All of us have a tendency to treat the driver’s seat as our personal throne. That’s where we’re in our element, so we get comfortable—and complacent. Whether our fingers were last tapping on our phone screen, grasping the handle of a wrench, or carefully unwrapping a half-melted Hershey bar, we all tend to jump in, tune the radio, adjust the AC, and set a destination on the nav screen—all without first washing our hands.
And if you have a family? Other drivers use the car and its touchscreen, too. Of course, kids can’t resist touching any kind of screen, ever, and who knows where those tiny fingers have been? All parents have swiped their car’s touchscreen and felt… mystery muck. 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 an Automotive Screen Cleaner?
Touchscreens are likely one of the dirtiest, most germ-covered surfaces of any automobile. Sure, your dash gets dusty and your floorboard accumulates (a disturbing amount of) trash. However, it’s that dash-mounted screen 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 perhaps damage the surrounding dashboard.
Sure, it’s cheaper and easier to use plain ol’ Windex or Glass Plus, mainly because you’ve probably already got that stuff. Despite the temptation, though, you should avoid using household glass cleaner on your car’s touchscreen unless you’re positive 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.
A Screen Cleaner Alternative
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 scraping dust particles across the surface of your touchscreen to prevent scratches, so always use a clean microfiber towel.)
Many of the experts and gearheads in our Hearst Autos test garage told us they rarely use any kind of cleaner on their personal touchscreens. Up and down the line, those who saw us testing and photographing screen cleaners—we’re talking about people whose opinions we trust and whose bylines our readers know and respect—told us that whenever they get behind the wheel, they just drip a bit of water onto a clean microfiber towel, and wipe. Done.
As a parent, however, I’m left asking the question: Will a simple water wipe eliminate germs in the family SUV? Yeah, no. Sorry, but knowing my children, and the impressive but disgusting level of filth they can achieve, I’m going to use a cleaning agent on my car’s touchscreen.
How We Tested Screen Cleaners
To get to the bottom of whether car screen cleaners were truly necessary, we used a very scientific methodology. That is, we got our fingers and hands dirty, and touched the heck out of a screen in a test vehicle in the Hearst Autos stable. We let it dry for a while, and then cleaned it according to the product’s instructions. We did that five times.
We first made sure all the products did the job they claimed to do—and they all did. The wipes left droplets on the screen, which required a second wipe with a microfiber. But they all cleaned the chocolate and grease off the screen, leaving it clean and clear.
While using, we looked for any greasy film or residue left behind. We also considered any particularly strong odors, and took note of cleaners that left residual streaks. Most did, but all came away clean with a soft buff—that is to say, a few more gentle wipes with the microfiber towel.
Word to the wise: Don’t discount a screen cleaner because it leaves streaks on your screen. Take your time and do it right. We noticed far too many people online complaining that the product they used wasn’t some sort of magical solution that cleaned perfectly with just one wipe. All screen cleaners—all glass cleaners, really—will streak unless you take the time and care to give the surface a soft buff at the end of the process.
Why Trust Us?
With a combined 206 years of automotive publishing experience, Hearst Autos—Car and Driver, Road & Track, and Autoweek—knows cars better than just about anyone. The Gear Team is committed to delivering honest evaluations, hands-on tests, and product reviews driven by decades of knowledge and experience. We get our hands on almost every product, tool, and piece of gear we feature.
If we can’t get our hands on the gear, we rely on the combined wisdom of our writers and editors, as well as auto 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 we’ve tested something if we haven’t. Learn more about our product testing here.