Clean up your car for a safe and healthy ride

Clean up your car for a safe and healthy ride

January 22, 2023

You’re careful about keeping toxics out of your home, but have you considered your car? Between running errands, commuting to work, and driving kids to appointments and extracurriculars, we’re spending more time in our cars than ever before.

Take these easy steps to keep your car clean, safe, and reduce your exposure to automotive contaminants.

1. Air it out. You know that new car smell that makes most of us euphoric? That distinct perfume is a mixture of volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) from the materials used to make the car, including styrene, formaldehyde, xylene and diazinon. If you have a new car, leave the windows down whenever you can – while you’re driving, while it’s parked in your driveway, when you stop at a park. Also, try not to park in direct sunlight unless you can leave the windows down. Heat increases the rate at which chemicals are released from the materials.

2. Dust it out. Whether your car is old or new, wipe the interior down with a damp cloth regularly. The dust in your car can be loaded with contaminants like flame retardants from the seat cushions (especially if your car is older and the cushions are beginning to degrade). Clearly toxic dust create a long term health risk for everyone, but if your kids have allergies or asthma, dust and other airborne particles pose an immediate threat to their health and safety. To reduce the presence of dust even further, run the vents on high for 10 minutes with the windows down to create a safe breathing environment for kids with asthma or allergies.

3. Vacuum it out. Before you wipe it down, vacuum your car’s upholstery and flooring with a machine that has a HEPA filter (the high-powered machines at DIY car washes should suffice, as well). You’ll suck up chemically laden dust, allergens, and the dirt that’s tracked in on your feet (that could have lead, pesticides, or gasoline mixed in).

4. Keep it out. If you’re trailing a big diesel truck, back up a bit or take an alternate route to protect your child’s health and keep polluting emissions from entering your car. Same goes for traffic congestion, if you can, take an alternate route to avoid sitting in a cloud of idling vehicle fumes.

5. Wash it without….chemicals or kids. A good microfiber cloth and plain old water can do wonders for washing the interior and exterior of your car, so save your money and skip all those magical car cleaners.

Excluding your kids from this chore will help keep them safe from car cleaners and contaminants. As mentioned above, the interior dirt and dust can be heavily contaminated. The exterior dirt and dust is no different. Think about it. Dust from the friction on your tires and brake pads can cling around your wheel wells. Gasoline residue may linger around the fuel opening. Cars are a dirty mess that kids should not be involved in cleaning up.

Helpful Resources:

  • Use the Healthy Car database which focuses on bromine, chlorine, lead, as well as some other heavy metals, allergens and carcinogens. All of these substances were chosen because of their toxicity, persistence, and/or tendency to build up in people and the environment.
  • Use the Healthy Car Seat Guide that has tested over 130 popular child car seats to find which ones are safe. The components sampled include: seat cushion, foam backing, seat base, seat belt clip and sun shade (when available).