“Baby you can DRIVE my car, but first, you have to disinfect it”
Updated: May 18
Only a short while ago, say January or February, buying a used car, getting a taxi, hopping on a bus or a train was as mundane as reading the news. It was, well..simple. Three or four months later, the world is everything but simple. The Coronavirus has added a layer of complexity to anything we do.
Now that the dust has started to settle, the need to restart our lives and make our day to day activities simple again is key as we’re striving to reach normality. In order to hop on that bus as usual, we must feel safe and that requires a clear notion that the virus isn’t getting on that bus together with us.
By now, it is becoming clear that any shared transportation, whether it is a bus, a taxi, or even a used car, will have to be disinfected somehow.
The following article aims to shed light on different methods for disinfecting vehicles and other means of transportation. Taking into account the importance of personal safety and health when traveling, I have no doubt that new and innovative solutions for effective disinfection would emerge in the coming weeks and months, motivated by the people’s deep urge to get back to routine, safely.
Cleaning VS Disinfecting
Simple, “old-fashioned” cleaning, no matter how thorough, is just not enough. Cleaning refers primarily to the removal of visible dirt or particles. Disinfection refers to specific measures taken to control, deactivate, or kill infectious agents, such as viruses and bacteria.
Unfortunately, there are many ways the virus can spread in private or public transportation and the fact that COVID-19 can survive a few days on surfaces dictates a strict disinfection regime. All surfaces must be disinfected. In the case of a high passenger turnover rate, the air needs to be disinfected as well.
Different Disinfection Methods
Generally speaking, there are four main disinfection methods or substances that are commonly used: chemicals, radiation, ozone, and heating. Each method entails a different deployment technique, requires different exposure duration, requires various safety measures and of course varies in pricing. Every method has its pros and cons, depending on what you want to disinfect.
The first question that should be asked is “what are we disinfecting?”, and there are only two possible answers: surfaces or spaces (i.e confined spaces, such as the air in a car or a room). It could be both, surfaces within confined spaces, and if so, we should be looking for a method that best resolves the doubled need, or a combination of two or more methods. The following chart details what disinfection methods can be used for each type of object:
Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into each method, and discuss which technique should be used to address every need, when should it be applied, and how.
Probably the most common and least expensive method for cleaning surfaces (passenger handles on the bus, steering wheel, door handle, etc.), is to apply specific chemicals on the infected surface.
There are four main types of chemicals that were found to be effective for disinfecting COVID-19. These chemicals damage the virus’ outer layer, practically “killing” it, or alternatively, ruining it’s genetic structure and thus preventing it from multiplying. These four chemicals are:
Oxidizers - these substances act by oxidizing the outer layer of pathogens such as the cell membrane of bacteria and the viral envelopes of viruses. A large number of disinfectants operate in this way. Chlorine is generally the disinfectant of choice as it is reasonably efficient, cheap, and easy to handle.
Alcohol- this substance is often used to disinfect small surfaces (e.g. rubber stoppers of multiple-dose medication vials, and thermometers) and occasionally external surfaces of equipment (e.g. stethoscopes and ventilators). Since alcohol is flammable, it would be advisable to limit its use as a surface disinfectant to small surface areas and use it in well-ventilated spaces only. Prolonged and repeated use of alcohol as a disinfectant can also cause discoloration, swelling, hardening and cracking of rubber and certain plastics.
Aldehydes - this substance eliminates bacteria and viruses through alkylation, a widely used aldehyde in the industry is Glutaraldehyde.
Cationic Surfactants- these substances reduce the liquid surface tension, therefore they harm the intermolecular connections in viruses and bacterias’ lipid bilayers.
Which one to choose and how to use them?
Here is a comparison table, taking into account a few leading elements: price, safety and deployment duration. It’s meant to help you decide based on the time, area of the surface you wish to cover, and your expertise in handling such materials, which chemical should be used. In this case, scores are given on the following basis: 5 is the highest score (cheapest, safest, fastest), and 1 being the lowest per each category (expensive, unsafe, slow).
As for the deployment method, you’re welcome to read the following article and make sure to always follow strict safety guidelines, as suitable for each substance.
