Can clothes carry coronavirus? Yes, but proper washing can rid of it
How long exactly viruses can live on these surfaces varies but one thing is clear: washing clothes properly can eliminate them
Mar 19, 2020
Previously, we’ve outlined a guide on how to disinfect your phone, acknowledging that objects with metal, glass and plastic surfaces can harbor coronaviruses up to nine days, according to a review of studies done by a group of German researchers.
However, as more research is yet to be done specifically on SARS-CoV-2 also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19, we have yet to determine how long exactly they can live on varying surfaces and conditions.
How long can coronavirus live on clothes?
One of the most searched queries on the internet now includes disinfecting everyday objects like our clothes. The answers vary as to how long coronavirus can live on clothing, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that evidence suggests that it can last from several hours to days.
It’s important to note that the mode of transmission of coronavirus is through respiratory droplets and transmission to persons from contaminated surfaces has not been documented. According to public health specialist Carol Winner in an interview with HuffPost, these droplets can often stick to our clothes and eventually dry up disarming the virus. But how long it takes to dry varies depending on what type of material your clothes are made of.
What types of fabric are likely to be prone to contamination?
Another study focusing particularly on SARS-CoV-2 done by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana, points out that materials with absorbent natural fibers may cause the virus to dry up more quickly. That’s because they pull moisture away from the virus and cause it to degrade, according to previous studies on influenza viruses.
But since the proliferation of fast fashion and the rise of athleisure, more and more clothes are now manufactured with plastic derivatives such as polyester and spandex. Plus, there are accouterments like zippers and buttons that are often made of plastic or metal, which carry viruses longer. Thus, particular care must be paid to gym clothes, leggings, outerwear and underwear among others.
Other articles of clothing that are less porous and breathable as cotton such as leather and vinyl can be wiped clean.
So, how do we ensure that washing takes away these viruses?
Wash and dry in high-temperature setting
As previously mentioned in our guide to disinfecting every room in your house, for those who have washing machines, raising the temperature on your laundry setting can help.
Humidity and higher temperature have been proven by studies to kill coronavirus on surfaces. Previous data compiled by the World Health Organization suggests that heat at 56°C kills the SARS coronavirus at around 10,000 units per 15 min.
Most commercial washing machines’ hot water setting is pegged at 50°C but you’ll have to check your unit’s manual and your clothes’ care instructions to find out if it could stand that heat.
Handwashing is also a viable option given you use warm water with temperature above 80°F.
Machine drying your clothes is also recommended together with keeping articles for an extended time and higher heat.
If washing and drying in high-temperature settings is not doable, simply go about your usual laundry routine and then dry your clothes under direct sunlight.
“Ultraviolet light can be a really powerful disinfectant. Direct sunlight can help rapidly diminish infectivity of viruses on surfaces,” infectious disease expert Daniel Kuritzkes told NPR.
Use detergent with bleach
Choosing your detergent is just as important as temperature to rid your clothes of viruses. Experts suggest using one with a bleach compound, as viruses tend to weaken in their presence.
Wash your clothes often
This is necessary if you still report to work, especially for frontliners or normal citizens after a grocery run. Outerwear like coats and jackets should also be washed frequently, instead of waiting for laundry to pile up.
For those who are fortunate enough to stick to the quarantine in the comfort of their homes, if there is no outside contact, and if you are sure that everyone in the household is in good health, you may still follow our guide to sustainably caring for clothes.
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