We all have a tendency to treat the driver’s seat as our personal throne. This is where we are in our element, so we feel comfortable—and smug. Whether it’s our fingers tapping for the last time on our phone screen, gripping the knob of a switch, or carefully removing a half-melted Hershey bar, we all tend to jump in, tune the radio, adjust the AC, and set a destination in the navigation. screen—all without washing your hands first.
And if you have a family? Other drivers also use the car and its touch screen. Of course, kids can’t resist touching any kind of screen, and who knows where those little fingers have been? All parents have swiped their car’s touchscreen and felt…mystery. Yuck.
That’s why you should properly clean your touchscreen every time you clean your car – if not more often.
Do you need to use a car screen cleaner?
Touch screens are probably one of the dirtiest and most germ-covered surfaces of any vehicle. Sure, your dashboard gets dusty and your floorboard collects (an alarming amount of) trash. However, it’s that dash-mounted display that gets the most fingers, and therefore germs, on it.
But are car screen cleaners really necessary? After all, isn’t it just glass?
Not necessarily. Many typical household glass cleaners contain either ammonia or alcohol. Most manufacturers recommend avoiding harsh chemicals on touchscreens, as they can affect functionality and possibly damage the surrounding dashboard.
Of course, it’s cheaper and easier to use ol’ Windex or Glass Plus, mostly because you probably already have those things. Despite the temptation, however, you should avoid using household glass cleaner on your car’s touchscreen unless you’re positive that the one you’re using contains neither ammonia nor alcohol. Besides, you may already own a great screen cleaner and not realize it.
Many modern automotive detailing products, including Chemical Guys Interior Cleaner and Meguiar’s Total Interior Detailer, are safe and effective to use on your car’s touchscreen. Read the label to be sure.
An alternative to cleaning the screen
The fact is, there’s an even less expensive method to clean your car’s touchscreen, no products required—except a microfiber towel. (Again, you want to avoid scratching dust particles all over the surface of your touchscreen to prevent scratches, so always use a clean microfiber towel.)
Many of the experts and gear heads at our Hearst Autos test garage told us that they rarely use any type of cleaner on their personal touch screens. From top to bottom, those who saw us test and photograph screen cleaners—we’re talking about people whose opinions we trust and whose lines our readers know and respect—told us that every time they got behind the wheel, they drip a little. with water on a clean microfiber towel and wipe. Done.
As a parent, however, I’m left asking the question: Will a simple wipe down with water eliminate the germs in the family SUV? Yes No. Sorry, but knowing my kids and the impressive yet disgusting level of grime they can achieve, I will be using a cleaning agent on my car’s touch screen.
How we tested the screen cleaner
To find out if car screen cleaners were really necessary, we used a very scientific methodology. That is, we got our fingers and hands dirty and touched the hell out of the display in a test vehicle in the Hearst Autos stable. Let it dry for a while and then clean it according to the product instructions. We did it five times.
First we made sure all the products did what they claimed to do – and they all did. The wipes left streaks on the screen, which required a second wipe with a microfiber cloth. But they all cleaned the chocolate and grease off the screen, leaving it clean and clear.
During use, we looked for any greasy film or residue left behind. We also considered any particularly strong scents and considered cleansers that left streaks. Most did, but all came clean with a soft cloth – that is, some softer wipes with the microfiber towel.
Word to the wise: Don’t leave the screen cleaner on because it leaves streaks on your screen. Take your time and do it right. We noticed a lot of people online complaining that the product they used wasn’t some kind of magical solution that cleans perfectly with just one wipe. All screen cleaners—all glass cleaners, really—will smudge if you don’t take the time and care to give the surface a gentle scrub at the end of the process.
Why trust us?
With a combined 206 years of automotive publishing experience, Hearst Autos-Car and Driver, Road & TrackAND car week— knows cars better than anyone. The Gear team is dedicated to providing honest reviews, hands-on tests and product reviews driven by decades of knowledge and experience. We have in hand almost every product, tool and piece of equipment we offer.
If we can’t get our hands on the device, we rely on the combined wisdom of our writers and editors, as well as the automotive experts we trust. We’ll never say anything is “the best” if we wouldn’t recommend it to our friends or buy it ourselves, and we won’t claim to have tested something if we haven’t. Learn more about our product testing here.