The rideshare and delivery drivers’ guide to sanitizing your car during COVID-19

The rideshare and delivery drivers’ guide to sanitizing your car during COVID-19


By now you’ve undoubtedly heard about the new policies from Uber and Lyft. 

As mentioned in our previous article regarding Uber overhauling their app due to COVID 19, both companies are imposing these policies on drivers (and Uber Eats deliverers). You’ll have to complete a checklist that includes this directive:


There are at least two good reasons why we need to keep our vehicles not just clean and shiny, but also disinfected and safe. 

  1. It’s common sense. We need to do our part as drivers to avoid getting and/or spreading the coronavirus.
  2. It’s good for business. When passengers are reassured that our cars have been sanitized, they’ll feel safer and more comfortable using rideshare.

Oh, and there’s also other incentives like zeroing out the chance of getting ketchup ground into your (or your riders’) favorite jeans. 

Now, as this new policy takes effect for both Uber and Lyft, it’s become an absolute must-do. You’ll need materials and ideas about how to do this quickly, effectively and safely. Wait—did we say you’ll need materials? Yep, that too.

We understand that many of you disagree with how much the rideshare companies are stepping into our cars and making drivers comply with more and more mandates. However, since these are likely going to be the new rules for at least the next few months, we wanted to ensure that every driver knows how to disinfect their vehicles and keep both drivers and customers as safe as possible.

WIth this in mind, we created this blog post to answer and explain:

  1. What are the risks of spreading the virus in your car?
  2. What products should rideshare and delivery drivers use to disinfect their vehicles?
  3. How can drivers ensure their surfaces won’t be ruined?
  4. How drivers should clean their car (step-by-step)
  5. Who’s going to pay for your cleaning materials

Here you go!

What are the risks of spreading COVID-19 in your vehicle?

Recent word from CDC tells us that, while we don’t have to be quite as worried about transmitting the virus via surfaces than we were in the beginning, there’s still concern about how much contagiousness can happen in the close quarters, where we share space in the confines of a rideshare or delivery vehicle. 

What we do know is, the COVID-19 virus spreads most prolifically from droplets in the air, namely from a cough, sneeze, saliva, or other respiratory-related fluids. In the teensy space of your vehicle, it would be pretty easy for the virus to pass from one person to another!

Without getting too graphic, just think for a moment about what happens between you and passengers in your car. You don’t know if they’ve just come in contact with droplets from the virus just before you met them; you don’t know if they are sick; and you don’t know if they’ sneeze and leave droplets hanging around in your car for them to be picked up by you or your next passenger. 

We acknowledge drivers could be just as culpable, but that’s only going to happen by accident. You’re going to take precautions and avoid spreading the virus for your own good as well as that of your passengers, at all times, right?

Knowing all this, you’re going to want to keep your vehicle not just clean, but sanitized. We dug into the best ways to do this, so we can offer you the ideas and answers you need to stay safe, and sanitized.

What products should you use to sanitize your vehicle?

Before you venture out on the often futile, often pricey quest for disinfectant wipes, let’s look at what you’re trying to destroy the novel coronavirus COVID-19. 

All disinfecting compounds are not equal, and not all are effective against COVID-19. On top of that, some can damage the surfaces in your car. That’s why we’ve listed some ideas about how to find the right disinfecting compounds for your car.

First, use soap and water

It may not be common knowledge, but viruses protect themselves with a layer of fat, and they need that layer to remain intact. Because of that, the #1 most effective way to disinfect surfaces in your vehicle, as well as any other objects (phone charger cords and your delivery bag, for sure), and your own hands is: soap and water

There’s no need to get the antibacterial variety; research has shown that it’s no more effective than plain soap. All you’re really looking for is plain soap’s grease-busting ability.

When you use soap and water on a surface, any COVID-19 viruses that are present will lose their protective coating—meaning their ability to infect you or anyone else will be neutralized. Possibly the greatest thing about soap and water is that it’s easy to get, and it’s also cheap to buy. 

Unlike disinfecting wipes, which tend to fly off the shelves in stores, you won’t have a problem finding basic soap. Also, with soap you won’t have to deal with harsh ingredients that can be harmful to the materials in your car, and your hands.

How is it possible to carry soap and water with you? Here’s how: Get a spray bottle, fill it almost to the top with water, add a touch of liquid soap, then shake it up. Dishwashing soap (especially blue-colored type) is an excellent degreaser, and would serve you quite well. 

Once you have your mixture ready, test it before taking off with it in your car. Try it out on a hard surface like a kitchen counter to make sure it isn’t too soapy. You’ll know you have it right when it cleans the surface, yet wipes right up without leaving a film or bubbles.

