• Exposure to chemicals in hand sanitisers, higher sun protection factor sunscreens and insect repellent can prematurely age surfaces that are touched by people inside the car
  • The European market for sanitiser, which commonly contains ethanol, is expected to increase by 60 per cent between 2018 and 2024; higher factor sunscreen recommended by experts can contain increased quantities of ingredients that may damage car interiors
  • Ford helps ensure customers’ vehicles look great for longer, and when they come to sell them, by ensuring interiors can withstand these and other new challenges by testing materials in extreme conditions

COLOGNE, Germany, June 14, 2019 – Bought in ever increasing quantities, hand sanitisers and higher sun protection factor lotion may be good for our health but they can be bad news for our cars. Chemicals found in some such products can react with surfaces, causing them to wear prematurely unless they are protected by special finishes.

This is a challenge that Ford engineers deal with daily, continually testing new products on the materials that are used in its vehicles and supporting the development of resistant coatings that can ensure they look good for years to come.

“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.”

The European market for hand sanitiser, including gel, foam and wipes, many of which contain ethanol, is expected to rise by 60 per cent, from $371.92 million in 2018, to $593.62 million by 2024. Higher sun protection factor lotions contain greater quantities of titanium oxide that can react with plastics and natural oils that are found in leather, especially when it is hot. Diethyltoluamide, or DEET, is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents.

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 test plastics for strength at temperatures as low as -30°C when they become most brittle, repeatedly bouncing a rubber ball – that is ten times heavier than a regulation football – to ensure the plastic doesn’t crack.

Based on the findings, the chemical constitution of protective coatings can then be reformulated so that interiors are protected. This helps Ford in its aim to keep interiors looking good for the lifetime of the vehicle, which can help owners when it’s time to sell their car. Testing also applies to storage accessories, sold through Ford Customer Service Division, such as boot liners and interior plastic covers.

“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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About Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company is a global company based in Dearborn, Michigan. The company designs, manufactures, markets and services a full line of Ford cars, trucks, SUVs, electrified vehicles and Lincoln luxury vehicles, provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company and is pursuing leadership positions in electrification, autonomous vehicles and mobility solutions. Ford employs approximately 196,000 people worldwide. For more information regarding Ford, its products and Ford Motor Credit Company, please visit www.corporate.ford.com.


Ford of Europe is responsible for producing, selling and servicing Ford brand vehicles in 50 individual markets and employs approximately 49,000 employees at its wholly owned facilities and approximately 63,000 people when joint ventures and unconsolidated businesses are included. In addition to Ford Motor Credit Company, Ford Europe operations include Ford Customer Service Division and 23 manufacturing facilities (16 wholly owned or consolidated joint venture facilities and seven unconsolidated joint venture facilities). The first Ford cars were shipped to Europe in 1903 – the same year Ford Motor Company was founded. European production started in 1911.