If you’re careful about keeping toxins out of your home, have you considered your car? Between running errands, commuting to work, and driving kids — if you have them — to appointments, we’re spending more time in our cars than ever before.
Take these easy steps to keep your car clean, safe, and to 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.
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). Toxic dust creates a long term health risk for everyone, but if you have kids with 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.
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). 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. Steer clear of fumes.
If you’re trailing a big diesel truck, back up a bit or take an alternate route to protect your health and keep polluting emissions from entering your car. The 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.
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. If you have kids, exclude them from this chore. As mentioned, 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. Adults should wash hands well after cleaning.