With Flu Season Nearing, Keep Germs at Bay in Car

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As parents, many of us are still congratulating ourselves for surviving the start of the school year and its never-ending homework. But there’s a new battleground on the horizon, and it’s one that could easily affect everyone in your family: cold and flu season.

Related: Carsick Kids? We’ve Got Tips to Help

The flu is nothing to sneeze at. It sends more young children to the hospital than any other vaccine-preventable illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The best way to prevent it and its complications is to get the flu vaccine for yourself and your family. It’s recommended for children as young as 6 months old. Of course, the vaccine’s effectiveness varies widely from season to season, so parents need to be vigilant when it comes to containing germs.

While many of us are trained to wipe down frequently touched surfaces in our homes (door knobs, light switches) whenever someone has the flu or a nasty cold, how often do those practices carry over to the family car, especially if you carpool? Here are our tips for keeping your car from becoming a petri dish:

What to Keep in the Car

  • Box of tissues: While it’s questionable as to whether your kids will actually use them, keeping tissues handy will hopefully encourage your children to use them when they sneeze. While you’re at it, keep a small trash bag in the backseat to gather the used tissues.
  • Hand sanitizer: Keep this on hand for easy cleanups when kiddos didn’t have enough time to grab a tissue before sneezing (eww). They also help adults clean up their hands after pumping gas.
  • Baby wipes: These are great for wiping down not only the kids, but also frequently touched surfaces like the steering wheel, radio buttons, door handles and window switches. Think twice before using bleach wipes in your car because the harsh chemicals could damage the interior.


Carting your sick children in the car is one thing, but what happens when your kids are part of a carpool. Well, if everyone isn’t careful, it’s easy for the kids to pass the same cold around and around. Here are some simple tips to help keep all the kids in your carpool a little healthier this winter:

  • If another parent in the carpool is dropping off your child at your house, make sure to keep a bottle of hand sanitizer inside your house’s front door to keep the germs at bay.
  • Or even better, train your kids to go straight to the bathroom or kitchen sink when they get home to wash their hands with soap.
  • Also, make sure to wipe down your child’s backpack straps (if they use one) to help thwart with spread of germs.
  • While you may be ready to declare germ warfare on the bacteria the carpooling kids are bringing with them, realize that not all parents will want you to hose down their kids with sanitizer. Instead focus on wiping down the car’s frequently touched surfaces after depositing the carpoolers at their homes and finally getting to your own.

Child-Safety Seats

There’s one last front to consider in the car: car seats. Cleaning a car seat requires a couple of steps:

  • First, read the car seat’s manual before doing anything. Any missteps when cleaning it could make the car seat unsafe.
  • To clean the car seat’s plastic shell, most manufacturers recommend using a damp cloth and mild soap.
  • The harness straps should be wiped down with a damp cloth, too. Some manufacturers allow the use of a mild soap to clean it, but check before cleaning. Don’t wash the harness straps in the washing machine because it can affect its fiber strength and wash away fire retardants.
  • Although you may want to burn the car seat’s dirty cover — who knew they could get so gross? — again read the owner’s manual before washing. Some manufacturers allow the covers to be machine-washed (and likely air-dried), while others prefer hand-washing and air-drying.


Photo of Jennifer Newman
Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Newman is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience, including 15 years as an automotive journalist at Jennifer leads the Editorial team in its mission of helping car shoppers find the vehicle that best fits their life. A mom of two, she’s graduated from kids in car seats to teens behind the steering wheel. She’s also a certified car-seat technician with more than 12 years of experience, as well as member of the World Car Jury, Automotive Press Association and Midwest Automotive Media Association. LinkedIn: Instagram: @jennilnewman Email Jennifer Newman

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