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Goodbye, Germs! Winter Car Cleaning Tips for Flu Season

Updated: Mar 10, 2020

Goodbye, Germs! Winter Car Cleaning Tips for Flu Season

It’s flu season! The kids are bringing home their classmates’ germs, you coworkers are showing up pumped full of Dayquil and you’re saturating every indoor surface with sanitizing spray. But have you done anything about the germs in your car?

According to a study out of Queen Mary University in London, your car could be housing up to 700 different types of bacteria, nearly 12 times more than a public toilet [USA Today]. And if you’ve been ferrying sick kids to the doctor or carpooling with a group of sniffling friends, you need to follow these cleaning tips to prevent your car from becoming a breeding ground for the flu.

1. Stop Using the Back Seat as a Garbage Disposal

Flu season is the best time to break the habit of tossing your drive-thru wrappers and empty coffee cups in the back of the car. Damp paper and cardboard housing specks of food provides ample growing space for bacteria and mold. The more you let the junk pile up, the more of a health hazard it becomes, and the germs will keep circulating around the car until you take out the trash.

2. Introduce the Seats to Your Vacuum Cleaner

After you grab a bag and get rid of the remnants of your last several meals eaten on the go, it’s time for some vacuum action. Crumbs don’t stay put in wrappers, and if your kids also eat in the car, chances are there’s quite a lot of junk built up on the seats, in the carpets and in crevices. Vacuum everything you can reach, and when you can’t reach any more, stick an attachment on the hose to get under and between the seats. Don’t forget to clean under the mats, too!

3. Beware of the Cup Holder

It takes a lot of talent to never spill a coffee or soda while you’re driving, and every drop trickling down the outside of the cup winds up creating a sticky mess in the cup holder, just waiting for bacteria to show up and start a colony. Then there are all the other things you stick in there, like your house keys, cell phone, comb, makeup and sunglasses…

Grossed out yet? Go clean out that cup holder, and try not to spill so much next time.

4. Stock Up on Disinfectant Wipes

Tuck a pack of disinfectant wipes in the glove compartment, or keep a high-quality natural cleaning spray on hand to give the surfaces you touch most a regular wipe down. This includes the steering wheel, gear shift and everything on the dashboard console. Clean up suspicious sticky spots elsewhere in the car, too. If you can’t get something to come off or have a hard time remembering to disinfect when you should, consider hiring someone to give the car interior a thorough cleaning.

5. Let the Sunshine (and Air) In

Have you ever noticed how nasty your car starts to smell during the winter? Even though it’s freezing cold outside, you still need to crack or roll down the windows every now and then and allow air to circulate. Take advantage of warmer days to refresh the inside of the car while you’re driving, or if you have a secure place to park, consider opening all the doors for a few hours.

Remember, you spend a good chunk of each day in the car, and you could be getting exposed to germs every time you slide into the driver’s seat if you’re not cleaning regularly. Be diligent throughout flu season and beyond to keep bacteria at bay and help yourself and your family stay healthy.

About the Author Theresa “Sam” Houghton is a writer, speaker and health coach from Troy, NY. She’s a regular contributor to, and her work has appeared in the Honest Weight Food Co-Op Coop Scoop, Natural Awakenings Magazine and the 2017 Daily Dozen calendar. She has been a featured guest on Focus on Albany, WMAC’s Food Friday and the Just Ask David podcast. When she's not writing or cooking, Sam likes to read and study the Bible, cook tasty plant-based food and knit socks.

You can find out more about Sam at

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