I know the title of this post reads funny, but stay with me here. Seven years ago, two years after being diagnosed as sensitive to chemicals, I found myself in the position of needing to purchase a car. The car I was driving—although it was a swank model, had leather seats, and a rockin’ stereo—was making me intensely ill, and it wasn’t until I moved to live near the ocean, and recovered somewhat, that I could actually notice how strong the fumes were, how much they were effecting my upper respiratory system, and eyes, and how better I was when not driving it.
Buying a new car was unattainable, due to finances, but just as much so, due to the new materials of plastics, carpets and all the other materials that would have needed to be outgassed. So, I asked around within our local Chemical Sensitivity/MCS organisation, AESSRA and its members, and found a person who’d had success with a second-hand Outback Subaru. Success in that, the materials were less toxic to her; and success in that, the car managed to filter the outside air very well—a bonus, because that’s what I wanted. (Now, I know everybody’s level of sensitivities can be vastly different; and I know that a chemical or natural substance that doesn’t effect one person’s health could turn into a nemesis for another’s. But I figured that the what-type-of-car-do-you-drive? kind of research, I did amongst other people who were sensitive to chemicals, was an awesomely good place to start!)
So that was how I decided on what type of car to buy—the only problem left was: how to find one that didn’t have air-freshener, or overt cleaning chemical residues in it? It took me six months of serious looking before I found the right car. I found most car yards to be useless because of the amount of fragrances in the cars (If the sun was out, I became effected just opening the car door, not even getting in for a test
drive breathe.); however, I did manage to strike an agreement with a few dealers that if the car that I was looking for came in, then they’d call me before cleaning it, making it ready for sale. Lovely car salesmen! But still, as it often happens when people bend over to touch their toes to help the chemically sensitive: it didn’t turn out.
The 1998 Subaru that I eventually found was owned privately: a woman who I found through a cousin of a friend’s sister-in-law was thinking of selling but hadn’t gone to a dealership, or advertised as yet. She hadn’t cleaned the car for years, apart from vacuuming it; however, she did wear perfume, but it was of the dab on oil variety—not a spray. It was ‘White Musk’ from the Body Shop, and it was all she used. However, it was right throughout the car, and it took a bit of time to get ready, but eventually, I was able to drive it without wearing a mask. I wrote a photographic article, ‘How to Have a Low Chemical Car’, about the process, and had it published in Sensitivity Matters in 2007. It was one of my first articles to ever get published, and if I can find a copy, I’ll post and link to it from here. But for now, this car article is just about the steering wheel (because I’ve had to redo it. Read on… ).
Two of the items that had the most fragrance on them, were the seat belts, and the steering wheel. These were almost impossible to clean (but I certainly mastered some fantastic techniques in the process), and the steering wheel turned out to be totally impossible, so a friend helped me seal it. We tried to find a steering wheel cover but they were all vinyl or some other unsuitable material. (There are always sheepskin covers. But for me, sheepskin is mighty fine for a pair of (outgassed) ugg-boots (Hey, I live in the Western Suburbs!) but not fine for breathing in the oils of lanolin, and whatever the manufactures use to ‘cure’ or ‘preserve’ it, in a confined space, like a car’s.) A new steering wheel cost over $800, so sealing it was the only option. But how to do it without it looking hobo or shabby chic? Or damaging the resale value? Well, I’m about to show you—in detail…
But first you need to know: I recovered a few years back, and I took off this ingenious contraption because the perfume that was on it was no longer a problem. It was just a light musky scent, and nothing else. No pain breathing it through my nose; no stinging nostrils; no burning my eyes. And the smell of ‘White Musk’ was barely detectable. Interesting, no? (Later on this year, I really want to do a post on the subject of un-heightened sense of smell and recovery, because I want other sensitive people to know how it was for me.) But because my health is back to where it was then, the steering wheel became a literal headache once again. Driving in the heat, with the windows up (like I have a choice about the windows, yeh?), even with the Foust Air Purifier running and the air conditioning on, my eyes and breathing were effected. And if diesel fumes had made their invasive-health-effecting way into my system, then breathing in the perfume fumes were so much more painful. And not only that, the perfume was sticking to my hands and that was a problem if I touched my face or eye area (not to mention if I—accidentally—picked my nose. Oops ).
Covering it back up was the only option.
(It’s a statement about the nature of chemical sensitivities/MCS that a person can recover enough to tolerate something, and then return back to that state where it’s a problem once again.)
So here it is. How to make your own steering wheel cover!
(Click on an image for a slide show. Oh, and note: my own personal ‘Auto Inspector’ at the end of the series.)
- The Chux SuperWipes came from a supermarket (these are cleaning cloths, unscented, of course). (You could also use old fabric, or rags torn into strips.) The reason for their use is so that the steering wheel is protected from the foil tape’s adhesive residue; therefore, protecting the car’s resale value. The Chux wipes may need to be washed before use; however, I just unwrapped mine from the plastic, leaving them outside in the summer sun for three weeks. (If you are not sensitive to chemicals and you are reading this thinking, “Why would she leave them outside for three weeks?” The answer is this: The cleaning items, fragranced personal care, and laundry products shelved inside supermarkets, out-gass chemicals into the air that permeate into mostly everything else, therefore, all products that come from there need to be aired outside before use, and especially, before coming into my home. (And… you don’t want to know what a loaf of bread smells of… Yep, you guessed it. Cleaning chemicals… ))
- The elastic came from a local haberdashery shop, Spotlight, and cost around $8 a metre. The first batch I bought, which was ribbed elastic, reeked of petrochemicals, and that, on inhalation, caused a headache, stung my eyes, and burned my nose, just after one wash, so I gave up on it (and left it outside, hoping it will air out for another project, otherwise, like most things that don’t air out, I’ll give it away.) and, now I’ve bought another batch, which is not ribbed, it’s smoother, and much thiner; and after one wash, it didn’t cause symptoms. And it didn’t have that synthetic rubber smell, and after three weeks in the sun, it was ready for use. (I’ve found the sun to do a much better job at removing chemicals than washing can. Usually, I’ll give something one to two washes, and then leave it outside for as long as I can. This way, I’m not wasting water.) I imagine you could also use calico? Or organic cotton but I think this might slip off after a few drives, so it’s important to use something that will grip the wheel.
- After completing a smooth wrap with the elastic, the end part needs to be sewn with a curved needle and some strong darning cotton. Just sew it flat where it finishes up.
Now can my readers see how foil can be my BFF (besides that spunky looking Boxer Dog, and the man fixing my car)?
AESSRA: Chemical Sensitivity and MCS
Linda Sepp: MCS Car Repair Safety Precautions
Cellomomcars: New car smell, good, bad or ugly
Claudia S Miller: Diesel Exhaust Amplifies Allergies
Foust Car Purifiers: Report on harmful chemicals in your car