Looking back on the last few issues of Auto Laundry News, I have desperately tried to keep up with the Coronavirus Pandemic situation and how it affects our industry. It is, however, almost comical how often I have written a statement hinting that the situation might be getting better or worse, and then by the time the column goes to print, things have moved in the opposite direction! It makes me afraid to say anything good or bad about what’s going on.

I hope that the readership understands the liquid nature of our current existence, and I hope that the factual information provided herein month after month is helpful. Moreover, the inability to make predictions that stick is, I believe, a symptom of the situation. We just really don’t know how this pandemic is going to pan out.

Some of you are probably “over” the flood of webinars and online meetings that accompanied the first couple months of shutdown.

I’m still taking in a few webinars a week because we are in a state of learning with regard to several areas of information, including Coronavirus spread, COVID-19 treatment, COVID-19 vaccine, protection protocols, and industry impact. There is still a lot to know, and as soon as you think you know it all, something changes.

The one variable that is likely to stay consistent is that our lives will be in a state of flux for a number of months to come. (Oh, brother, there I go again saying something about the future!) One thing is clear, we must remain vigilant and responsive.


Listening to talk radio just this morning, I caught an interview with infectious disease specialist Simone Wildes, MD from South Weymouth, MA. She made several statements that reflect what I have been hearing consistently from multiple expert sources. Please read these carefully:
• Despite promising developments, we are still 12-18 months out from a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine that is safe and ready for mass production.
• For those who scoff at COVID-19 by suggesting that it is no worse than “the flu,” we must realize that there are effective treatments for the flu, but there are not effective treatments for COVID-19.
• Time and time again, studies show, anecdotal data show, and analysis of contact tracing show, that washing hands and wearing a mask continue to be the best protection against the spread of Coronavirus when physical distancing is not possible.


When it comes to proper sanitation of the interior of a car (or any other surface, for that matter), there are no shortcuts. Thorough cleaning must occur first, followed by disinfection with an approved chemical that has an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “registration number” that can be looked up on the EPA website.

Also, make sure that the product you are using for disinfection is rated for killing “Human Coronavirus.” This must be on the label.

And remember that dwell time is critical. According to Paul Wright of ReadyCare, the label may say, “kills 99.99% of human Coronavirus,” but that statement is likely only true if the proper dwell time is allowed. In other words, the chemical needs to be on the surface for the recommended amount of time before that statement is true. I always recommend leaning toward the upper end of the manufacturer’s recommendation for dwell time. Thus, if the bottle says, “leave on the surface for 5-20 minutes,” I’m going with the 20.

One “shortcut” that some have been considering is using ultraviolet disinfection technology. According to Chad May of CFE Services, this may not be a good answer for the automotive industry and here’s why: In order to be completely effective, the UV light must touch every surface inside the vehicle. When used in hospital rooms, the UV robot takes six to eight hours to map every surface in the room. Imagine how difficult it would be to map every convoluted surface inside a vehicle. Not to mention the expense of such a device.

The federal agencies that monitor chemical manufacturing are overwhelmed right now, and there are some companies that are taking advantage of this situation by manufacturing and selling products that are not properly formulated. Thus, when purchasing disinfection chemicals, make sure that the chemical has an EPA registration number and take the time to look that number up on the EPA website. In general, it is recommended to go with your trusted suppliers with whom you have had a longstanding relationship. Don’t go cheap, as it may cost you in the end.


Make sure the hand sanitizer that you are using is safe. There are two concerns here. The first is that some hand sanitizers are not registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The second concern is that some formulations are actually toxic.

FDA Registration

According to Michael Q. Pugliese of Circadia, at the beginning of the pandemic when hand sanitizer supplies quickly dwindled, the FDA responded by fast-tracking the “drug listing” requirement for certain formulations of hand sanitizers so that chemical manufacturers could quickly convert to producing FDA-registered hand sanitizer.

But not all hand sanitizers are created equal. The alcohol used must be the correct grade, and the sanitizer must be correctly formulated to coincide with the World Health Organization’s guidelines. For example, acceptable concentrations of active ingredients include 80% ethanol or 75% isopropyl alcohol. To confirm that your supplier is providing an approved formulation, ensure that they have an EPA registration number and look that number up on the EPA website. Also, the supplier should be able to provide a “certificate of analysis” that shows the formulation of the hand sanitizer.

