Growing up I was a fairly messy child. My parents used to say they could always tell where I'd been in the house based on open drawers, crumbs, and a trail of stuff I left behind. When I became a first-time homeowner in my mid-20s, there was a definitive shift in my personality toward cleanliness.
Because it was mine, I started paying more attention and taking better care of my property. These days, you'll rarely see a dirty dish in my sink or a piece of clothing on the floor. But for whatever reason, these newfound habits did not transfer to my car. It's common for me to have two or three empty water bottles in the passenger seat, sweatshirts and shoes thrown around the back, and a ridiculous amount of dog hair and crumbs from my son's snacks clinging to my seats. This is why I started having my car professionally cleaned once a month — and it's worth every penny.
For many years now, my job has required me to spend a significant amount of time driving around — when I total it up, I spend over three hours in the car daily. And I'm not a alone in spending significant amounts of time in my car. A 2016 study from AAA found that Americans spend an average of 17,600 minutes driving every year (that's the equivalent of seven 40-hour weeks). When I'm driving to and from client visits, I often pack everything I need for the day . . . and it sometimes never leaves the car. This isn't uncommon, a survey from CarRentals.com found. A shocking 32 percent of people clean out the inside of car only once a year. The same survey found that the average steering wheel is four times dirtier than a public toilet seat and six times dirtier than the average cellphone screen. Um, ew. I don't enjoy the mess, but stuff just seems to accumulate here so much more than it does in my house, and I can never seem to tackle it with the same dedication.
It finally occurred to me that it was crazy to be spending so much time in a place that's so messy, when I wouldn't tolerate that kind of mess anywhere else. And cars can get so gross. A 2011 study from microbiologists at Queen Mary University of London found that steering wheels, driver's seat floor, rear seats, and gear shift lever contained an average of 700 bacteria per 10 square centimeters . . . and the trunk contains 1,000 bacteria per 10 centimeters. So yeah, I had to do something about my germ-ridden car. I started visiting a local car wash that charges between $10 and $15 to heavy-duty vacuum your seats, spray down the glass, dust the dashboard and center console, and drive through their outdoor wash (which can be pretty fun if you're not claustrophobic). I used to feel guilty about spending the money on something I could easily do myself, but over time I realized if I didn't outsource this chore, it just didn't happen, and I want to make sure my family is healthy (i.e. not exposed to a ridiculous amount of bacteria). I'm busy with work, taking care of my baby, and all the other things life throws at me, so taking my car to a car wash is an easy way to help me juggle everything I have to do.
The best part about getting my car cleaned is it actually forces me to do some cleaning before I go there. I take the opportunity to recycle my water bottles, throw away my granola bar wrappers, and bring in any dirty clothes and shoes I find laying around the back seat or in the trunk. I know the vacuum and disinfectant they use will not be nearly as effective if they have to work around all of the junk I have on the floor and seats. By making this a regular thing, I find myself stepping up my car-cleaning game and getting a complete mood boost when I drive away in my superclean car.
There are many chores I feel a personal responsibility to take on myself, but when it comes to keeping an organized and clean car, it's 100 percent worth it for me to pay for some help! I feel better knowing my car is a cleaner, healthier place to spend so much time — and the pine-scented air freshener isn't a bad perk, either.