Is your van dashboard hidden under take-away wrappers and old newspapers?

Footwells that are knee-deep in rubbish and the stains of spilled drinks on upholstery may be a common laughing matter among working drivers. But perhaps it’s time to realise there could a serious side to keeping your car, van or truck a bit cleaner on the inside.

Alarming research has found that many of our vehicle interiors are so dirty and neglected that they pose a health risk. For professional drivers who spend much of their lives in that environment this could be worrying news.

Two scientific surveys have discovered disturbing levels of harmful bacteria inside UK vehicles. One found steering wheels covered with nine times more germs than a public toilet seat. Another discovered bugs that can cause food poisoning growing under a vehicle’s seats.

A high proportion of drivers eat and drink at the wheel and half of us confess to spilling drinks and dropping bits of food occasionally. A third of drivers sometimes carry animals in their vehicles. Yet researchers found only a third cleaned their interior even once a year. One in ten NEVER cleaned inside.

In one study for retailer B&Q, Dr Ron Cutler, director of biomedical science at Queen Mary University, London, said: “Most people clean their homes but many are neglecting to clean their cars and are driving around in vehicles which resemble a rubbish bin.”

“A car is the perfect place for germs to breed, especially if you eat in it and leave litter or uneaten food around. To avoid potential health risks it would be wise to regularly clean your car inside and out.”

Scientists conducting another survey for Halfords analysed swaps taken from all over a vehicle’s interior and found bugs linked to vomiting, food poisoning and skin infections were common.

Aston University microbiologist Dr Anthony Hilton, said: "People would be horrified at the prospect of eating from a toilet seat; however they ought to be aware that eating from a contaminated dashboard may represent the same health hazards.”

“It is important for people to ensure they do not leave food debris in their cars as bacteria can thrive on even tiny crumbs.”

“Those who eat in their car should treat it as an extension of their home and maintain the same levels of hygiene as they would in their dining room.”

So next time you spill a drink on your seat or throw some rubbish on the floor of your vehicle, think about all the associated health risks that you could be exposing yourself to if you don’t clean it up.

AutoExpress magazine compared vehicle interior cleaners to see which was most effective. See the results here.

And here’s a detailed guide to cleaning vehicle interiors.