as you’ll likely not be quick enough once you park to get a wipe on those handles before the kiddies are ripping them open, eager to get back home for a quick spot of Fortnite before dinner. The exterior trunk release, meanwhile, is important because, as Marchese says, “it’s an (often) forgotten touch point”. So don’t forget it. Maybe give your backup camera lens a wipe while you’re at it? They usually tend to reside in similar environs.

Cabin divider

We’ve seen dividers between front and back seats for years in taxi cabs and so on, but the onset of COVID has more regular folks installing these in their cars as well. They’re more the domain of Lyft drivers and so on, but if you want to be extra-super-safe, there are companies throughout Canada that are fabricating these for public sale. Check out Scene Ideas in Vancouver and Vision Glass in Toronto to see how to cab-ify your car.

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