Protect your health with a clean car

A clean car lasts longer, and it’s safer for you and your family.

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As we hunker down at home, it’s the perfect time to spring-clean your car inside and out — outside to shed winter grime, and inside to keep everything safe to touch.

I like to wash my car at home, but when I’m in a hurry, I stop by a self-serve car wash near me. Both ways can get your car clean and disinfected. The task gets easier if you invest in a few inexpensive car washing tools and supplies, such as:

Alcohol or disinfectant. You’ll need something that kills viruses and germs but doesn’t damage your car’s interior. Look for isopropyl alcohol wipes or spray with at least 70% alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Beware of using stronger cleaning agents such as bleach, ammonia or hydrogen peroxide that can damage the interior surfaces. In a pinch, good old-fashioned soap, water and elbow grease will do the trick.

Microfiber towels. Made with finely woven fabric, these towels are great for evenly wiping surfaces after spraying them with alcohol or a disinfectant.

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Battery-powered vacuum. Sure, you can use a super strong vacuum at most coin-operated car washes for about a buck. But buying a dedicated battery-powered car vacuum is a great idea to avoid using one touched by many people.

Car wash soap. Don’t use dishwashing soap, which could hurt the car’s finish and eat into your wax job. Instead, pop for specially formulated car wash soap from an auto parts store.

A nozzle with a fine spray. Almost any nozzle for your hose will work. But I like the kind that sends a high-powered fan-shaped jet of water onto your car.

Sponges or a brush. There are all kinds of sponges and brushes on the market for washing your car. A brush on a long handle lets you reach the roof and underside of your car without straining your back.

Tackle the interior first

Wash your hands. Before you start, scrub your hands with soap or wear gloves. You want to make sure you’re not bringing any dirt or viruses into your car.

Enter safely. With your trusty alcohol bottle or disinfectant, clean the door handle before you open it.

Clean high-touch surfaces. With a microfiber cloth and disinfectant, wipe down all the surfaces and controls you commonly touch:

  • Steering wheel.
  • Dashboard, including its top.
  • Rearview mirror.
  • Gearshift lever.
  • Sun visors.
  • Infotainment, navigation and other touch screens.
  • Wiper and turn signal stalks.
  • Glovebox or console lid.
  • Passenger and driver door armrests.
  • Grab handles.
  • Seat adjusters.

Take the trash out. Time to throw out all the fast-food wrappers and look under the seat for petrified french fries.

Clean the seats and floor mats. Vacuum the seats and floor mats first. If you use a coin-op vacuum, wipe down the nozzle and hose you’ll be touching. Consider steam-cleaning or shampooing cloth upholstery and floor mats. Use specially formulated cleaners to preserve leather seats.

Every time you get back into your car, you run the risk of bringing in whatever you’ve touched immediately before. It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of isopropyl alcohol, hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes in the storage pocket of the car door. As soon as you get in the car, and before you touch anything, sanitize your hands.

Next, the exterior

Try not to wash your car in bright sunlight since the water will evaporate too quickly.

Hose down your entire car. Quickly wet down the entire car. Don’t expect this to knock all the dirt off — that comes in the next step.

Wipe your car with soapy water. You can use a big sponge or a fuzzy brush on the end of a long handle. Put some car soap on your sponge. Start with the windshield and work your way to the rear of the car. Remember that the areas right behind the wheels will be dirtiest, so do them last to avoid getting your sponge filled with grit and sand.

Rinse. Spray the windshield first and then move on to the rear of the car.

Dry your car. If you don’t, all your hard work is wasted, since it will leave chalky deposits that look awful. Using towels, start with the windshield and dry all the glass surfaces first since they’re the most noticeable. Then work your way down the sides of the car. As the towel becomes soaked, wring it out or grab another towel.

Wipe down the door sills. This step is optional but will pay dividends. With your wet towel, wipe off the scuff marks on the driver’s door panel where your shoes have kicked it as you step in.

Optional: Clean the grime and brake dust off the wheels. Yeah, I know, this is time-consuming, but it sure makes your car look sharp, and the attention will pay off one day when you go to sell your well-maintained car.

This article was written by NerdWallet. Philip Reed is an automotive expert who writes a syndicated column for NerdWallet.

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