So little is known about SARS-CoV-2 and it’s driving business owners around the country crazy — especially detailers. Everyday new information comes out that contradicts old information, and it happens so fast you don’t often know what to believe. You’re left asking questions such as:

  • Is it possible for detailers to combat coronavirus in customers’ vehicles?
  • Are detail shops “essential business”? 
  • How do I keep myself, my employees and my customers safe while staying open?
  • What should I do if my business must close?

Thankfully, there are answers to all of these questions. Using information from the CDC, the IDA and industry leaders, we’ll guide you through it all. 

What Can Detailers Do About Coronavirus?

Let’s get this out of the way — do NOT offer a “coronavirus removal” service to your customers. It’s impossible to guarantee you can kill potential coronavirus lurking in a vehicle, so you’re just setting yourself up for a lawsuit when the dust settles. Why is it impossible to guarantee? Well, here’s what current science is saying about combating coronavirus:

How Long Does It Last On Surfaces?

Right now a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine estimates SARS-CoV-2 can last:

  • 4 hours on copper
  • 24 hours on cardboard
  • 72 hours on plastic and steel

Now, these estimates can all vary based on temperature, humidity, and other variables. But they do go to show that the only surefire way to kill any and all coronavirus is to wait. In a March 24th podcast, Renny Doyle of Detailing Success said he would wait at least 96 hours before touching a car interior that could be coronavirus-infected, just to be sure every last virus was dead. This was based on the word of a CDC rep who states that it is currently unknown how long the virus can last on carpeting and upholstery.

So unless you’re letting customer cars sit untouched for 3 days (or more) before you get to work, it’s misleading to say you offer a coronavirus killing service. In fact, if a customer asks how they can kill coronavirus in their car, let them know the best way is to simply leave their car quarantined for a week.

What If I Have The Right Chemicals, or the Right Tools?

Scientists tell us that the SARS-CoV-2 has a fatty membrane surrounding it. That means you can kill the virus pretty easily with soap and water, or alcohol. Alcohol is by far the most effective, but it can be difficult to get right now because of how crucial that ingredient is to fighting corona for EMS and healthcare facilities.

What about heat? It is true that extreme heat causes coronavirus proteins (the infecting mechanism) to break down. By that logic, perhaps a carpet steamer could kill coronavirus? Possibly. While professional-quality steamers do get hot enough to kill the virus, it’s possible to miss hard-to-reach areas or even transfer the virus with the motions of the steamer nozzle. Could be effective, but there’s no 100% guarantee here.

UV light, perhaps? UV light does break down the RNA coronavirus uses to replicate, and it’s been a proven virucide for the last century. That being said, it’s tough to get it to work 100%, and it can’t be used around humans as it damages our cells, too, not just viruses.

Then there’s the question of protection. IDA is recommending detailers, per the CDC, use proper PPE (personal protective equipment) if continuing operations. Otherwise, you’d be going into corona-laden vehicles and spreading the virus to everyone you interact with. So how do you get this stuff? Not easily. Even hospitals are having trouble sourcing PPE. It’s pretty much impossible to get for a small business that isn’t servicing EMS vehicles. Using more readily-available, non-medical grade masks, gloves and protective coverings is better than nothing, but it’s still hard to beat the real deal.

So, based on that criteria, most detailers just aren’t equipped to battle coronavirus. They can defend against it, sure, but total elimination can never be a surefire thing. It’s best to be honest and not claim you can 100% kill the virus.

Am I Essential Business?

With many states closing non-essential businesses, the question on many business owners’ minds is, “Am I essential business?” There are no easy answers here, but there is an argument to be made that detailers ARE essential business:

  • Many detailers service police and EMS vehicles
  • Detailers sanitize vehicles & promote public health
  • Detailers clean and protect parts of car essential to safe operation (think visibility – windows, headlights)
  • Detailers, per the NAICS, are considered a subset of auto repair, which most governments recognize as essential business

If your state has closed non-essential business, work with local authorities to determine whether auto detailing has an “essential business” designation. Be sure to use information provided by the IDA to assist in showing authorities the essentialness of detailing.

It’s possible, however, that your state or municipality will not deem auto detailing essential business. Per a CDC rep quoted in the previously mentioned podcast, unless you’re servicing 65+% EMS vehicles and you’ve got EMS-level PPE, the CDC does not consider auto detailers essential business. There is a chance your local government will have the same opinion. So be prepared for this possibility.

I Was Designated Essential Business What Do I Need To Be Doing?

If you were successful in being designated “essential business”, here’s how you should be keeping your shop safe:

  1. Follow CDC disinfection guidelines when disinfecting your shop. 
  2. Minimize the need to touch surfaces.
    • If you have lots of doors with handles in your shop, try keeping them propped open so doorknob traffic is eliminated. 
  3. Practice social distancing with customers.
    • Have a dropbox for key fobs. Don’t accept cash. Consider closing your waiting area. 
  4. Reduce number of employees working at once. 
    • Get your team down to a skeleton crew. The less employees showing up to work, the less vectors for virus transmission. If someone can work from home, they should be working from home.
  5. Switch to appointment only and limit hours.
    • Again, the less customers showing up at once, the less vectors for transmission. Limiting hours will also limit chances for transmission to occur.
  6. Listen to the industry.
    • This is an important time to look to industry leaders for guidance. Pay attention to the IDA’s messaging, read and listen to what top detailers are saying about this crisis. Now more than ever we need to rely on each other for guidance.

I Had To Close — What Now?

Don’t panic. There’s still plenty you can do to ensure you start thriving when the lockdowns lift:

  1. Educate yourself.
    • Bone up on technique, research new products, test new equipment. Your shop may be closed, but it’s still your R&D facility. 
  2. Optimize your operation.
    • This is the time to break out the books and analyze inefficiencies. What are you doing to ensure profitability when business is back? Are you prepared for customers to return? Make sure your shop is in tip-top shape — do basic maintenance, get things clean, make sure your equipment works.
  3. Keep your audience active.
    • Do you do a lot of business with social media? E-mail marketing? You need to keep these audiences hot while your business is cold. Get in your garage and shoot some videos. Get behind the keyboard and write some blogs. Whatever you can do to keep your audience engaged so they’re ready to convert when they’re out of quarantine. 
  4. Prepare for post-quarantine detailing needs.
    • When the coronavirus has finally run its course, there’s a good chance people will be rushing to detailers for interior treatments. Not only have their cars been festering during quarantine, but they’re also more primed than ever to value cleanliness. Suddenly every spill, crumb and stain becomes a reminder that bacteria and viruses lurk everywhere. So make sure you’ve got all the equipment you need for a killer interior service — ozone machines, steamers, vacuums, etc.

Hopefully this article gives professional detailers a better idea of what they can do during this coronavirus epidemic. While you may not be equipped to battle coronavirus head-on, there’s at least arguments to be made you are still essential business. And if you do end up having to close, there’s plenty you can do to ensure you come out on top when things return to normalcy.


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