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Not only is it important to wash hotspots such as the steering wheel and door handles, but delicate and hard-to-clean surfaces, such as seatbelt buckles and sensitive touch screens, also deserve attention.Canberk Sezer/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Washing your hands, keeping your distance from others and disinfecting your home-turned-office-space is key to preventing the spread of COVID-19. But don’t forget about cleaning your vehicle, too.

“I actually consider my car an extension of my home,” says Ruby Alvi, a family physician and medical adviser to Conquer COVID-19, a Canadian grassroots organization that’s helping to deliver personal protective equipment to front-line health care workers using vehicles supplied by Volvo Cars Canada.

“The same way I would clean my home is how I would clean my car. I would clean door handles, the steering wheel and my key fob, just like I clean my light switches and door handles at home. We probably neglected to clean them before, but now moving forward, we will,” Alvi says.

Not only is it important to wash hotspots such as the steering wheel and door handles, but delicate and hard-to-clean surfaces, such as seatbelt buckles and sensitive touch screens, also deserve attention.

Disinfecting seatbelts and buckles can be tricky. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, isopropyl alcohol, which contains 70 per cent alcohol, is effective against the coronavirus. Experts say it can be used safely to disinfect and sanitize many interior areas of a vehicle. Lysol disinfecting wipes or Purell hand sanitizer will also work in a pinch, Alvi says. But if you can’t find these products on store shelves, don’t worry. “I don’t want people to freak out about not having the exact right thing that is recommended to clean your car. If you can’t find anything, clean it with soap and water,” she says.

To clean seatbelts and buckles, simply dampen a soft cloth or microfibre cloth with isopropyl alcohol and wipe. Use a cotton swab to get into tight areas of the buckle. Dry with another soft, clean cloth.

Try to avoid harsh cleaners on the seatbelt itself; they can degrade the fibres and the belt’s strength. You can use rubbing alcohol or dishwashing soap and water in the same manner to clean neglected or hard-to-clean areas, including the interior door pulls on both sides, the back and edge of the rear-view mirror, the HVAC vents and the stalks for the windshield-wiper blades and turn signals.

Never use bleach, hydrogen peroxide, benzene, paint thinners or other harsh and abrasive cleaners, such as steel-wool scouring pads or powdered cleansers inside or outside your vehicle.

“There are lots of soft-touch materials and different types of plastic, and those [harsh cleaning] products can definitely risk damaging some of the elements of the vehicle. It’s not necessary to use heavy-duty cleaning products, simply because we do know that rubbing alcohol and soap is effective against the virus,” says Andrew Harkness, director of aftersales at Nissan Canada.

For other delicate surfaces, such as the infotainment touch screens, he recommends you skip the isopropyl alcohol.

“We suggest using mild soap and water with a microfibre cloth, not too wet, just to wipe it down. We don’t want to use anything too abrasive. It can damage the anti-glare and anti-fingerprint coatings,” Harkness warns. He also suggests using voice commands more often to avoid touching the centre screen altogether.

Be careful using rubbing alcohol on leather seating surfaces too often. While it’s safe to use, most vehicles have a protective coating on the leather seats, and over time, the alcohol can damage or discolour the leather. Stick with mild soap and water to clean spots and spills, followed by a good leather conditioner.

For cloth upholstery, Harkness suggests using “rubbing alcohol pads to wipe down seats as you see people in planes wiping down seats, which has proven to be highly effective at sanitizing the cloth seats.” Vacuuming, while not chemical cleaning, is useful too.

Even though some reports say the virus can live on shoes, cleaning floor mats isn’t a big concern to Alvi. “You’re not touching the floor and then touching your face. I don’t think the floor is an issue at all, unless you’re going to lick the floor,” she says with a laugh.

Don’t forget about the exterior of your vehicle, either, such as the door handles and the trunk lid or lift-gate areas. “Running the car through the car wash will definitely give you a fantastic look, but I would say for effective decontamination and sanitization, I would focus on sanitizing the high-touch areas,” Harkness says.

So keep cleaning your ride regularly, at least once a week or as often as you drive. And remember to always wear gloves and clean in a well-ventilated area.

Sunnybrook hospital Environmental Services staff member Dana Chatzitassis lists the places in your home you really should pay attention to when cleaning

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