Laundry Resources

How Long Coronavirus Lives On Clothes, And How To Wash Them

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The best precautions to take with your laundry, the right detergents to use, and more.

As we grow more and more aware of precautions we should take in light of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re bombarded with questions on how we should wash and disinfect household items, including clothing.

Social media is saturated with a lot of misleading information at the moment, so we asked a handful of experts (doctors and epidemiologists included) to answer all your questions concerning clothing and the coronavirus. Keep in mind, specific research has yet to be done on how this new coronavirus interacts with clothes. But whether you’re wondering about hand-washing, how to approach the laundromat or what temperature you should really be washing your clothes at, we’ve got some guidance.

How long can the coronavirus live on clothing?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is usually transmitted through respiratory droplets (from an infected person sneezing or coughing) rather than through fomites, objects and materials that when contaminated can transfer disease. However, the CDC notes that evidence suggests that the novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, which includes clothing.

“We know that the droplet can dry out under some conditions, which may be faster with natural fibers,” Winner told HuffPost. “We’re hearing that heat and humidity can affect viral survival on surfaces, but remember, it’s 80 degrees (Fahrenheit) in Australia, and Tom Hanks still got it.”

Are certain types of fabrics more susceptible to the virus than others?

Robert Amler, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College and a former CDC chief medical officer, told HuffPost that the duration of the virus depends on the fabric, as some materials are more porous than others.

“Some researchers believe the fibers in porous material catch the virus particles, dry them out and break them apart,” Amler said. “Smooth surfaces like leather and vinyl can be wiped clean.”

Family and emergency Dr. Janette Nesheiwat suggested that polyester, spandex-like material may retain germs longer than breathable cotton-based fabrics, making it important to wash leggings, underwear and dresses carefully (more on how to do that later!).

While guidelines encourage social distancing (personal distancing of six feet) to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, public health specialist Carol Winner said laundromats are generally safe to go to, if you take the right precautions.
While guidelines encourage social distancing (personal distancing of six feet) to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, public health specialist Carol Winner said laundromats are generally safe to go to, if you take the right precautions.

“Polyester spandex-like material may retain germs longer than cotton-based fabrics, but all types of fabrics can be contaminated,” Nesheiwat said.

As information and research pertaining to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to evolve, Winner stressed that so far studies focused on it tells us about the virus’ ability to remain on surfaces such as cardboard, steel, copper and plastic-door knobs and high-traffic areas.

“The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has told us that some viruses can remain active after two or three days on plastic and stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard and four hours on copper,” she said. Be aware that some of your buttons, zippers and other clothing hardware could be made of those materials.

Is it safe to go to the laundromat right now?

For individuals who don’t have access to a laundry machine and dryer in their home or apartment, laundromats are a crucial way to clean clothes.

And while current CDC guidelines encourage social distancing (personal distancing of six feet) to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, Winner said laundromats are generally safe to go to ― if the right precautions are taken, of course.

These typically include protective measures such as wearing gloves, washing your hands, not touching your face and disinfecting all surfaces of the machines you use.

“The only way the viral particles become active is to get into your mouth, nose and eyes, so if you wear gloves, don’t touch your face and remove them properly following CDC’s guidelines, you should be fine,” she explained.

However, if you do not have access to gloves, she added that sanitizing your hands while at, and before leaving, the laundromat, can help. Additionally, you’ll also want to wash your hands for up to 20 to 30 seconds once arriving at home.

If you’re concerned about whether your clothes will come out of a shared laundry machine safely, Dr. Georgine Nanos said not to worry.

“Yes, it is safe to use [a shared laundry machine] right now because the virus is killed by washing your clothes over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, from what we currently understand,” she said. “The more challenging issue is going to be the social distancing and contact with potentially contaminated surfaces and people in the laundromat. Not the laundry itself.”

What temperature should I wash my clothes at?