Another important step in disinfecting is rubbing. With a bit of elbow grease, and repeated back-and-forth motions, your disinfecting effort will be close to 100% effective. In your car, it’s probably best to use paper towels, and to keep things clean every time, use those towels only once.

By the way, you can use your spray-on soap and water mixture on your upholstery, too. Spray lightly, rub, and wipe thoroughly, and it should dry quickly.

Chlorine bleach

The CDC says that chlorine bleach is another basic cleaning tool that is quite effective against COVID-19. Its active ingredient, sodium hypochlorite, kills the RNA protein within the virus. Bleach is rather easy to get, and pretty cheap. You can mix it with water, just as you would with regular soap. 

The problem with it is how easily it can damage different surfaces, including leather. Even in a diluted form, you’ll have to be V E R Y careful not to get the bleach solution on your carpets or upholstery. As you most likely know, bleach removes color from fabric. Your nicely patterned seats and carpets could acquire rather unattractive non-matching splotches, and even holes, and nobody wants that.

When you use bleach, let it sit on the surface for a few moments before wiping it up. Some sources say you might need to wait at least 10 minutes to get the full effect. It’s a powerful cleaner, and will leave a distinctive chlorine smell when you’re done. You may want to crack your car’s windows so the fumes don’t get too overwhelming and harmful. 

Rubbing alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is another substance you can use to clean the hard surfaces in your car. Like soap, alcohol attacks the protective layer of fat surrounding the COVID-19 virus, disabling its ability to infect you or your riders. 

Alcohol is potent, so you should dilute it with water before using. Be very careful about using it on any aluminum finishes in your vehicle, and be aware that it can melt certain kinds of vinyl and plastic. All in all, if you use alcohol as your cleaning solution, use it with great care.

The smell it leaves behind will be reassuring to anyone who’s concerned about your car being clean, but it won’t be terribly pleasant. Crack the windows after using it, or maybe spray a refreshing scent to offset the smell that triggers memories such as, “Oh no! That doctor’s about to stick that strange looking object in my ear.” 

Disinfectant wipes

They’re quick, they’re easy, and they’re disposable … but they’re not easy to find in this environment of pandemic-era hoarding. If you do manage to score a container or seven of disposable wipes, you can use them on most surfaces in your car safely, easily, and in a manner that often leaves behind a pleasant fragrance.

Besides, having a pack of wipes floating around in the car makes customers feel safer. You can even offer them the option of wiping any surfaces (such as the backs of seats, seatbelts, or armrests) they may be concerned about. 

Steam Cleaning

All the ways of wiping your car clean do a lot of good, and are especially handy for when you’re out and on the go. But when you really want to get into the nooks and crannies, and kill as many of those little COVID-19 devils as you can, steam cleaning is a really good option!

There’s a company in the D.C. area, Drive Whip, which is going out of its way to help drivers feel safe about getting back into their cars. They’re offering steam cleaning of the inside of drivers’ vehicles, for free! You might be able to get a similar service in your area, and even if you have to pay for it, it can be well worth the price. We interviewed them on the Gridwise podcast!

YouTube video

There are also hand-held steamers that can be easily rented or purchased. They’re a good appliance to have on hand as a driver, and they’re useful all the time. (Nothing eradicates road salt and pet stains as well as steam, that’s for sure!)  Remember that you need both the heat of the steam and pressure.  The type of steamer used for clothing, unless it has an option to exert pressure, isn’t going to do it. 

How to ensure your car surfaces won’t be ruined

Make sure your door handles (inside and out), seat belt buckles, gear shift, key fob or power button, lightswitch, steering wheel, turn signals, hazard lights, delivery bag, etc. get a good wiping—but before you go nuts with any of the products we suggested here, test them on small areas, and use common sense.

You don’t want to spray water into your touchscreen, for sure, and you’ll want to avoid getting your electronically endowed steering wheel too wet. You can try spraying a small amount of cleaning solution on a paper towel and then wiping the steering wheel with it. 

As for that touchscreen, the best thing you can do is keep it clear with just a dab of screen cleaner and a microfiber cloth … or whatever your vehicle’s manufacturer recommends.  Don’t know what that might be? Follow that ancient IT adage: RTFM (Read The *&%*$)# Manual).

How to make your sanitizing practice a safe and easy routine

Once you decide what you’re going to use to sanitize your car, let’s go step by step to make sure you’re covering all the bases. It would be wise to cover your hands – with gloves – while you go through this procedure.

Follow the below checklists to make sure you clean every spot on your car.

