Recently I had to move booster seats around in my van and when I did, I found mouse poop underneath them. Upon further inspection, the mouse poop was also on the floor and in cup holders.
My first thought was Jesus Christ, like I need one more living thing to worry about. Then I thought of my friend who said she used her chickens to clean her van. She would put them inside and let them eat whatever was dropped on the floor and under seats. Maybe little Mousey was doing me a favor — eating dropped food, which is helpful, but also dropping bacteria-filled feces.
Before I made a plan about what to do with my rodent friend, I read an article that my car was already filled with bacteria, and shame on me for not cleaning and disinfecting the interior at least once a month. Mousey and I had a good laugh … until I also read that my steering wheel is four times dirtier than a public toilet seat.
The inside of my car—minivan actually—is now a locker room, dining hall/snack bar, and entertainment zone for three active children. It also doubles as my lunch room and office space when working out of the house. It is a utility box that holds random extras that could patch up a mildly bleeding person and then re-clothe them in a tunic made of towels and an old throw blanket. Said person could then read an overdue library book left by a child who refused to bring it into the house when asked, and sip on a half empty bottle of water that is probably still potable. I knew my car was messy and sort of stinky, but I never saw it as unsanitary.
According to AAA, Americans spend about 290 hours in their cars each year. We enter and touch the door handle, gear shifter, radio, air temperature controls, window switches, and the steering wheel, which — in addition to being worse than a toilet seat — is also two times dirtier than public elevator buttons. Those high-touch areas are covered in bacteria, Staphylococcus being the most common, which can cause serious skin and blood infections. Add this to the possibility of transferring COVID-19 from something you touched before getting into your car, whether at the playground or the store, and then cranking up the tunes to drown out the sound of your children demanding fruit gummies. Oh, and if you stopped to put gas in your car, pumps are thousands of times dirtier than toilet seats … and your steering wheel. The one you grip as you make it through family road trips or while stuck in car loop.
Be honest, how often do you wash your hands before or after getting out of your car? Do you sanitize your hands after pumping gas? Right. Same. Not often.
How often do you clean your car? According to CarRentals.com, 32% of people clean the interior of their car once a year. The rest of us probably can’t remember the last time we made this effort.
Yet, I drink, eat, pick my nose, rub my eyes, and probably lick my fingers between bites of food which leaves crumbs in places to collect more germs and bacteria. I have managed to survive 25 years of driving in filthy conditions, but I would like to do better.
The most obvious solution would be to not bring germs in. This means frequent hand washing or using hand sanitizer before getting into the car would help. Eliminate eating in your car, too, because then you eliminate dropping crumbs and leaving food for mice. Since none of us are likely to do this, especially if you have children, then we need to get our shit together and plan on wiping down those high surface areas about once a month.
Before you can kill the germs and bacteria, you need to clean the dirt. Check to see what products are safe to use on your car surfaces, but a damp, soapy rag is great for getting the dust, pollen, and weird sticky stuff off of hard plastics and cup holders. Microfiber cloths are great at collecting dust too. Once you have the first layer off, then you can disinfect those bacteria covered surfaces. Clorox wipes or other disinfecting sprays are safe for hard interior surfaces. Don’t spray electronics and touch screens directly with a chemical solution; wipe them gently with a soft cloth that has been sprayed with the disinfectant. And if you don’t have the time or energy to clean your car, call a detail shop and ask them to do it. You will have a more hygienic vehicle and you will be supporting a local business. (Making your kids do it works too.)
Before I had kids, someone once told me that the cleanliness of the inside of your car reflects how you are internally. Your exterior self can be misleading; we can present ourselves in a way that tells and shows people the story we want them to know, but we can’t hide from the inner workings of our mind and soul. Or so this person said.
At the time I fancied myself a neat and tidy person. I liked order and focused on a cleaned-up presentation. But the inside of my car was the opposite. It wasn’t a total dump, but it was messy, cluttered and a bit grimy—apparently I can’t blame my kids on my general automotive upkeep. This was a pretty accurate portrayal of my brain, too, so I bought into the theory. I never considered myself gross, however.
It turns out though that we all have some sanitizing to do because the inside of a car is pretty nasty, even when there isn’t necessarily any litter to be picked up. Germs, much like the messy anxiety that tumbles around my brain, can hide in plain sight. You know, right next to the mouse poo.