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Is your vehicle making you ill?

calendar Published on: Monday, 4th June 2018 | female icon Author: Aminta Gagnon

Whether you have a long commute to work, you drive for a living or youíre a busy parent always on the go, sometimes it can feel like you spend most of the day in your car. Most people use their vehicles for a range of activities, from carrying shopping to transporting kids or pets around, and sometimes you might even eat and drink while on the road. 

However, did you know that your car could be riddled with all sorts of bacteria, viruses and mould? In fact, one study carried out by a team at the University of Birmingham found that vehicles can sometimes carry more germs than toilet seats. With that in mind, it might be time to reconsider how often you clean your car. To find out more about how your car could be making you ill, read on.

What kind of bacteria is found in cars?

While many of the germs found in vehicles are usually harmless, research has shown that some could be more dangerous than we might think. For example, a study by the University of Nottingham found traces of E.coli and staphylococcus bacteria in cars, which can cause skin infections, vomiting and diarrhoea. Other germs, such as aspergillus niger (mould), bacillus cereus (which causes food poisoning) and cold and flu viruses can also be found lurking in vehicles and result in all sorts of health problems. Even if your car looks clean, when you think about the number of times you or your passengers have coughed, sneezed, eaten and drank in there, itís easy to see how bacteria, viruses and mould could thrive in such an enclosed space.

Where do the germs live?

There are certain areas where more germs are likely to live. For example, carpets, mats and the driverís footwell can harbour a range of bacteria which have been brought in by peopleís shoes. The bacteria buries itself into the material and it can then be transferred onto your clothes or your hands if you reach down to pick something up. Other areas where bacteria tends to dwell include the driverís seat, in between the back seats and in child seats, where crumbs, dirt, dust and debris gathers. 

Surfaces that are frequently touched are also hotspots for germs, such as the steering wheel, gear stick, handbrake, door handles, cup holders, seat belts and dashboard buttons. During the summer months when humidity is at its highest, water can also gather inside the air conditioning vents and cabin filters and cause fungus to grow. This can be particularly troublesome for people with allergies.

What are the solutions?

While it may not be possible to keep your car completely germ-free at all times, there are simple things you can do to reduce the risk that you and your family will get sick. The easiest solution is to try to keep your car as clean as possible. Although most people regularly wash the outside of their car and make sure it looks spick and span, the interior is often neglected, which allows for dirt, mess and germs to build up. 

Use antibacterial wipes or other disinfectant products to clean areas that are touched a lot. Try to vacuum down the sides of the seats regularly, paying attention to all the cracks and crevices. If you want to give the inside a thorough clean to kill germs, you can shampoo the upholstery or even have it professionally cleaned. Another option is to replace carpet mats with rubber versions that are easier to wipe down and more hygienic. Itís also worth bearing in mind that leather seats are much easier to wash than material ones. 

If you want your cabin filters and air conditioning vents to be checked for mould, itís best to take them to a technician who will be able to ensure that theyíre clean and working properly. This can greatly improve the air quality and prevent pollutants from circulating in your car.

What habits should I avoid?

Itís often impossible not to leave a few crumbs on the seat or some dirt in the footwell. However, itís important to make sure that your habits donít become hazardous. If you eat in your car, youíre more likely to expose yourself to sickness-inducing bacteria, so itís worth trying to avoid bringing food into the car whenever possible. When itís unavoidable, make sure you clean up afterwards. Itís also a good idea to throw away any rubbish, such as food wrappers and coffee cups, after every car journey. This can be especially important after a road trip, when cars tend to get cluttered with an array of junk. Itís much easier to deal with mess on a regular basis rather than leaving it to build up over a long period of time. Itís also worth remembering that driving with loose objects in your car can be distracting and lead to accidents. 

There are a few things you might want to keep available while on the road too. For example, hand sanitiser, antibacterial wipes and tissues can help to keep your car fresh and clean, and can be especially handy if you have young kids. Some people also choose to keep small bins and portable vacuums in their cars.  

If youíve got pets, you might want to limit the number of times you transport them in your car. Studies have shown that the boot is one of the most bacteria-infested areas of a vehicle, especially for those who have dogs. If you need to take your pet with you in the car, make sure you give your vehicle a thorough clean after each journey. Having your windows down can also help to keep the interior well ventilated.

While it may be unlikely that youíll get seriously ill from the bacteria in your car, itís worth knowing what the health hazards are, what areas bacteria thrives in, and what you can do to minimise the risks. By bearing tips like these in mind, you should be able to reduce the amount of germs in your car and ensure that you and your family stay healthy while on the road.


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