When it comes time to wash clothes, Winner said there are specific guidelines you’ll want to follow in order to help kill the virus. This includes using the hot water setting on your washing machine and giving your clothes some extra time and heat in the dyer.

“Whenever possible, use the hot water setting, as it helps to kill the virus,” she said. “Extra heat, and time in the dryer, do make sense, as the droplets should dry out, which would likely inactivate the virus.”

However, while Nanos agreed about washing clothes in hot water, she warned against boiling them in high temperatures.

“If you can wash your clothes in the hottest water possible recommended for that material, that would be ideal,” Nanos said. “However, please don’t ruin all your clothes by boiling everything, as that will add more stress and anxiety that none of us need right now.”

What kind of detergent should I use?

Rodney E. Rohde, chair and professor of the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State University, reiterated the importance of washing clothes in warm or hot water, but also advised paying attention to the detergent you are using.

“I would recommend that you wash clothes in detergents that contain a bleach compound,” Rohde told HuffPost. “Viruses do not do well at all in this type of harsh environment.”

The American Chemistry Council has compiled a list of products (detergents included) to use against emerging enveloped viral pathogens and COVID-19.

If you don’t have access to a machine, is hand-washing effective?

If you don’t have access to laundry facilities, Nanos said that “you can hand wash your clothes at home as long as you can get the temperature above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.” She added that it remains “easier and faster if you can wash your clothes in a regular washing machine, which is still totally safe and will kill the virus even if you were washing your clothes with sick people‘s clothes.”

How often should you wash your clothing?

While some people may wait to do their laundry until they’re faced with big piles of it, Winner recommended regularly washing your clothes, especially if you are still required to report to work or have been in crowded areas.

It’s best, as always, to regularly wash your clothes,” she said. “If you have been in a crowded area, you might want to remove your clothing when you come into the house and put it in the laundry container or washer to be prudent.”

This also extends to outwear; Nanos suggested it’s wise to wash coats often.

“You should wash your coat if you are using your elbows or your sleeves to touch frequently used items and potentially contaminated surfaces such as elevator buttons, handrails and door handles,” she said.

“Do not treat your clothing with Lysol,” Nesheiwat said. “However, there are anti-germal clothing sprays that can be used.”

Should I remove my clothing when returning home from work each day?

Since the goal is block exposure to the coronavirus, Amler advised changing your clothes if you are still reporting to work daily or are commuting in large crowd environments.

“You should change your clothes and wash them any time others have touched them or you have been in large group gatherings,” he said.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to change in the garage to avoid contact with clean clothing, according to Nanos; she advised getting in the habit in keeping these clothes stored in a separate bag.

“Being in health care for most of my life, I’ve always done this anyway, as I am exposed to more infectious diseases than most people,” she said. “So I agree it’s good practice ― maybe not necessarily stripping down in the garage, but at least getting in the habit of putting on other clothes and shoes once getting home.”

Should a sick person wash their clothing separately?

This question has probably crossed everyone’s mind, especially in households with more than two people.

“It’s best to wash a sick person’s clothing separately always,” Nesheiwat said. “Clothing can carry staph, E.coli, flu, etc.”

How cleaning your laundry can help contain COVID-19

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How cleaning your laundry can help contain COVID-19

Written by Mark Brezinski


Updated March 11, 2020

As the number of COVID-19 infections worldwide continues to rise, it’s important for us all to do our part in limiting its spread. The best way to do that is simply by frequently and thoroughly washing your hands. But what about your clothes?

According to the CDC, coronaviruses like COVID-19 can survive on surfaces anywhere from a few hours to a few days. While it’s more likely to catch COVID-19 from hard surfaces that are frequently touched, like door knobs or railings, there is still a chance it can be transmitted via your clothes.

Coronavirus COVID-19 Doing laundry

Credit: Yana Tikhonova
Washing your laundry can help clean away COVID-19, preventing it from infecting you or others.