If you followed COVID-19 related news feeds on LinkedIn lately, you probably encountered one of these “Star-Wars” like robots:
So what is this UV-C light all about, and how does it work?
Here’s what Wikipedia explains: “Ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) is a disinfection method that uses short-wavelength ultraviolet (ultraviolet C or UVC) light to kill or inactivate microorganisms by destroying nucleic acids and disrupting their DNA, leaving them unable to perform vital cellular functions.”
Basically, UVC is a great method for disinfecting both air, water, and surfaces. The exposure time depends on multiple variables, mainly the energy emitted from the light source (254 nm wavelength is considered most effective), and the distance of the surface from the source.
A rule of thumb would be that to kill 99.99% of viruses, from 2 meters, it will take 30 minutes, and the closer the distance, exposure time drops by the power of two.
Please take into account: UV radiation is hazardous and direct exposure of the skin and eyes can cause permanent damage.
Different products that use UV light include:
Sterilizing wand - you can buy one on Amazon for anywhere between $20-$60. It is good for sanitizing small personal objects such as cellphones or a keyboard.
UV Light Bulb - A fixed UV light bulb is used, for example, for disinfecting ambulances.
Robot - UV emitting bulbs are placed on a self-navigating robot, and are used in hospitals.
Another effective method of disinfection worth mentioning is using Ozone, which is known for its antimicrobial efficacy. I will spare you the chemical/biological explanation and just mention a few key aspects regarding Ozone disinfection:
The disinfection process can be conducted using Ozone Gas, through an Ozone generator. This is a pretty widely known method that was originally utilized for removing bad odor from vehicles. Alternatively, the process can be conducted by creating Ozone-water, using a special machine that usually uses electricity to break apart Ozone atoms directly from the water. Ozone-water can also be made by injecting ozone-gas into water.
Ozone is dangerous to humans (and any other biological creatures, which is why it is such a strong disinfectant), and should be used with extra caution. That is also the reason why using Ozone generators is forbidden in California. Because Ozone turns into oxygen quickly (again, skipping chemistry here) it needs to be produced onsite, and this comes with a cost, usually ranging from several hundreds of dollars for the Ozone generator, to thousands of dollars for a machine that produces sufficient amounts of Ozone-water.
Because of its pricing and operational complexity, it would be unlikely to see ozone-based disinfection as the mass market go-to disinfection solutions.
By now you are probably bored with the science stuff, so I will keep it short here. High enough temperatures can kill almost anything. Studies show that some types of Coronavirus, when exposed to temperatures above 70 degrees celsius, are destroyed within 5 minutes.
By applying sufficient heat on a surface, for example using steam, or by heating the air within a bus or a car, and reaching the above mentioned temperatures across the desired surface or space, we can safely say it is disinfected.
What will the future look like?
First of all, I don’t know. I can only assume that with regards to disinfection of transportation means we should expect some severe measures in the short term. In addition, we can safely assume a rapid development of new disinfection solutions which will be available in the mid to long term, helping to minimize the effects of future epidemics. Here are a few examples of recent changes and trends:
The New York subway is shutting down on a nightly basis in order to undergo a disinfection process.
DRIVE’s partners, along with other companies, are ensuring their customers a new standard with regards to disinfection of fleets/rental cars/private cars etc.
Hong Kong Airport is testing disinfection booths for incoming passengers
It is clear that at least until we find a vaccine for COVID19, we should probably be prepared for some drastic changes to the way we travel, commute, and move around, either by public transportation, shared rides, and even in our own private vehicles.
Moreover, it will be interesting to see what disinfection habits will stay with us long after the Covid19 will go away? What do you think?
Looking for solutions
The vehicle disinfection challenge is unprecedented, acute, and urgent. If you’re developing or have in-mind novel technologies that can be used to aid in assuring safe and “COVID-free” transportation, DRIVE TLV can help you bring your ideas to the market.
Please feel free to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions, comments, or new ideas that could positively address disinfection related challenges.
Helped in writing this article: Nevo Ozer, Ben Finegold