Fact: Your steering wheel is gross. Why? Because you put your nasty-ass hands all over it ALL THE TIME. So you need a good steering wheel cleaner.
Or do you?
If you’re looking to disinfect your steering wheel, don’t bother. The sun does a pretty good job of killing germs in your car with extreme heat.
If your steering wheel is a filthy mess, I’ll explain the best way for you to clean it and make it look shiny and new.
This article will give you no-BS advice on how to clean your steering wheel… whether you’re looking to disinfect it or clean off dirt and grime.
Facts About Steering Wheel Cleaner
Before we get into it, there’s something you need to know.
There’s no such thing as a steering wheel cleaner.
Seriously. There’s not a single product on the market that is a dedicated steering wheel cleaner.
Don’t believe me? Google it.
You’ll get a bunch of results from other car websites that are recommending various car interior cleaners you can use to clean your steering wheel.
Want more proof? Go do an Amazon search.
You’ll get much the same – a bunch of car interior cleaners.
All that said, this article isn’t about steering wheel cleaner. This article is about what to use to clean your steering wheel.
Understand the difference?
The good news is that you most likely have something in your house right now that you can use to clean your steering wheel.
So there’s no need for you to go out and spend your money on some sort of fancy-ass car interior cleaner that you don’t even need.
Let’s first look at what you can use to disinfect your steering wheel.
Disinfecting Your Steering Wheel
I’ve got some good news for you. There’s no need to use all kinds of disinfectant sprays, wipes, or cleaners to disinfect your steering wheel.
Because the sun does it for you.
All you need to do is park your car in the sun and let the heat bake the germs off of your steering wheel.
Want proof? Here you go…
The Science Behind Disinfecting Your Steering Wheel
Researchers from Arizona State University and the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine did a study that compares how car interiors heat up on hot days.
They looked at temperature, parking in the sun vs. in the shade, and length of time in the heat. Here’s a link to the study.
Researchers found that the surface of a steering wheel in a car parked in the sun on a 100 degree Fahrenheit day could reach 127 degrees.
And if the car was parked in the shade on a 100 degree Fahrenheit day, the surface of the steering wheel could reach 107 degrees.
I know what you’re thinking – “Yeah, so what?”
At those temperatures, viruses die. Even the viruses that cause Coronavirus.
Need proof? Time for more science…
The Science Behind Killing Viruses With Heat
Boeing engineers (yes, the airplane people) and experts from the University of Arizona wanted to discover if certain places inside of airplanes could be disinfected by using high temperatures.
The study found that after 3 hours of exposure to temperatures of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is reduced by more than 99.9%. Here’s a link to the study.
If you live in a hot climate or it’s summertime, just park your car in the sun for a few hours on a hot day you’ll kill almost all the nasty germs growing on your steering wheel.
But what do you do in a cold climate?
Well, then you have no choice but to use a non-solar-powered method of disinfecting.
How to Disinfect Your Steering Wheel Without the Sun
The COVID pandemic converted many of us into full-fledged germaphobes almost overnight.
Remember how impossible it was to find hand sanitizer, Lysol and disinfectant wipes during the height of the pandemic? That shit was like gold!
Most of us think of those types of cleaners when we want to disinfect something.
When it comes to your steering wheel, you need to be careful about what you use. Depending on what material your steering wheel is made of, excessive use of harsh disinfectants may cause damage.
The good news is that in order to disinfect your steering wheel (or anything for that matter) harsh disinfectants aren’t always necessary.
What you use to disinfect your steering wheel really depends on what your steering wheel is made of.
The Truth About Disinfecting
I’m not gonna spend a lot of time talking about this. Here’s the main point:
Harsh disinfectants aren’t all that necessary. All you need is soap and water.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released information confirming this is true. If you don’t want to believe me, the random car guy on the internet, you can read the published CDC Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting by clicking this link.
If you’re lazy (like me) here’s a direct quote from the guidelines:
“Normal routine cleaning with soap and water will decrease how much of the virus is on surfaces and objects, which reduces the risk of exposure.”
The only reason why you might want to go over the top and use a harsh disinfectant on your steering wheel is when someone who you know for sure was infected with COVID put their hands all over your steering wheel.
Using a disinfecting wipe or Lysol on your steering wheel in these rare circumstances should be OK. It really doesn’t matter what material your steering wheel is made of.
A good rule to follow is this: Only use harsh disinfectants when necessary. Don’t use them regularly.
Is Soap and Water Safe to Use on My Steering Wheel?
Yes. It is safe to use soap and water to clean your steering wheel.
I don’t care what your steering wheel is made of – plastic, vinyl, leather, and even fancy-ass Alcantara – gentle soap and water is a safe cleaner.
Here’s all you need to do:
- Get yourself a bucket, bowl, or even just a cup of warm (even hot-ish) water
- Add a little soap, mix it up so it gets a little frothy
- Dampen a microfiber cloth (sponge or regular wash cloth work too if you don’t have microfiber) with the mixture and gently clean your steering wheel.
- Rinse the soap out of your cleaning cloth and dampen it with plain water. Use the cloth to go over the steering wheel again to remove any excess soap residue.
Yes, it’s just that easy.
What Kind of Soap Should I Use to Disinfect My Steering Wheel?
You can use whatever you have in your house to wash your hands with.
I recommend staying away from heavy soaps like dishwashing detergent or laundry detergent – Woolite included. These types of soap require a considerable amount of rinsing and won’t work well for the type of gentle cleaning you need to do on your steering wheel.
There’s a lot of people out there who swear by Woolite as a steering wheel cleaner because it’s dubbed as “gentle.”