The facts about viruses living on clothing

While research is still being done, we do know COVID-19 is mainly being spread via droplets emitted during coughing or sneezing. As such, the most effective precautionary measures are to:

  • Stay two meters away from anyone who’s coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

It’s currently not known how well this specific strain of coronavirus can survive by clinging to materials such as cloth. If it’s similar to past strains of the virus, it could survive anywhere from about two hours to a few days.

What we do know is that soft surfaces, like your clothes, are likely to be worse incubators for COVID-19 than hard, frequently-touched surfaces, like door knobs and countertops. When dealing with hard surfaces, a simple disinfectant should suffice-the EPA has posted a list of cleaners that should be effective at sanitizing surfaces after exposure to COVID-19.

Coronavirus COVID-19 handwashing

Credit: Nattakorn Maneerat
Thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to stave off spreading or contracting COVID-19.

Should you change the way you do laundry?

While the CDC doesn’t specifically outline any changes to your typical laundry routine, they do provide a list of best practices when doing laundry for someone who’s ill:

  • Ideally, wear disposable gloves and discard them after each use. When using reusable gloves, only use those gloves for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces infected with COVID-19—do not use them for any other household purpose. Wash your hands immediately after using the gloves.
  • If you aren’t using gloves when handling dirty laundry, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands afterwards.
  • Try to not shake the dirty laundry. Shaking the laundry carries a possibility of dispersing the virus through the air.
  • If possible, use the warmest water setting on your washer and ensure items are dried completely afterwards.
  • Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
  • If possible, consider placing a bag liner in your hamper that’s disposable or can be laundered. Otherwise, ensure the hamper itself is washed and sanitized.

How often should you be washing clothes right now?

Unless you’re actively dealing with someone infected with COVID-19, you can keep washing your laundry the normal amount. If you are coming into contact with someone infected with the virus, however, it’s probably a good idea to launder your clothes afterwards to ensure you’re limiting the virus’s ability to spread.

Again, while doing your laundry can help reduce some risk of spreading the virus, it’s nowhere near as effective as consistently washing your hands.

Does washing clothes kill viruses like coronavirus?

This is a tricky question, because the technically correct answer might be misleading. In short, no, washing your clothes won’t kill COVID-19, but it will still clean it off of your clothes.

The CDC offers these definitions for “cleaning” and “disinfecting”:

  • Cleaning refers to the removal of germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces. Cleaning does not kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting refers to using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.

Basically, washing your clothes will clean them, but won’t disinfect them. Even if your washer and dryer have sanitize modes, those are unlikely to kill the virus. According to our in-house laundry expert, lab manager Jonathan Chan, “Flu viruses denature at about 167°F—most sanitize cycles don’t go above 150°F.” Fortunately, you don’t really need to kill COVID-19, you just need to get rid of it. And that’s where cleaning your clothes can help. During the wash cycle, the agitation and detergent will likely scrub the COVID-19 off the infected clothes and flush it out with the wastewater.

Can you get coronavirus from using a laundromat or your apartment’s laundry facilities?

The most likely way you would contract COVID-19 from a public laundry facility is by touching hard surfaces that were recently touched by someone infected with COVID-19, such as the handle to a washer or dryer. As such, just make sure you wash your hands after using the facility. Even if someone has done a big load of laundry that’s covered in COVID-19, it will likely have flushed out with the wastewater during a wash.

Coronavirus COVID-19 laundry facility

Credit: Srongkrod
While your clothes are unlikely to pick up COVID-19 from the laundromat, you should still wash your hands after interacting with frequently-touched surfaces like doors and countertops.

The bottom line: Do your laundry, but really focus on keeping your hands washed

Again, while it’s a good idea to wash your laundry—especially if you’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19—you’re unlikely to spread the virus via unwashed clothes. It’s not impossible, just unlikely. It’s far more important to simply stay two meters away from folks who are coughing or sneezing and to remember to keep thoroughly washing your hands.

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