First, clean the outside of your car

  • Begin with the door handles, including the trunk or hatchback. Get them nice and germ-free, leaving the driver door open so you won’t re-contaminate it when you go inside.
  • If there are any other surfaces you or your passengers are going to touch, such as side mirrors or a wiper blade or antenna, make sure you get those too. You might consider taking care of the sides of the doors, where people often touch when they close the door on their way out.

Second, clean the inside of your car

  • Wipe down all the seats, including the back sides of the front seats. 
  • Get the security handles people often grab when they’re riding around in your car.
  • Sanitize the seats, then the seatbelts – both the fasteners and the fabric. People often touch these surfaces – and they could sneeze or cough on them, too.
  • After that, thoroughly sanitize the door handles, and the switches for the windows as well as locks, if you have them in your vehicle.
  • Remove the mats and clean them separately, outside of the car. Send some sanitizer into the floor covering.
  • Pay special attention to arm rests. (People could sneeze one minute, get into your car the next, and wipe their virus-slimed forearm or sleeve on your arm rest!) Make sure you get any loops or handles they might have touched
  • Clean out the cup holders, and the areas around them.
  • Clean the on-door compartments and look out for any items (especially tissues) people might leave in there. Candy or gum wrappers could also carry scary microbial cargo, so get rid of them as well.
  • Go up front and wipe down the dashboard, the steering wheel, gear shift, turn signal switch and light switch.
  • Make sure you clean and sanitize the switches for your sound system, heat and A/C, flashers, etc. taking care not to spray directly into anything electronic.

Finally, clean everything else

  • If you carry a garbage bag with you, get rid of the old one and use a fresh one.
  • If you use a delivery bag, sanitize it before and after your shift.
  • Wipe your phone charger cable, and any extra ones passengers may have used.
  • Clean your console, if you have one, inside and out – pay special attention if you have a toll device, such as EZ-pass, and make sure it gets de-COVID-ized.
  • Carry cleaning solution and paper towels with you for in-between sanitation touchups.
  • When you get in and out of your car, avoid touching things with your hands to as great a degree as possible. A good hip bump is a safe way to keep your hands safe from what might get left behind on the outside of a door.

A nice, finishing touch

If you want to add a pleasant, clean, and fresh smell to your vehicle, one that doesn’t reek of soap, bleach or alcohol, you can spray a solution of your favorite essential oil mixed with water. You can get oils almost anywhere, even at your local gas station variety store. Find one that’s light but also clean-smelling, like tea tree oil or eucalyptus.

Just so you know, the CDC and other official sources say essential oils do not disinfect. Still, they do smell really good.

You can also spray a disinfectant aerosol in the car, as long as you don’t overdo. Keep remembering that you’re being safe for you, and you’re also trying to remind your riders that they can trust you’ve taken steps to disinfect your car … and protect them. You’ll just want to stop short of making so all you can smell is cleaning stuff.

Who’s got to pay for this, now?

That’s a great question, but the answer isn’t so simple. Uber says it allocated $50 million to buy masks, disinfectant sprays, wipes, hand sanitizer, and gloves. They already mailed at least 23 million masks to drivers.

The rest of the supplies drivers must have, says Uber, will be distributed—but only in “select areas.” The company also announced that it’s partnering with corporations that will ultimately develop products and kits specifically designed and packaged to serve drivers’ needs.

Lyft says it will make sanitizing equipment and masks available to be picked up at its Hubs, Driver Centers, and Express Drive Centers, but theirs will also be in “select areas” only. 

We don’t know when any of Uber’s corporate partnerships are going to happen, or what either Uber or Lyft means by “select areas.” What we do know is, it might be a while before we see any supplies, even if we happen to live in one of the “select” areas. At least in the case of Uber, we’ll probably get two disposable masks in the mail, which will help … but not much.

Remember: The new policies have been in effect since Monday May 18th.

Given all this information, it’s pretty clear who’ll be footing the bill for disinfecting our cars. It’s up to us drivers! 

Keep it safe, clean … and inexpensive

As we’ve described here, the act of keeping your car in a sanitized condition doesn’t mean you need fancy concoctions, or even those precious disinfecting wipes. With a simple spray bottle, some paper towels, and cheap, easy-to-acquire ingredients, you’ve got everything you need.

In the meantime, we can still wait for Uber and Lyft to distribute materials … but holding one’s breath is not necessarily a good idea.

At Gridwise, we like to keep you up to date on what’s happening. We also want you to know we’re here for you when it comes to gathering the information you need to keep driving and making good money. 

If you haven’t already done so, download the Gridwise app, the #1 Assistant for rideshare and delivery drivers. Track mileage, figure out which of the services you work for is earning the most for you, keep track of your hourly earnings, and get the latest info from our articles and podcasts!


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