In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, health organizations around the globe continue to highlight the importance of physical distancing, hand washing, and disinfecting everyday items, such as clothes.
COVID-19 is the disease that the virus SARS-CoV-2 causes. “Co” refers to corona, “vi” to virus, “d” to disease, and 19 to the year 2019.
Although it is still unclear how long SARS-CoV-2 can survive on clothing, experts recommend caution when laundering clothes and other textiles. Taking extra care is especially important for those living with someone who has a suspected or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection and those who have it themselves.
Keep reading to learn more about why disinfection is an important safety measure. We also provide guidance on laundering clothing.
Cleaning and disinfecting are different processes.
Cleaning involves removing dirt and germs from surfaces. While cleaning may lower the risk of spreading infectious agents, such as viruses and bacteria, it does not kill them.
Disinfection requires the use of chemicals that kill germs. Disinfecting hard surfaces and textiles after cleaning them can further reduce the risk of spreading infections.
Public health authorities, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said that SARS-CoV-2 spreads from person to person through indirect and direct contact with respiratory droplets that contain the virus.
Precautions, such as physical distancing, quarantining, and self-isolating, can help reduce the risk of direct transmission. However, respiratory droplets can fall on objects and surfaces. The SARS-CoV-2 can enter a person’s body if they touch these surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Studies suggest that human coronaviruses, such as those responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), can remain on metal, glass, and plastic surfaces for up to 9 days.
Although current research findings and guidance from public health authorities provide insight on how to reduce viral transmission on surfaces, the same is not true for clothing and other textiles.
The authors of a study featuring in The Lancet Microbe reported that SARS-CoV-2 is more stable on smooth surfaces, such as glass or metal.
The authors reported that the virus remained infectious for 3–7 days on glass, stainless steel, and plastic surfaces, and less than 2 days on wood and cloth. Their findings also suggest that SARS-CoV-2 is highly sensitive to heat. After increasing the temperature to 70°C (158°F), the virus became inactive within 5 minutes.
Disinfecting surfaces with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (bleach), 0.5% hydrogen peroxide, or 62–71% ethanol effectively inactivates most coronaviruses, rendering them no longer infectious.
Practicing proper hand hygiene and disinfection protocols at home and in public can help lower the risk of indirect transmission.
In this section, we cover a few basic guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 while doing laundry.
Doing laundry at home
- Launder items with laundry soap or household detergent. Consider using a detergent that contains bleach. However, be sure to read the product description and guidelines to avoid potentially ruining certain clothing items. Consider soaking clothes in a solution containing quaternary ammonium before washing them.
- Choose the warmest available water setting. The WHO recommend water temperatures between 60–90°C (140–194°F). However, high temperatures can damage or shrink delicate clothing items, so remember to read the care labels.
- Dry clothing completely.
- Disinfect laundry baskets with 0.1% sodium hypochlorite or one of these household disinfectants, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have approved.
- Wear gloves when doing laundry. Wash the hands with warm water and soap immediately after removing the gloves. If gloves are not available, wash the hands immediately after handling dirty clothing and avoid touching the face.
Doing laundry at a laundromat
Not everyone has a washing machine in their home. However, those who use laundry facilities can still follow the guidelines that we have listed above.
In addition, consider the following precautions when doing laundry in a public place:
- Maintain a 6-foot (2-meter) distance from other people.
- Wear disposable gloves and avoid touching the face.
- Disinfect the surfaces of the washer and dryer.
- Fold the laundry at home.
- At home, immediately wash the hands before folding the laundry.
- Disinfect the laundry basket or consider using disposable laundry bags.
It is still unclear how long infectious SARS-CoV-2 viruses can stay on different clothing materials.
Current research suggests that the SARS-CoV-2 virus cannot withstand temperatures at or above 70°C (158°F).
Using household disinfectants, such as bleach, may also help inactivate viruses. However, it is important to exercise caution when adding bleach to a load of laundry, as it can damage colored items. People may wish to look for color-safe bleach products to prevent this from occurring.
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