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No matter where they occur, bug infestations are always a massive pain in the neck, quite literally if it's a bug that enjoys biting or burrowing into human flesh. Ridding them and keeping them away can take a lot of persistent cleaning and might even mean bringing out the heavy artillery in the form of noxious, potentially carcinogenic chemicals. When infestations are within the tight sacred quarters of our cars' interiors, pests are especially unwelcome—feeling a gigantic spider or cockroach crawling up your leg is a horrifying experience.
Thankfully, there are some easy ways to rid these critters from your car's interior and keep them away. Many of them are environmentally friendly, too, so you won't risk exposing yourself to dangerous chemicals. Here are the steps you need to take to rid your car of a bug infestation.
Everything You Need To Get Rid of Bugs in Your Car
Grab these items before you start your job so you don’t have to stop halfway through.
Some Helpful Prep
The basis for taking care of a bug infestation in your car is to make it as inhospitable of an environment as possible. Avoid parking in the grass, underneath low-hanging trees, and alongside bushes. The idea here is to cut off insects' method to get to your vehicle in the first place. If you can park in the direct sunlight, the brutally high temperatures that interiors experience can fend off or even kill arthropodic invaders.
Here's How to Get Rid of a Bug Infestation
Building on inhospitality, a clean car won't be of any interest to bugs, especially sugar-seeking ants.
Remove Any Tantalizing Objects
This might seem pretty obvious, but it's a good first step: remove trash like candy wrappers, soda pop bottles, coffee cups, etc. The idea here is to remove anything that's even mildly sweet, especially while getting rid of ants. Plus, the more crap there is in an interior, the more places pests have to hide. Even if you drink black coffee, ants might still be attracted to mildly sweet ingredients in your coffee's beans, which are leftover at the bottom of a coffee cup (ask me how I know).
Seal It Up
Make it harder for bugs to make a home in your car. Ensure weather seals are in good condition, keep windows closed, keep doors closed, and close up any gaps. Gaps caused by a car with accident damage, worn out door and window seals, or even a poorly reinstalled body component create an expressway (or freeway to those in California) into your car's interior.
Especially for spiders: Any enclosure where there are great opportunities to catch the random bumbling ant, fly, etc. will be a prime piece of real estate.
A Thorough Vacuuming
Grab your own vacuum or visit a local DIY car wash and vacuum out your interior really well. Get in the cracks where trim pieces meet the carpet, underneath the seat, and every little nook and cranny you can find. Remove floor mats, get into the trunk and give that a good going over, the works. To really break dust and crumbs free, use detail brushes for agitation. If you're able to remove the seats, even better, as you can really cover every single square inch of your car's interior.
Steam cleaners are inexpensive to rent, but if you intend on making steam cleaning a regular part of your car cleaning regimen, the purchase price is worth the investment,. Use it to go over where you just vacuumed the interior carpeting and pay extra special attention to cracks and crevices. This is good for any pest removal, but if bed bugs are the target of your cleaning operation, the hot steam will kill them and their eggs, which tend to be laid in cracks. Otherwise, this is a good preventative measure against such heinous guests.
To go one step further, using a dedicated interior carpet cleaning solution with the steaming solution will help get any stubborn spills or encrusted crumbs out of interior carpeting. This can also be used with a conventional shop vac if you don't have access to a steam cleaner.
Avoid steaming any switchgear, as you don't want to fry any electronics, and some hard interior surfaces might become damaged from steaming, so save those areas for the next step.
A Good Wipe Down
Up next, grab interior cleaning wipes and wipe down all trim pieces, again paying special attention to crevices, nooks, and crannies. It's best to do this while the car is off so that you don't mess with any stereo or HVAC settings. Using an interior cleaner that's safe on leather is important to keep in mind if you have leather seats, otherwise use a dedicated leather cleaner for those. Finally, be mindful not to soak any switchgear in the process.
