Hand sanitiser and suncream could be destroying your car’s interior

Over the summer months, there will be a boom in the volume of sun protection lotion and sun cream bought and used in the UK and across the world. While these products may be good for your health, they could be bad news for your car. Chemicals found in some sun protection lotion and in hand sanitiser products can react with surfaces, causing them to wear prematurely unless they are protected by special finishes. According to new research from Ford engineers, the chemicals in some of these products can be causing damage to interior materials.

“From hand sanitisers to sun lotions to insect repellent, consumer trends are constantly changing, and new products are coming on to the market all the time,” said Mark Montgomery, senior materials engineer at the Materials Technology Centre, Dunton Technical Centre, UK, for Ford of Europe.

“Even the most innocuous seeming product can cause problems when they come into contact with surfaces hundreds and even thousands of times a year.”

New research suggests that the European market for hand sinister is set to rise 60 per cent from $371.92 million in 2018 to $593.62 million by 2024.

Sun protection lotions with higher factor protection contain greater quantities of titanium oxide that can react with plastics and natural oils that are found in leather, especially when it is hot.


The Ford teams in Dunton and Cologne, Germany, test at temperatures that can in some cases reach 74°C – the temperature the inside of a car parked at the beach on a hot day might reach.

In other tests, they simulate extended exposure to the sun, with samples bombarded with ultra‑violet light, equivalent to the brightest place on earth, for up to 1,152 hours (48 days).

They also tested plastics for strength at temperatures as low as -30°C when they become the most brittle, by reportedly bouncing a rubber ball to ensure it doesn’t crack.

Based on the findings, the chemical constitution of protective coatings can then be reformulated so that interiors are protected.

“Sometimes what we do requires a bit of detective work,” said Richard Kyle, materials engineer, also based in Dunton.

“There were instances of particularly high wear in Turkey and we managed to trace it back to ethanol potentially being a contributing factor, and most likely a popular hand sanitiser that contained 80 per cent ethanol – far higher than anything we’d seen before.

“Once we knew what it was, we were able to do something about it.”

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