In this month’s column, I would like to start with clarification of terms that are used to describe the current virus and the illness it causes. I would also like to address how detailers can help eliminate the virus from vehicles and reduce its transmission.

In last month’s column, I dove into definitions of some of the terms that are thrown around when talking about virus reduction. To review:

A virus is a sub-microscopic organism that invades host (humans and animals) cells to reproduce. When a virus gets inside a living cell of an organism, they take over control of that cell and “instruct” it to become a “replication factory.” When too many host cells are converted, the original function of the organs that make up those cells can be impacted.

Sanitizing chemicals reduce the concentration of viruses (and other micro-organisms) on a surface by at least 99.9 percent.

Disinfecting chemicals reduce virus concentrations by a much higher percentage than sanitizers. Because disinfecting chemicals are more potent, they are typically used on non-food-related surfaces like bathrooms, floors, and walls.


Many terms are used to refer to the pandemic and its impacts. For example, here is a loaded statement: “The novel Coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 has caused the COVID-19 pandemic.” If you already understand what that statement means, I congratulate you. If you are like most people, however, it will probably help to have a breakdown of these terms and what each means:

COVID-19: An illness that is caused by the novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. “COVID-19” is an abbreviation for “novel COronaVIrus Disease 2019.” The “2019” refers to the year that this version of the Coronavirus was first detected.

Novel Coronavirus: A new strain of a Coronavirus that has not been detected in humans before.

Coronavirus: A family of viruses (including SARS) that causes respiratory illness and that is characterized by its “sphere-with-spikes” shape. “Corona” is a Latin term that means “crown-like.”

SARS-CoV-2: This acronym stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome CoronaVirus 2.” This name, assigned by the World Health Organization, refers to the novel Coronavirus discovered in 2019 that causes COVID-19.

Pandemic: a worldwide spread of an infectious disease. (An epidemic is the spread of an infectious disease in a specific geographical area.)

So, the virus SARS-CoV-2 causes the disease COVID-19. This is the same distinction when discussing AIDS and HIV — the “human immunodeficiency virus” (HIV) causes the disease “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome”.

When we are communicating with customers, both in-person and in our marketing materials, it is important to use the correct terminology. I believe this is important for two reasons: (1) to reassure the customer that we are keeping abreast of knowledge relating to the pandemic, and (2) to help educate the general public. So, an example of correct use of terminology might be:

“Our staff here at Joe’s Detailing utilizes specific protocols to help eliminate the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus from your vehicle, as well as protocols to reduce the transmission of the virus, because none of us wants to end up with the terrible disease COVID-19!”

More importantly, one can carry or transmit SARS-CoV-2 novel Coronavirus with no symptoms of COVID-19. Thus, reducing the existence and transmission of the virus is critical.

I recommend that each person reading this column do her/his own research on this subject. Opinions about the pandemic abound, and ultimately each of us must make our own decisions about how to respond and how to behave. But remember that it is not just about you — it is also how you might inadvertently spread the virus to others.

As mentioned in last month’s column, we, as professional detailers, have two main concerns related to the pandemic and how it might impact our customers:
1. We must neutralize the virus — as best as possible — in the vehicle by using appropriate chemicals and procedures.
2. We must minimize transmission of the virus to and from customer vehicles by utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE) and protocols for beginning and completing each interior detail.


Preventing the spread of the virus involves two primary activities:
1. Preventing personal infection
2. Transmission-reducing protocols

Preventing personal infection begins with proper use of PPE, including masks and other face protection, as well as gloves and safety goggles. For some, it may also involve specialized outerwear. The purpose of PPE here is to prevent the virus from entering our body.

The other way to prevent personal infection is to refrain from touching one’s face, nose, mouth, and eyes while working on customer vehicles. Additionally, post-vehicle contact procedures are critical, and include proper removal of PPE, hand-washing, proper handling of clothing, and a hot shower.

Transmission-reducing protocols include how we handle customer vehicles and our equipment. Avoid entering customer vehicles that are receiving exterior-only treatments. If the vehicle must be entered, the interior must be first treated with a disinfectant. Additionally, all vehicles receiving interior services should have, as a final step, a disinfectant treatment before returning the vehicle to the customer.

There should be no “vehicle-hopping.” Make it a rule that if a technician enters one customer’s vehicle, he or she cannot enter another customer’s vehicle without changing cloths and disinfecting PPE. Thus, it would be prudent to adopt vehicle-handling procedures that eliminate the need to re-position customer vehicles, as well as keeping one technician with one vehicle until it is completed, after which that technician can “disinfect” before moving onto the next vehicle.

All equipment must be disinfected after being used in each customer vehicle. This includes:
• Vacuum, extractor, and steam machine hoses (inside and out)
• Vacuum, extractor, and steam machine attachments
• Vacuum, extractor, and steam recovery canister
• Brushes and detailing tools
• Towels
• Spray bottles


What follows is simply an example of what a vehicle disinfection protocol might look like. It is actually the one that I use in my detailing operation. I do not make any claim that this will absolutely eliminate viruses (and none of us should make such claims to customers). However, I believe, based on the research that I’ve done, that this protocol will go a long way to reducing the presence and transmission of viruses.

Upon booking the appointment, inform the customer about the expectations of the customer upon arrival at the detail shop, including what the customer must do before exiting the vehicle. While at the shop, the customer will be asked to don a mask covering the nose and mouth, and to exercise proper physical distancing.

Upon arrival at the shop, the customer is asked to park the car in the proper position so that it does not have to be moved again. The customer is instructed to close all windows and roof vents. The receiving technician holds out an open resealable bag, into which the customer drops the vehicle keys or fob. For mobile operations, the customer will be asked to move the vehicle into the working position and use the same exiting protocol.

If the service being provided is “exterior-only”, the doors of the vehicle are to remain closed. Thus, the “courtesy vacuum” and interior windows and doorjamb wipe-down do not occur. Make sure the customer understands this and why.

For vehicles receiving interior services, the vehicle is first aired out by opening all doors for at least 10 minutes. The purpose of this step is to clear out the vehicle of any airborne pathogens. During this “air-out,” the technician should stay away from the vehicle, and definitely do not stand downwind!

Next, the vehicle interior is thoroughly coated in disinfectant chemical. Depending on the disinfection system or chemical being used, this is either a thorough misting with trigger sprayers or fogging. The chemical is allowed to dwell for the maximum amount of time recommended by the chemical manufacturer.

After completing the interior procedure, the vehicle interior is again disinfected. When complete, the vehicle ideally remains untouched — with no further entry — until the customer returns and drives away. Otherwise, the technician moving the vehicle must put on fresh PPE and clothing before entering the “disinfected” vehicle.


It is critical that we have an understanding of how viruses work and how we can reduce the transmission of SARS-CoV-19. Adopting disinfection and transmission-reducing protocols in your operation will help ensure that we can continue profitable operation of professional detailing businesses.

Recommended Sources:,,

Sources of Definitions:

• U.S. Chemical online publication, “Sanitizers vs. Disinfectants,”

• article: “The Difference Between Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting,” April 20, 2012.

• Alexandra Becker, “COVID-19 Crisis Catalog: A Glossary of Terms,” Texas Medical Center, May 26, 2020. (


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