Hand sanitizer will kill germs, but it could also kill your car’s interior

A majority of the stuff on your skin isn't exactly great to slather on materials like leather.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
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Don't go too HAM on the sunscreen, unless you want your brand-new steering wheel to look like a well-used Barcalounger.


Hand sanitizer is about as common these days as potholes in Michigan. And now that the weather's getting warmer, people are going to reach for sunscreen, bug spray and other chemicals. Trouble is, if someone gets into a car with the stuff on their skin, it could have some pretty gnarly effects. Ford thinks it can engineer around that, though.

Ford UK on Friday put out a new video discussing chemical wear on interior materials and how it hopes to mitigate those effects. Leather, vinyl and plastics can prematurely wear when exposed to these compounds. If you've ever seen a particularly ratty interior in a ride-hailing vehicle, or if you've wondered why your leather-wrapped steering wheel is beginning to fade after just a couple years, it's likely due to these effects.

In addition to the usual torture tests that ensure its interiors can handle things like dog claws or the occasional soda spill, Ford's engineers have also designed a battery of tests to test chemical wear. It subjects interior materials to high-SPF sunscreens, alcohol-based hand sanitizers and other sprays and lotions. The goal is to create a protective coating on the material that can withstand exposure to these things.

"Sometimes what we do requires a bit of detective work,: said Richard Kyle, a materials engineer for Ford in the UK, in a statement. "There were instances of particularly high wear in Turkey and we managed to trace it back to ethanol potentially being a contributing factor, and most likely a popular hand sanitizer that contained 80% ethanol -- far higher than anything we'd seen before. Once we knew what it was, we were able to do something about it."

Of course, it's up to drivers to do their part, too. In addition to trying to keep the coffee-cup explosions to a minimum, perhaps it's best to wait to apply hand sanitizers or SPF lotion until you won't be near the vehicle for a while. Keeping a car's interior clean is hard, and keeping it looking good for years on end is even harder, but there are ways to make it a little easier.

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