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How Long Can Coronavirus Survive on Clothes?

April 14, 2020 - Katie McCallum

Right now, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic likely has you armed to disinfect every commonly touched surface in your home. You may also be wiping down or sanitizing anything that comes inside, like food, packages and the high-touch items where germs are likely to hide (like your phone, purse, wallet and keys).

But what about your clothes? After a trip to the grocery store, is it possible that your clothes are contaminated with coronavirus?

Can coronavirus live on your clothes?

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is new, and experts are still learning about how the virus spreads.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most likely way for the virus to spread is through close contact with someone who's infected (even if they don't know it). This is why continuing to practice social distancing is so important.

However, early laboratory evidence also suggests that coronavirus can survive on plastic and stainless steel surfaces anywhere from hours to a few days. This is why it's important to wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces every day.

Unfortunately, the same study didn't examine how long the virus can survive on fabrics — so it remains a possibility that coronavirus can live on clothes for several hours.

Despite the little information we have about the survivability of coronavirus on your clothes, we do know a few other helpful things. Experts have found that viruses similar to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 survive best on smooth, hard surfaces — such as door knobs.

On the other hand, soft, porous surfaces — such as the sleeves of your shirt — actually limit the likelihood of spreading these viruses for two reasons:

  • These viruses are more likely to get trapped within the fibers and weave of permeable surfaces like fabric, making it less likely for the virus to later transfer to your hand, face or another surface.
  • These viruses are much less infective (potentially non-infective) when dried out, and fabrics are more likely to absorb and suck water away from a virus.

 

And while many news outlets are reporting that coronavirus can survive on shoes, particularly the soles of shoes, keep in mind that the referenced studies examined only the shoes of medical staff who are caring for COVID-19 positive patients in ICUs — and that hospitals are taking extreme precautions to prevent the virus from coming in or out of ICU facilities. The study did not examine the likelihood of finding coronavirus on shoes worn by the general public.

When in doubt, do some laundry

While the chances of getting COVID-19 via contaminated clothing are likely pretty low, you may still ascribe to the "better safe than sorry" mantra.

If you're worried that your clothes may have been contaminated while at the store or another public space where social distancing is challenging, toss them into the washing machine when you get home. Standard laundry detergents should be sufficient to wash and sanitize your clothes.

If you're taking care of someone who has COVID-19, there are extra precautions the CDC recommends when it comes to handling and washing clothing, including:

  • Wearing gloves while handling a sick person's laundry, and then washing your hands after removing the gloves
  • Avoiding shaking dirty laundry
  • Using your washing machine's warmest water setting, when possible
  • Cleaning and disinfecting laundry hampers regularly or using a disposable bag liner

 

In addition, if you rely on a communal space to wash your clothes, such as a laundromat, you may also want to take these extra precautions:

  • Continue to social distance. Make sure you keep six feet between yourself and others, even in that cramped laundry room in your building.
  • Lessen the amount of time you spend there. Consider sorting and folding your clothes at home and avoid hanging out at the laundromat between wash cycles or loads.
  • Carry hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Before and after touching communal washing machines, sanitize your hands and wipe down handles, buttons and knobs.

 

A quick word on coronavirus and your cloth mask

Public health officials are now recommending that healthy people consider wearing a cloth face covering when out in public spaces where social distancing is difficult — including grocery stores and drug stores — especially if you live in an area with community spread.

The CDC recommends washing your cloth mask in your washing machine using household laundry detergent regularly, depending on frequency of use. This means that the more often you wear your cloth mask, the more often it should be washed. In addition, if a washing cycle damages or misshapes your cloth mask, it's time to make a new one.

 

Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.
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