Far too many of us treat our cars like second homes: We eat, drink, spill things, and create piles of clutter in its interior. But stop and think about it. When was the last time you really gave your car’s interior a thorough cleaning? And think back to the last time you hopped in your vehicle with a virus, sneezed, coughed, and spread germs throughout your car’s cabin. Did you bother to disinfect the touched surfaces afterward?

Didn’t think so.

Cold, flu, and other related viruses may stay infectious for several hours to days, depending on where their droplets fall. Viruses generally stay active longer on stainless steel, plastic, and similar hard surfaces than on fabric and other soft surfaces. The amount of virus that lands on a surface, as well as the temperature and humidity of the environment, also determines how long cold, flu, and other viruses stay active outside the body.

It’s possible to catch the flu or a cold virus after touching an object that a person with one of these viruses sneezed or coughed on a few moments before.

These days, germs are running rampant all around us, including inside our vehicles. Fortunately, there’s much you can do to keep those pesky little microbes in check. Here are some tips from the country’s leading germ experts on how to sanitize your ride’s interior.

Daily Wipe-downs

“When you get in your car, you inevitably come into contact with surfaces covered with germs,” says Donna Duberg, assistant professor of biomedical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. “Then you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. That’s how little germies from unclean surfaces make their way into our bodies and make us sick.”

Stay healthy by wiping down the frequently-touched areas with a disinfectant, such as a sanitizing or disinfecting wipe, that is shown to be effective against viruses like COVID-19 and bacteria (you may have to read the fine print on the label to be sure.). Look for a disinfecting wipe that does not contain bleach you can use to clean hard, nonporous surfaces like a steering wheel, shifter, dashboard, knobs, chrome accents, and door handles.

Make wiping down the inside of your vehicle part of a daily routine during the peak cold and flu season and especially when you or someone in your family has been sick with COVID-19.

Meals on Wheels

We are becoming a nation of eating on-the-go and it’s most often done in our cars. Inevitably, food can end up on the vehicle’s upholstery, floor, seatbelts, steering wheel, and knobs. Food remnants are a breeding ground for bacteria, which love a warm, dark, and moist environment.

Vacuum your vehicle with a portable handheld vac after returning home from an outing where you or your passengers were eating in the car. “Then wipe down surfaces with a disinfectant wipe and dry them completely to eliminate any lingering moisture,” says Philip Tierno, M.D., Ph.D., clinical professor of pathology at New York University School of Medicine and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. “Failing to do so allows organisms like mold to grow, which can make you sick,” warns Dr. Tierno.

Have the sanitizer ready

Once you get into the habit of wiping down surfaces and vacuuming food spills in your car, why not attack the main entry point for germs into your car – your hands.

Hand sanitizers should be kept in every single vehicle, advises Duberg. After using a gas pump handle, or pressing ATM buttons, your hands will be covered in germs from people who had previously touched these surfaces.

So, after coming in contact with commonly used surfaces, use hand sanitizer to avoid passing germs onto the interior surfaces of your car. Go with sanitizers that contain at least a 60 percent alcohol concentration. Apply to all parts of the hands (palms, nails, knuckles) and continue to rub your hands together until they are completely dry.

Car Seat Care

Here is some helpful info about car seat care that you might want to pass on to your grandchild’s parents. Little ones can equal big messes in the car – bottle spills, leaky diapers, unidentifiable crumbs. Luckily, the majority of child safety seats are made from fabric that can be removed and washed. A recent study conducted by Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., professor of immunology and microbiology at The University of Arizona and a leading authority on germs, found that car seats often have bacteria on them – and enough to make a child sick with an ear infection or strep throat.

And that’s not all.

Car seats also typically have some mold growth, which can be particularly worrisome if you, your grandchild’s parents, or the child suffers from allergies or asthma. Dr. Gerba suggests thoroughly washing a child safety seat cover a few times per month.

Dr. Gerba also recommends a weekly wiping down of the plastic shell and harness of the child safety seat with water and mild soap, and more often, if the child is sick. Between washings, be sure to vacuum and shake out the car seat as often as possible to remove food droppings.