Hazardous Air Inside Your Car
My friend from Italy looks aghast when he sees someone getting into their car carrying a macchiato or a croissant. In Italy, nobody eats in the car, he explains, because eating is a sacred act to be enjoyed only while sitting at a table, only when the food is arrayed upon a china plate. And so it is that Italian cars remain pristine compared to average cars in the US, where food crumbs and coffee spills are as common as McDonald’s golden arches. Do you eat, drink, and spill in your car? Aside from the aesthetic nightmare created by driving around in a pigpen and the humiliation if discovered by your mother or your boss, you might actually be creating a health risk in your own driver’s seat, even if the car stays parked in your garage.
Several studies in the UK—where, apparently, drivers emulate their American peers in terms of snacking while steering—found dangerously unhygienic conditions inside the average vehicle. In one study, half of the drivers surveyed admitted that they had occasional spills inside their car and a third toted their pets along with them on rides, getting the car good and dirty. And yet, only a third of those surveyed cleaned the interior of their car more than once a year, and one out of 10 had never cleaned inside.1 Another study of 717 drivers by Intelligent Car Leasing found only about 25 percent cleaned the interior monthly (or more often), while 26 percent said they never had cleaned!2 As it turns out, that’s probably bad for your health.
According to Dr. Ron Cutler, who directs biomedical sciences at Queens University, “Most people clean their homes, but many are neglecting to clean their cars and are driving around in vehicles which resemble a rubbish bin. A car is the perfect place for germs to breed, especially if you eat in it and leave litter or uneaten food around.”
The British “Hygiene Doctor,” Lisa Ackerly, adds, “When you think of all the unhygienic things you see people doing whilst driving - picking their noses, coughing all over the steering wheel and eating food - we really ought to be cleaning the insides our cars more, particularly the hand contact surfaces.”
In fact, the University of Salford study referenced above found that the average car interior is 2,144 per cent filthier than the typical smartphone, harboring an average of 200 infectious bacteria per inch (a toilet seat has only about 70), including dangerous bacteria that can cause food poisoning, to say nothing of allergens and dust mites. Put those inches together, and you’ll find about 700 different bacterial strains living in the typical vehicle.3 The story is even worse if you look at specific areas you touch with your hands frequently, such as the steering wheel, which typically harbors about 700 bacteria per inch, almost 10 times more than the typical pubic toilet seat.4 And consider that while germs and allergens might dissipate in your large living room, in the enclosed space of your car, they’re up close and personal, circulating through the warm heating system and blowing back at you.
The alternative to commuting in a sea of infectious germs, obviously, is to spend time cleaning your car interior every week, same as you (hopefully) spend time cleaning the toilet seats in your home. Click here for a detailed guide on the right way to get the job done.
Okay, so now you have inspiration to get the grime off the door jambs, and you’ll wipe away all the pathogens you’ve deposited inside your car, but unfortunately, your car interior still poses a big risk because of other factors that you have less control over. It turns out that there’s more air pollution inside of your car than outside of it, and rolling up the windows when driving a busy highway gives no protection. Au contraire: you’d be better off walking alongside your car on the pavement, subject to all the fumes whizzing by! It seems counterintuitive, but in fact, a study this year by a collaboration of scientists at Duke University, Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology measured air pollution inside and outside of cars travelling an Atlanta highway during rush hour, and the level of chemical pollutants inside the cars was twice the level measured outside by roadside monitors.5
Other studies have produced similar (or even more alarming) results. Last year, a British study found that levels of the various nitrogen oxides inside of cars on a highway were, on average, 21 percent higher than outside of the same vehicles.5 In heavy traffic, the levels inside of the vehicles far exceeded British safety standards. And multiple earlier studies found pollution levels inside cars at levels up to 12 times the levels outside, meaning you might be better off taking a jog on the freeway (as long as you didn’t get hit by oncoming traffic) compared to driving down the road.
Why would raw exposure to fumes outside yield less of a threat to you than being in the car with the windows rolled up? Because the air intake for your car is located directly behind the exhaust pipe of the car in front of it, meaning your car is sucking in exhaust and then trapping it in the enclosed space of your cabin. That’s why it’s particularly hazardous to be stopped behind another car at a red light in traffic. Plus, when you run your heater, those nasty particulates circulate around and around, not dissipating as they would outside. This reality led Dr. Scott Fruinn, an environmental scientist at the University of Southern California to comment, “If you have otherwise healthy habits and don’t smoke, driving to work is probably the most unhealthy part of your day.”6
What can you do to reduce car-cabin dangers? First, clean your car interior regularly. It’s bad enough that you’re subject to ambient pollution without adding germs and allergens to the mix. Secondly, run your air conditioner if the weather permits. Scientists at Washington University this year found that cranking the air conditioning cuts inside pollution by up to 34 percent, because cold air attracts and traps polluting particles.7 Also, you can purchase an air purifier specifically designed to remove nitrogen oxides and other exhaust pollutants from the car cabin. The “Air-Bubbl” purifier is the first product of this type and is about to be released to market.8 Finally, if possible, drive less, walk more, and do full-body detoxes and use a full-spectrum antioxidant on a regular basis to reduce any damage done by inevitable exposures.
- 1. “Is the inside of your vehicle a health risk?” allstar business solutions. 28 December 2017. https://www.allstarcard.co.uk/the-extra-mile/fleet-news/interior-car-safety/
- 2. “Britain’s drivers are absolutely filthy, new study reveals.” Intelligent Car Leasing. 28 December 2017. https://www.intelligentcarleasing.com/blog/how-clean-is-your-car-study/
- 3. “Dirty Car Interiors Making us Sick.” Auto Notebook. 28 December 2017. http://www.autonotebook.com/dirty-car-interiors-making-us-sick/
- 4. Muaddi, Nadeem. “Study: Car Interiors are Dirtier Than Toilets.” 26 April 2016. The Hog Ring. 28 December 2017. http://www.thehogring.com/2011/04/26/study-car-interiors-dirtier-than-public-toilets/
- 5. a. b. Stradling, Richard. “Air pollution: Are you better off inside your car, or on the sidewalk?” 16 August 2017. The News and Observer. 28 December 2017. http://www.newsobserver.com/news/traffic/article167253582.html
- 6. “Time spent in car drives up air pollution exposure.” 30 October 2007. Environmental Press. 29 December 2017. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2007-10-spent-car-air-pollution-exposure.html
- 7. Goold, Erika Ebsworth. “Crank the AC: Cut in-car pollution.” 10 August 2017. Phys Org. 29 December 2017. https://phys.org/news/2017-08-crank-ac-in-car-pollution.html
- 8. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/564424943/airbubbl-creating-the-first-pollution-free-zone-in