Yes, it’s gentle as far as laundry detergents go. But it’s still laundry detergent that requires a full rinse cycle in a washing machine to rise it away! I personally think Woolite is too heavy of a soap to use to clean a steering wheel.
Let’s now switch over to the second type of steering wheel cleaning – cleaning off dirt and grime.
The Best Steering Wheel Cleaner that Removes Dirt and Grime
This may come as a surprise to you, but the best steering wheel cleaner to remove dirt and grime is…
Soap and water!
Yup, once again, it’s that simple.
Just follow the same instructions I outline above for disinfecting and you should be good to go.
And as far as which soap to use, I recommend starting with the simple hand soap you use in your home.
Choice of soap for steering wheel cleaning is a heavily debated topic. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of people recommend using Woolite to clean your steering wheel. I feel that Woolite is just too darn thick to be used as a steering wheel cleaner. It requires too much rinsing.
But I Don’t Want to Harm my Steering Wheel
A lot of people I’ve talked to treat their steering wheels like some sort of delicate flower.
You literally manhandle the thing when you drive. Steering wheels are made to be durable.
But if you insist on babying your steering wheel, I’ve got a recommendation for you…
The most delicate way to clean your steering wheel is to just use warm water and a microfiber cloth. You might be surprised at how well plain old water cleans a steering wheel.
If plain water isn’t good enough for your delicate flower of a steering wheel and you must use soap, then add some super-gentle soap. Skip the Woolite and mix a little baby shampoo in your warm water.
As far as soaps go, baby shampoo is up there as one of the most gentle soaps you can buy. It’s also one of the easiest to rinse away.
What About Cleaning Different Steering Wheel Materials?
Gentle soap and water should be safe on all steering wheel materials. This includes plastic, vinyl, leather, wood, and even Alcantara.
This should be common sense, but I’ll remind y’all who might not be thinking clearly today… always test out your cleaning method on a small area of the steering wheel before going HAM on the whole thing.
Cleaning Alcantara Steering Wheels
Most people freak out about Alcantara. For general cleaning, the folks who make Alcantara recommend plain water.
And if you are trying to remove a stain, there are some cleaning products the Alcantara people recommend on their website. Click here to read cleaning instructions.
Cleaning Leather Steering Wheels
The other steering wheel material people freak out about is leather.
Here’s the thing about leather: it’s actually very durable.
Why do you think so many motorcyclists wear leather jackets? In addition to looking cool, leather is a very durable material that helps protect against road rash if a rider wipes out.
In addition, the leather used on your steering wheel generally has a clear coat applied to it for protection against wear and tear.
To learn more about about clear coat on leather surfaces, check out my article about the best leather conditioner for cars.
In the article, I more or less call bullshit on all these companies that sell leather conditioner for car interiors. Given that most leather surfaces have clear coat, the conditioner never actually reaches the leather because it can’t penetrate the clear coat!
All this said, using soap and water on your leather steering wheel shouldn’t damage it. You’re basically cleaning grime off of the clear coat and not raw leather.
Cleaning Plastic, Vinyl, and Wood Steering Wheels
Plastic and vinyl are pretty damn durable. Soap and water shouldn’t cause them any harm.
And if you have wood trim on your steering wheel, there’s most likely so much clear coat on it that its surface is basically plastic. Believe me, it’s durable – like a high school gym floor. Soap and water won’t harm it.
What if My Steering Wheel is Really Nasty?
If soap and water isn’t cutting through the nastiness on your steering wheel, then you might have to step up your cleaning efforts.
It’s helpful to know exactly what is making your steering wheel so dirty. If you know what the caked-on grime is made of, you’ll need to use a cleaner that is helpful on breaking down the particular contaminant.
The most common thing I see griming up steering wheels is cosmetics and food.
People who use a lot of lotion tend to have nasty steering wheels.
And people who eat while driving (please stop) tend to get nasty steering wheels.
In these cases, the grime build up on your steering wheel is generally oil based. I recommend increasing the amount of soap mixed in with your water mixture. Get a good lather going and use a gentle brush to scrub the areas. You can use a small paint brush or even a soft toothbrush to work the soap in.
If that still doesn’t work, try using a little dish soap mixed with water. Dish soap is great at breaking down oil.
As I mentioned before, test the dishwashing solution on a small area of your steering wheel before doing the whole thing.
A Word on Prevention
A little bit of prevention goes a long way when it comes to keeping your steering wheel clean.
Try not to apply heavy cosmetics before driving.
And for the love of God, don’t eat when you’re driving. It’s unsafe. And kinda gross.
To keep germ content down, clean your hands before you drive. I keep a small bottle of spray-on hand sanitizer in my car. I like to use it after I pump gas. Have you ever thought about all the germs that probably live on a gas pump handle? Ew.
DO NOT Use This as a Steering Wheel Cleaner
A lot of people recommend using a Mr. Clean sponge to clean your steering wheel.
Mr. Clean sponges are basically extremely fine sandpaper.
A Mr. Clean sponge will certainly remove grime and stubborn stains. But you’re also also at risk of sanding away the surface of your steering wheel!
And in the case of a leather steering wheel, scrubbing it with a Mr. Clean sponge might remove the clear coat that protects your leather surface and open it up to be exposed to damage.
Don’t be lured in by the YouTube videos that show how great Mr. Clean sponges work. They do work great, but this “magic” comes at a price.
Whether you are looking to disinfect your steering wheel or clean away dirt and grime, the best steering wheel cleaner is soap and water. It’s just that simple.