Toxic Hand Sanitizer Formulations

The FDA has identified several hand sanitizers as being toxic, due to the use of inappropriate ingredients including methanol. One specific warning identifies hand sanitizers manufactured under several brand names by Eskbiochem. If this name appears on the bottle, don’t use it. Apparently, the foundational issue is that some ethanol formulations are contaminated with methanol. Ethanol is okay in hand sanitizers, but not methanol.


When we are in contact with customers, it is our responsibility to wear face coverings to protect those customers from our respiratory droplets. This is also true whenever we are in the customer vehicle — we don’t want to allow our respiratory droplets to land on interior surfaces. So, the wearing of masks at a detail operation should be mandatory.

Fabric or cloth masks may be more convenient and less expensive because they can be washed after every use.

But, they do not offer two-way protection. Yes, they keep your droplets from projecting, but, unlike N95 or KN95 masks, they don’t necessarily block viruses from being inhaled.

Then there is the debate of using disposable versus reusable facemasks. According to Amir Hemmat of Zeel, it is important to realize that masks like N95, KN95, or 3-ply masks do have a “use period.” For example, the “life” of an N95 mask is about eight hours; as they are worn, there is an accumulation of filtered particles that collects on the mask material. Eventually, it becomes more difficult to breathe and the effectiveness of the filtration diminishes.

And then there is the concern about contaminated masks. Paul Wright indicates research shows that the Coronavirus can last up to seven days on a mask. Some folks resort to “sanitizing” masks by spraying them with alcohol, but this actually degrades the mask materials.

One suggestion is that, if a reusable mask is used only for a short period of time, it could be set aside for seven days before being reused, thus allowing time for any virus present on the mask material to “die.” Thus, one could conceive of have masks labeled for each day of the week. Just remember the lifespan factor — add up the time that the mask is used across the weeks, and get rid of it when the total time is more than the recommendation.

The bottom line is that disposable masks should be disposed of after their recommended lifespan. Again, don’t be cheap at the risk of virus transmission.

Expect that there will continue to be occasional shortages on critical supplies like masks, disposable gloves, disinfectant wipes, and chemicals. There will be logistics problems and packaging shortages — trigger sprayers, hand pumps, bottles, etc. Make sure your custodial staff is using EPA registered disinfectant chemicals and correct sanitation procedures (not just the procedures they have always used). Also, with variable scarcity of supplies, prices of these products will increase, sometimes dramatically.

Bottom line is go with your trusted suppliers and confirm that they are providing approved supplies.


I love this simple statement from Paul Wright: “There is no cure for the (corona) virus; there’s no vaccine for it; but we know we can kill it by washing our hands.” Soap and water and a minimum of 20 seconds are all you need. The soap doesn’t even have to be antibacterial. It’s all about the prolonged scrubbing action.

And, remember, there’s nothing wrong with “washing” gloved hands. I do this several times during each detail job. Also, when washing your bare hands, remember to run halfway up your arms as well.


We’re in this for the long haul. Stay vigilant and responsive. Provide proper vehicle sanitation protocols. Continue to follow the experts’ recommendations. Check the validity of your supplies. Use face coverings and use them wisely.

And wash your hands often.

Informational webcasts are still relevant. Don’t ignore them. Several organizations and huge companies are gathering experts from the front lines of medicine, epidemiology, personal protection, and the automotive industry to help keep us informed. Part of staying vigilant and responsive is to keep informed.


Webinar, International Spa Association, “ISPA Chats with Product Pros — A Spotlight on Sanitation and PPE,” July 9, 2020.

KFI am 640 Los Angeles, “Wake Up Call” July 8, 2020, live interview with Dr. Simone Wildes.

FDA.gov; EPA.gov; CDC.gov


Prentice St. Clair is an International Detailing Association Recognized Trainer and Certified Detailer. As the president of Detail in Progress Inc., he has been providing training and consulting to car washes and detail shops since 1999. He is available at (619) 701-1100 or prentice@detailinprogress.com.