Airplane Seats (Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash)
Photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash

How to Clean an Airplane Seat and Other Germy Surfaces on the Plane

If you’ve ever watched from the gate as your plane lands, disembarks passengers, and boards your group in under an hour, you know there isn’t nearly enough time for a deep cleaning between every flight. So those seats you and your family are about to settle into for the next few hours? Chances are they’re practically swimming in germs.

Studies have shown that tray tables (yes, the one that you’re about to eat on) are even dirtier than airplane bathrooms. And they’re not the only part of the airplane seat you’ll need to worry about. Protect yourself by learning how to clean an airplane seat.

The Filthy Five: These Are the Germiest Surfaces on the Plane

A recent investigation by the consumer advocate news series Marketplace revealed that the dirtiest surfaces on an airplane are (in order):

  1. Headrest
  2. Seat pocket
  3. Bathroom door handle
  4. Tray table
  5. Seat belt

How to Clean and Disinfect an Airplane Seat

To clean your airplane seat, use a disinfectant wipe to thoroughly wipe down the entire seat. Pay special attention to the headrest (any paper or cloth covering over the headrest likely hasn’t been changed in a while), the seatbelt, arm rest, tray table, and the entertainment system screen and controller. Seatback pockets are tough to fully sanitize, so try to avoid using those as much as possible. You can bring your own seatback organizer if you want to keep all your essentials easily accessible without all the germs.

Studies have shown that tray tables are even dirtier than airplane bathrooms.

Note that a regular sanitizing wipe can sometimes wreak havoc on a touchscreen, so you may want to bring along a travel-sized disinfectant wipe that’s specially designed for electronics. Use that on your personal TV screen, lest you sabotage your only hope of entertainment for the plane ride. (Or better yet, bring your own tablet and headphones.) Save an extra disinfectant wipe for the bathroom door handle, too.

Disinfectant Wipes vs. Sanitizing Wipes

Be sure that you’re choosing a disinfectant wipe, and not a sanitizing wipe, to clean your airplane seat, as only wipes labeled as a disinfectant will kill viruses.

Pack lots of travel-sized disinfectant wipes so that you can properly saturate each area that you’re cleaning, as the surface will need to stay wet for around four minutes to properly kill germs.

Your aisle-mates will either think you’re crazy or genius—so it’s always nice to have an extra wipe or two on-hand to share the cleanliness wealth.

After you’ve wiped down your seat, clean your hands with hand sanitizer (not a disinfectant wipe, most of which are not designed to be used on skin). Then sit back and recline—or not, depending on your moral stance on the issue—and enjoy the ride in your clean airplane seat.

Caroline Teel
Caroline Teel is a proud (but sometimes neglectful) plant parent. As an experienced travel writer, she’s traveled to all seven continents but still has hundreds of places on her bucket list. Caroline has been published on SmarterTravel, The Sun, Jetsetter, TripAdvisor, Business Insider, and more.