The Germiest Spot in Your Car Is Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat

Photo: Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt
Even though most people spend a considerable amount of time in their car, it's not often thought of as a hot spot for germs. After all, that's the bathroom's reputation. Surprisingly, the interior spaces of your car are teeming with bacteria. In fact, parts of some vehicles host considerably more germs than a toilet seat.

In the study from insurance company Netquote, a team swabbed various surfaces in different cars: request rideshare vehicles (like Uber), rental cars, and taxis. While they found plenty of germy surfaces (rideshare vehicles are by far the worst offenders), the lack of cleanliness on seat belts really stood out, which were dirtier than window buttons and door handles in some situations. "Toilet seats and coffee reservoirs both contained fewer microorganism than rideshares and rental cars," reads the study. The numbers don't lie.

"It all comes down to the frequency of cleaning. All surfaces that are touched regularly by numerous people will be germy. That’s why we clean them," says Jason Tetro, microbiologist and author of The Germ Files. "Taxis are required to keep their cars clean, meaning they may be using cleaners and disinfectants that will aerosolize onto the belts and help keep the microbial numbers low. Another thing to think about is how often people who jump in a cab use the seat belt versus those who are in ride sharing. I’ve been in some cars where even in the back seat the seat belt is required. This could lead to a huge difference in the usage, which will reflect the germ levels."

Now, these particular stats have to do with shared vehicles, so how does this intel apply to your own car? Well, just because there aren't hundreds of people getting in and out of your car every day doesn't mean it couldn't use a cleaning. While Tetro says other spots beat out seat belts germ-wise in an average car, they're still covered with bacteria.

"The floor mats are the germiest place in the average person's car, without a doubt. They'll be havens for microbes, especially if you've spilled anything in the car," he says. "Other places will be the vents, the cup holders, and the trunk (think of all those pieces of food and other organic goodies left behind). I would suggest seat belts would be further down the list for the average car, but I’m sure the ones in family cars are loaded with germs thanks to kids."

Since seat belts can be a tricky spot to clean, Tetro has a three-step method that works like a charm. Better known as the very fitting acronym EWW.

  1. Extend: Pull the seat belt all the way out.
  2. Wash: Use a cleaner or disinfectant and make sure the belt is more than damp.
  3. Wipe: Use a cloth to wipe down the belt using pressure to be sure the chemical gets into the fabric.

Et voilà! Your car is just a little bit cleaner. Better tackle those floor mats and vents next...

FYI: This is exactly how long it takes to scrub away germs when washing your hands. Also, you might want to open your shades: Natural light could be the ultimate germ-fighter.

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