High heat can kill the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Research suggests that exposing a surface to a temperature of at least 158°F (70°C) for 5 minutes deactivates the virus.

This information comes from a 2020 laboratory study.

However, heat may not be a practical or reliable method of protecting against the SARS-CoV-2 virus for several reasons. In home settings, appliances and hot water faucets usually cannot get hot enough to provide the temperatures required to kill SARS-CoV-2.

Read on to learn more about whether heat can kill the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and when and how people can use heat to prevent its spread.

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For more advice on COVID-19 prevention and treatment, visit our coronavirus hub.

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An infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is a type of coronavirus, causes COVID-19. Limited research suggests that, similar to other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is sensitive to high temperatures.

Authors of a 2020 laboratory study found that exposing a surface with SARS-CoV-2 on it to a temperature of 158°F (70°C) for 5 minutes deactivates the virus. This corresponds to the temperatures that deactivate other coronaviruses.

A 2020 review estimates that the following temperatures and exposure times may be enough to deactivate SARS-CoV-2, based on information about the older virus SARS-CoV:

  • above [167°F] (75°C) for 3 minutes (The first value is a correction of a typographical error in the review.)
  • above 149°F (65°C) for 5 minutes
  • above 140°F (60°C) for 20 minutes

However, as these experiments took place in highly controlled laboratories, they do not necessarily reflect how effective heat is at killing the novel coronavirus in more everyday settings, such as hospitals or a person’s home.

Researchers believe SARS-CoV-2 mainly spreads through respiratory droplets, which are droplets that enter the air when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Heat is only useful for sterilization when these droplets land on an object or surface.

Even then, it may not be possible to use temperatures high enough to kill SARS-CoV-2 in the home, as many appliances and faucets cannot provide water hot enough to deactivate the virus.

For this reason, it is best to follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommend cleaning with soaps, detergents, or disinfectants.

According to the CDC, the risk of contracting SARS‐CoV‐2 from food products or packaging is very low. The main route of transmission appears to be through droplets in the air.

It is possible for someone to develop COVID-19 after touching food that contains SARS-CoV-2 and then touching their eyes, mouth, or nose. However, despite the possibility, there are no current cases of COVID-19 that doctors can attribute to contact with contaminated food.

Nevertheless, it is always a good idea to cook food at the recommended temperature to avoid foodborne illnesses. A 2020 review notes that exposure to normal cooking temperatures will kill viruses in food, including SARS-CoV-2.

Other things people can do to enjoy food safely include:

  • washing the hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before handling food or eating
  • cooking foods until they are thoroughly cooked according to the packet instructions
  • using separate utensils and plates from household members who may have COVID-19
  • bringing separate food, drinks, or cutlery to social gatherings

Most washing machines do not reach temperatures high enough to kill SARS-CoV-2. Machines that can reach temperatures of 158°F (70°C) or above for 5 minutes may be able to do that, but research has not confirmed this.

Similarly, hot water from a faucet will not be hot enough to kill the novel coronavirus. In the United States, water from a faucet cannot reach above 120°F (49°C).

The CDC recommends laundering clothes at the warmest possible temperature and then allowing them to dry completely to reduce the risk of transmission.

People should also:

  • regularly disinfect laundry baskets and clothes hampers
  • dry laundry away from people who may have COVID-19
  • wash the hands thoroughly after handling unwashed or wet laundry

It is safe to wash laundry from someone who has COVID-19 together with laundry from other people. However, the person doing the laundry should wear a face mask and protective gloves, particularly when handling unwashed clothing, bedding, or towels from the person with the virus.

In some cases, it is not safe to rely on heat for protection against SARS-CoV-2. This may be because the heat source cannot get hot enough for long enough or because exposure to such high temperatures would be dangerous.

The following sources do not provide enough heat to kill SARS-CoV-2:

  • dishwashers, which usually heat at or below 135°F (57°C)
  • hot drinking water
  • hot baths
  • hair dryers
  • warm or hot weather
  • saunas and steam rooms

People should not use heat to kill SARS-CoV-2 on or inside the body. The temperatures that kill SARS-CoV-2 are unsafe for humans and animals and will cause burns.

Even if an individual has a fever, coronaviruses remain alive at these body temperatures.

However, people can use appropriate soaps and cleansers externally on the skin to remove viruses.

Cleaning and disinfecting objects, surfaces, and clothing helps stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Other ways to prevent transmission in the home include:

  • regularly cleaning frequently touched electronic devices, such as phones and tablets
  • regularly cleaning high-touch surfaces, such as door handles, light switches, and dining tables
  • cleaning any surfaces that are visibly dirty
  • washing home furnishings, such as cushions, blankets, and drapes
  • taking extra precautions if someone in the home has COVID-19, such as wearing gloves and a face mask when cleaning or entering their room, using disinfectants to sterilize surfaces and objects, and keeping their trash separated and in a sealed bag

Use products that are suitable for each surface and follow the instructions on the label.

Other important precautions to take against COVID-19 include:

  • Getting the vaccine: In the U.S., the COVID-19 vaccine is available for free for people over the age of 12. The vaccine is safe and effective, especially against severe illness and death with COVID-19.
  • Physical distancing: Within the home, avoid close contact with people who have COVID-19. Outside of the home, stay 6 feet away from those who are not household members. This distance is approximately two arm lengths.
  • Wearing a face mask: Anyone who has not received the vaccine, who is 2 years old or older, and who does not have a conflicting medical condition should wear a face mask in indoor settings outside of the home. It is not necessary to wear a mask outdoors unless someone is in an area with a high number of COVID-19 cases, or if physical distancing outdoors is not possible.
  • Avoiding poorly ventilated spaces and crowds: When indoors, open windows and doors to allow in fresh air. As much as possible, avoid public indoor areas that do not have a source of fresh air. Being in crowded indoor areas, such as movie theaters and bars, increases the risk of transmission.
  • Covering coughs and sneezes: If wearing a face mask, cough into it, but afterward, change into a clean mask. When not wearing a mask, cough or sneeze into the crook of the elbow. In either case, wash the hands afterward.
  • Washing the hands often: Use soap and water to wash the hands for 20 seconds, particularly after coughing, sneezing, blowing the nose, or being in a public place.
  • Watching for symptoms: Watch for coughing, shortness of breath, fever, and other symptoms of COVID-19. If symptoms develop, stay at home and follow the advice of the local health authority for getting tested.

Mask recommendations

The CDC recommends that people who are not fully vaccinated wear cloth face masks in indoor public settings. If case numbers are high in the area, it may be best to wear a mask outdoors, as well.

This will help slow the spread of the virus from people who do not know that they have contracted it, including those who are asymptomatic. Note: It is critical that surgical masks and N95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers.

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Evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 becomes deactivated at a temperature of 158°F (70°C) after 5 minutes of exposure.

However, although high temperatures can sterilize objects that may have come into contact with SARS‐CoV‐2, this means killing the virus is not always reliable, achievable, or safe to try at home.

Using warm water and an appropriate soap or detergent can effectively clean surfaces and objects that may have come into contact with the novel coronavirus.

People can also use hand soaps and alcohol gel to clean their hands, and normal cooking temperatures to ensure their food is safe.