Is The Inside of Your Car Making Your Family Sick?

Far too many of us treat our cars like second homes: We eat, drink, spill things and create piles of clutter inside.

But stop and think about it. When was the last time you really gave your car a thorough cleaning on the inside? And think back to the last time you hopped into your car with a bad cold and sneezed, spreading germs throughout your car’s cabin. Did you bother to wipe down surfaces afterwards? Didn’t think so.

Germs run rampant all around us, including the inside of our automobiles. Fortunately, there’s much you can do to keep those pesky lil’ microbes in check. Here are some tips from the country’s leading germ experts on how to sanitize your ride’s interior.

Daily Wipe-downs

“When you and your kids get in your car, you inevitably come into contact with surfaces covered with germs,” says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University’s Doisy College of Health Sciences. “Then you touch your eyes, nose and mouth. That’s how little germies from unclean surfaces make their way into our bodies.”

Stay healthy by wiping down the frequently-touched areas with a disinfectant, such as a sanitizing or disinfecting wipe, that kills viruses and bacteria (you may have to read the fine print on the label to be sure.) Look for a wipe that does not contain bleach – some have “bleach-free” right on the label – so you can use them to clean hard, nonporous surfaces like steering wheels, dashboards, knobs, chrome accents, door handles and even mirrors.

Make wiping down the inside of your vehicle part of a daily routine during cold and flu season and especially when someone in your family has been sick.

Meals on Wheels

We are becoming a nation of families eating on the go – most often in our cars. Inevitably, food particles end up on the vehicle’s upholstery, floor, seat belts, steering wheel and knobs. These crumbs are a breeding ground for bacteria, which love a warm, dark and moist environment.

Vacuum what you can with a hand-held portable vac after returning home from any outing where you or the kids were eating in the car. “Then wipe down surfaces with a disinfectant wipe and dry them completely to eliminate any lingering moisture,” says Philip Tierno, M.D., Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University School of Medicine and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. “Failing to do so allows organisms like mold to grow, which can make you and your children sick,” warns Tierno.

Sanitizer at the Ready

Once you get into the habit of wiping surfaces and vacuuming food spills in your car, why not attack the main entry point for germs into your car – your hands.

Hand sanitizers should be kept in every single vehicle, advises Duberg. After you use the handle at the gas pump or press the buttons on the ATM, your hands are covered with germs from the people who touched these surfaces before you.

So after touching commonly used surfaces, apply a hand sanitizer to avoid passing germs onto the surfaces inside your car. Go with sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol concentration. Look at the list of active ingredients for ethyl alcohol, ethanol, isopropanol or another variation. Apply to all parts of the hands (palms, nails, knuckles) and continue to rub your hands together until they are completely dry.

Car Seat Care

Little ones can equal big messes in the car – bottle spills, leaky diapers, unidentifiable crumbs. Luckily, the majority of child safety seats are made from fabric that can be removed and washed. A recent study conducted by Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona and a leading authority on germs, found that car seats often have bacteria on them – and enough to make a child sick with an ear infection or strep throat.

And that’s not all. They also typically have some mold growth, which can be particularly worrisome if you or your child suffers from allergies or asthma. Gerba suggests washing your child safety seat cover a few times per month.

He also recommends wiping down the plastic shell and harness of the child safety seat with water and a mild soap on a weekly basis – or more often if your child is sick. Between washings, be sure to vacuum or shake out the car seat as often as possible to remove food droppings.

About the Author

Ruth Manuel-Logan is a freelance writer and a bonafide gear head who writes automotive-related articles for, AOL and Woman's Day magazine.


3 Responses to “Is The Inside of Your Car Making Your Family Sick?”

  1. What a fabulous article! Though a disgusting thought, I am not surprised that so much bacteria was found in cars and car seats in particular!

    Most car seat covers are so difficult to remove, or are not machine washable. That’s why we invented the S.A.F.E.R. Child Car Seat Cover. It’s Secure And Fast, Easily Removable and machine washable too!

    Check it out on Pediatric Safety or go to our website

  2. Brilliant article! You can never be too careful when it comes to this sort of thing. Keeping your children as healthy as possible should be your main aim as a parent!


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    […] in a car seat, you could also be unintentionally introducing them to harmful mold and bacteria. A recent study by microbiologist Charles Gerba Ph. D., found that a child’s car seat often contains enough germs […]

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