5 Ways to Clean Up Your Car for a Healthier Ride

You’re careful about keeping toxins out of your home, but have you considered your car? Between running errands, commuting to work, and driving kids to appointments and extracurricular activities, we’re spending more time in our cars than ever before. Take these simple steps to keep your car clean 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).

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 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 on the market today. Also, as you would appreciate the help, keep the kids away from this chore. 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. All of them have also been subject to regulatory restrictions and/or voluntary limits set by industry associations or third party certification organizations. HealthyCar.org includes test results from approximately 450 of the most popular vehicles in the U.S. market between model years 2006-2009.

Use the Healthy Car Seat Guide that has tested over 130 popular 2007-2008 child car seats. The components sampled include: seat cushion, foam backing, seat base, seat belt clip and sun shade (when available). The XRF device identified the elemental composition of each of these components. Based on these findings, each car seat was given an overall car seat rating, as well as chemical ratings for bromine, chlorine, lead and a group of substances referred to as “other chemicals”.

Published on: July 09, 2009
About the Author
Photo of Janelle Sorensen

Janelle Sorensen is the Chief Communications Officer for Healthy Child Healthy World. She is passionate about creating a healthier environment, not just at home for her own children, but for everyone’s children.

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