Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting Your Car

April 1, 2020

Cleaning, Sanitizing and Disinfecting Your Car

Is your interior clean? Is it sanitary? Is it disinfected? These three terms are often used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. The truth is that they don’t. These terms possess their own definition that separates them from one another. In relation to detailing they are processes. Yet, how effective are these processes in cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting your car?

Let’s look at the definitions of each term as defined by the CDC for a better understanding:

Cleaning – Is the process of lifting dirt and germs off a surface through the use of a soap and/or detergent. This process does not kill germs and bacteria and does not remove 100 percent of them. Although, it is a necessary first step in the process.

Sanitizing – Reduces the amount of germs on a surface by killing them. The EPA considers a surface sanitized when the amount of bacteria is reduced by 99.9%. But sanitizing alone does not remove the germs and bacteria; this is why the cleaning step is an important part of the process. Another crucial factor in sanitizing is dwell time. In order for a sanitizing chemical to be effective it must be allowed to dwell an average of 10-15 seconds on a surface.

Disinfecting – Like sanitizing, kills germs and bacteria but does not remove them from the surface. Therefore, cleaning is again a crucial step in the process. The difference between sanitizing and disinfecting is determined by the percentage of bacteria killed which the EPA states is 99.99%. This requires a much longer dwell time of 3-5 minutes on a surface for disinfectants to be effective.

Now that we have clear criteria let’s take a look at how effective these processes are in cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting your car.

The cleaning process is the easiest because it can, for the most part, be seen. Therefore, you know you have effectively cleaned the surface. The correct soaps and detergents used are safe for the materials used in your car. There are many different products that will work in cleaning a surface but that does not mean they are safe. While they may not cause immediate damage they may incur damage over a long period of time. This is why it is important for a detailer to know what products they should be using and to know when they should admit defeat because success could ultimately lead to failure in the long run.

When it comes to sanitizing an automotive surface in the detailing industry it is often unintentionally misrepresented. Some detailers use steam to detail interiors, myself included. Steam is an effective tool in detailing yet for it to truly sanitize the temperature needed to kill germs and bacteria would damage most materials used in automotive interiors. Chemicals used to sanitize are either not intended to sanitize or if they are they are not given enough dwell time to kill bacteria.

This brings us to disinfecting. Most, not all, disinfecting chemicals are too harsh for use on automotive materials and there are not a lot of them available that are safe on these materials. Chemicals used to disinfect should be labeled as such and the label should identify the bacteria and germs that they kill. They should also be approved by the EPA.

So, can Detailers clean, Sanitize and disinfect your car? The answer is; Yes but, it should be evident that a detailer is not able to promise or even deliver a 100% germ free service. Although, they can drastically reduce the risk to their customer’s health through professional detailing. A Professional Detailer knows if the tools and chemicals they are using are safe and what their intended purpose is. i.e. clean, sanitize or disinfect.