Breaking Out the Heavy, More Environmentally Friendly Artillery
Diatomaceous earth might sound like a progressive metal band, but it's actually a finely ground sedimentary rock composed of fossilized remains. In small, light quantities it's generally harmless to humans, as OSHA made clear.
Obviously, any silica-based substance shouldn't be inhaled in any capacity, as Silicosis is scary, but there are ways to prevent inhalation of it in the tight confines of your car's interior. In fact, while working with it, it's not a bad idea to wear a common dust mask. We're not OSHA, nor are we doctors, so use at your own risk and be sure to read up on all potential health downsides.
The science behind diatomaceous earth is that it dehydrates arthropods, which is the family of bugs that tend to invade car interiors like ants, spiders, cockroaches, etc. How ironic that something composed of fossilized bugs and weird prehistoric creatures kills the bugs that currently inhabit our world.
Using diatomaceous earth in a safe manner is easy. If your car is going to be sitting for a while, sprinkle it in some easy-to-clean places throughout your car's interior. Letting it sit for a while ensures it will stick to arthropods' bodies, dry them out, and send them back to hell where they came from. This could be overnight or any other time you keep your car stored away in the garage for a period of time.
The reason for making it easy to clean, and not laying down too much, is you want to be able to vacuum it all up once you're in there with the windows up, running the AC and breathing normally. This helps ensure you won't breathe in any harmful amount.
Borax is a similar sedimentary substance that kills bugs in the same fashion as diatomaceous earth and is also generally environmentally friendly. But again, use with caution.
What if You Need To Rapidly Deploy Countermeasures?
Let's say you pull back the interior carpeting in your trunk and happen upon hundreds of ants all in one spot. You've caught them with their pants down, and now they're scrambling away from daylight. But you don't want to chase them into the rest of the car where they'll linger for potentially days or weeks.
You don't necessarily want to hose them down with something like Raid, as that's a noxious, potentially cancer-causing chemical that you don't want wafting into your car's enclosed interior. An environmentally friendly solution is any non-toxic citrus-oil-based cleaner. It's safe for humans (but please don't mix it into your gin & tonic) but pretty darn brutal to ants—it kills them on contact. There are many citrus-based home remedies for getting rid of ants, but this seems like the most effective and rapid way to annihilate them.
Citrus-oil-based cleaners also block their scent trails and repel them away, thus preventing more ants from coming along. The only downside is that it doesn't kill them on contact unless they're literally drowning in it, like lighting up a big ol' Brown Recluse.
What Are Some Exterior Countermeasures?
Besides parking away from buggy areas and ensuring your car is sealed properly, another worthwhile way to make your car unappealing from the outside is to apply environmentally safe substances on your tires. Raid and other bug killers and repellents have chemicals that can damage rubber over time, so it's best to use a citrus oil cleaner, diatomaceous earth, or Borax.
Keep in mind that the wind will blow the latter two away, so spraying the tires down with the former might be the best bet. In fact, lemon oil is a common ingredient in tire shine, which might be a great dual-use choice.
FAQs About Ridding Your Car of a Bug Infestation
You likely still have some questions, so we’ve done our best to anticipate your follow-ups and provide answers.
Q. Why do I keep finding bugs in my interior?
A. This could be due to where you park, how penetrable your car is, or just because it needs a thorough cleaning.
Q. What bugs can live in your car?
A. Ants, spiders, cockroaches, bed bugs, flies, centipedes, anything that'll fit in there!
Q. Is there a bug bomb for cars?
A. Yes, and some even have chemicals that are safe for humans and pets. But to use them appropriately, it's a good ideal to seal off all HVAC vents, switches, interfaces, etc. There's a mighty bit of prep involved and should only be considered as a last-ditch effort if an infestation is especially nasty.
Q. Do companies offer services in getting bugs out of cars?
A. Yes, there are many exterminator companies that offer car-specific cleaning and remediation. But do your research and make sure you're comfortable with any work they're performing. Also make sure the chemicals they're using aren’t hazardous to your health.
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