How long does COVID-19 live on fabric? Can you get the coronavirus from clothes? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends steps for cleaning laundry and fabric that may have been exposed to germs, while studies show the virus might live on clothes for up to 24 hours.
If you’ve been outside and you’re coming back to your home, you may be wondering if you are tracking coronavirus germs with you and how COVID-19 may have followed you into your family’s territory. A research letter published by The New England Journal of Medicine details study results on how long COVID-19 lives on surfaces and in the air. But it didn’t spell out how long – or if – the coronavirus can live on fabric or clothing.
The study found the virus can remain in the air for up to three hours, on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel for up to two to three days. An expert told The New York Times that fabric and clothing is a comparable surface to cardboard, so the coronavirus may be able to live on clothes for 24 hours.
Here’s what you need to know:
Experts Say the Coronavirus Droplets Are Likely to Travel Around Clothes & Fabrics But May Live on Them for 24 Hours
The length of time the coronavirus can live anywhere depends on a huge number of factors, and because COVID-19 is a new disease, we are learning more about how the virus is spread every day. One of the most widely cited studies to determine how long the coronavirus can live in the air and on surfaces was published in The New England Journal of Medicine on April 16. Among the published results were determinations of how long the virus can live in the air and on certain materials. However, researchers didn’t specifically look at how long the virus can live on clothes.
Clothing often consists of multiple materials, including fabric, plastic and even metal. The study showed the coronavirus can live on plastic for up to three days. It can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours, which is probably the most comparable material to fabric, Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech, told The New York Times.
However, droplets from the coronavirus are unlikely to settle on clothing, Marr told the newspaper. To understand why requires a basic lesson in aerodynamics.
“A droplet that is small enough to float in air for a while also is unlikely to deposit on clothing because of aerodynamics,” she said. “The droplets are small enough that they’ll move in the air around your body and clothing.”
Marr continued, explaining why the droplets don’t often land on clothing.
“The best way to describe it is that they follow the streamlines, or air flow, around a person, because we move relatively slowly. It’s kind of like small insects and dust particles flowing in the streamlines around a car at slow speed but potentially slamming into the windshield if the car is going fast enough,” she said. “Humans don’t usually move fast enough for this to happen. As we move, we push air out of the way, and most of the droplets and particles get pushed out of the way, too. Someone would have to spray large droplets through talking — a spit talker — coughing or sneezing for them to land on our clothes. The droplets have to be large enough that they don’t follow the streamlines.”
More information can be gleaned from a 2005 study on the lifespan of SARS. Researchers looked at how long the virus could live on personal protective equipment, like a disposable gown and a cotton gown. They found it took five minutes, three hours or 24 hours for the virus to become inactive, depending on its concentration.
“The risk of infection via contact with droplet-contaminated paper is small,” researchers concluded. “Absorbent material, such as cotton, is preferred to nonabsorptive material for personal protective clothing for routine patient care where risk of large spillage is unlikely. The virus is easily inactivated by commonly used disinfectants.”
The CDC Recommends Washing Laundry at the Highest Temperature Setting & Not Shaking Dirty Clothes
The CDC lays out specific steps for how to launder clothes and fabric that may have been worn by a person with the coronavirus or exposed to COVID-19 germs. They start with the basics: Wash your hands after touching dirty fabric that may have been exposed to the virus. The CDC also recommends wearing gloves when handling dirty laundry that was worn by a sick person.
It is possible to wash the virus out of fabric. One of the easiest ways to do that is to wash laundry at the highest possible temperature setting. When dealing with fabric, clothing and other items that can go in the laundry, the CDC recommends you:
Wear disposable gloves when handling dirty laundry from an ill person and then discard after each use. If using reusable gloves, those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and should not be used for other household purposes. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.
If no gloves are used when handling dirty laundry, be sure to wash hands afterwards.
If possible, do not shake dirty laundry. This will minimize the possibility of dispersing virus through the air.
Launder items as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
Clean and disinfect clothes hampers according to guidance above for surfaces. If possible, consider placing a bag liner that is either disposable (can be thrown away) or can be laundered.
When touching items that may have been exposed to the coronavirus, remember that gloves can also carry COVID-19. The CDC recommends discarding gloves after each use. If you are wearing reusable gloves, those gloves should have a dedicated purpose for cleaning. Even if you are wearing gloves while cleaning, wash your hands immediately after taking them off.
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