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If you’re a conscientious vehicle owner, you carry comprehensive insurance coverage, perform routine maintenance, and wash your car regularly. However, if your car is like most, it’s still disgustingly filthy. When was the last time you wiped the dashboard or cleaned the air ducts? And don’t forget the steering wheel. It’s one of the nastiest parts of your car.

Just how dirty is a car’s steering wheel?

Steering wheel in a 1993 Dodge Viper
Steering wheel in a 1993 Dodge Viper | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Your car’s steering wheel is pretty gross. HowStuffWorks says the average vehicle interior harbors roughly 700 bacteria strains. Considering the steering wheel is the most frequently touched part of a car’s interior, there’s a good chance many of those bacteria strains reside there.

Cell phones top most lists of the germiest things we use every day. However, HowStuffWorks reports that a study shows a steering wheel’s germs outnumber those on a smartphone screen by six times. Ew.

Other dirty locations in your car’s interior

Did you wash your hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after you pumped gas last time? You might want to make that a routine part of your pit stops. The same study shows that gas pump handles are 11,835 times dirtier than the average toilet seat in a public restroom.

If you don’t disinfect your hands after pumping gas, you’ll contaminate your keys, door handles, seat belt, entertainment center, gear shifter, steering wheel, and probably numerous other areas. Keeping a container of disinfecting wipes handy to use on your hands and frequently touched surfaces will help keep those germs at bay. Just don’t use them on leather surfaces unless the products specifically say they’re safe.

Keeping surfaces clean and frequently disinfecting your hands is especially important if you’re one of the many people who eat while driving. From filthy steering wheel to French fry to mouth? Gross. 

Just the act of bringing food and drinks into your car can contribute to the number of germs inside. Crumbs, drips, and sticky surfaces provide ideal food sources for varieties of germs. Combine that with the dark, relatively secluded environment of a car, and you’ve created the perfect breeding ground for untold numbers of germs.

How to clean a leather steering wheel

Now that you’re aware of how nasty your steering wheel is, how do you go about cleaning it, especially if it’s leather?

Follow these tips from Endurance to keep your leather steering wheel clean and in good condition:

First, remove all the dirt, grime, and gunk from the leather surface. It’s not just germs you need to worry about. Dirt, lotion, sunscreen, sweat, body oils, and numerous other compounds can damage the leather surface. If you let grime sit long enough, the leather can even crack and peel. Use a microfiber cloth or towel and a good leather cleaner. Wipe the steering wheel dry with a clean microfiber towel. 

(Note: All-purpose cleaners can seriously damage leather steering wheels, seats, and other leather surfaces. It’s best to use a cleaner made for leather to avoid damage.)

Next, massage a small amount of leather conditioner into the clean leather using your hands. Give the steering wheel a gentle massage for one to two minutes and then let the conditioner sit for 30 minutes before wiping away the residue with another clean microfiber towel. Keeping a container of convenient leather wipes handy makes it easy to keep your leather steering wheel clean and well-conditioned.

Follow these additional cleaning tips for a car that will look clean, even under a microscope.


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