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Driver’s seat vs. toilet seat: Researchers test vehicle interiors for gross germs

cleaning car
Photo: zoff-photo/iStockphoto

Birmingham, England — The inside of your vehicle likely has more germs than your toilet, results of a recent study out of England suggest.

Researchers at Aston University swabbed various spots inside five vehicles varying in age from 2 to 17 years old. The owners of three of the vehicles had pets and children while another had only pets. The researchers also tested two toilets “that had not been knowingly cleaned but had been used in the preceding 24 hours.”

The researchers identified more than 1,400 bacteria in the vehicles’ trunks, and between 300 and 650 on the driver’s seats, gear sticks, back seats and dashboards – equaling or exceeding that found “on an average toilet seat and flush.” The steering wheels contained the fewest number of bacteria identified, with 146. All of the vehicles had fecal bacteria, with the highest levels found in the trunk. In addition, the older vehicles had more bacteria than the younger ones.


“We should be cleaning the inside of our cars as much as we clean the outside,” Jonathan Cox, a senior lecturer in microbiology at the university, said in a press release. “We often see mud splashes, which reminds us to drive to the nearest car wash, but we don’t see the bacteria building up in our vehicles, and we should be cleaning the inside as much as the exterior.”

Cox added that you don’t need to be “overly concerned,” but to remember that not all dirt is visible.

“It’s also important to be aware that there is a difference between being clean visually and being clean biologically,” he said. “We generally just focus on the visual element, meaning that if something looks clean or tidy, we do not look to cleanse more deeply. … Hopefully, this study will encourage people to be more mindful of their vehicle and germs and clean their cars in a more thorough way.”

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