Here's How Long the Coronavirus Lives on Clothes

As people spend time indoors, they may be inclined to change their clothes less often, or maybe to just stay in their pajamas all day. Everyone has their own threshold of tolerance for clothing changes. But a question on many minds is how much the novel coronavirus can tolerate being on clothes and whether that means a need to change laundering practices.

How long does the coronavirus last on clothes or fabrics?

Right now, no one is quite sure about the answer to that. It can survive for days on smooth surfaces like plastic and stainless steel, but how it fares on more porous materials is not established. Viruses like this tend to last less time on fabrics than on metals.

Should I wash my clothes after going out on an essential errand?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not offer specific guidance for people who venture into the community. So for now, unless someone explosively coughs or sneezes on you, there is probably no need to rush your attire straight to the washing machine. The current advice is to stick with your usual laundry schedule.

That said, remember that not all of your clothing is fabric. Buttons and zippers likely are plastic or metal, so tossing items more regularly into the laundry isn’t necessarily overkill. And don’t forget to launder items that perhaps make it through cleaning less often, like coats and hats. If you work in essential functions that might increase exposure, such as healthcare, once you arrive home, a change and a laundering of what you wore that day isn’t a bad idea.

What detergent should I use?

The virus does not fare well under the pressures of soap or detergent, but it is especially vulnerable to bleach. If it makes sense to use a detergent with bleach, do so.

What should I do about laundry if I’m caring for someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19?

Advice does exist for people living with or caring for someone who has suspected or diagnosed COVID-19. The CDC says that caregivers should wear gloves when handling used clothing, towels, and linens that the affected person has used. They should then throw the gloves away and wash their hands thoroughly. Other tips from the CDC for handling laundry in this situation:

The CDC says that clothing from affected and unaffected people can be laundered together. If that doesn’t sit quite right with you, they suggest using a separate bag liner for clothes from the affected person and laundering it as you do the clothes.

I am under ‘shelter in place’ orders. Can I still go to a laundromat?

For now, the orders commonly allow for laundromats and dry cleaners to stay open and provide services. Your precautions should be the same as any you’d take in an outing for an essential purpose, including keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from other people.

In a laundromat, with its chrome and steel, the most suspect areas will be the washer and dryer handles, rolling baskets, and flat areas for folding. Your best protective steps include wearing gloves and then washing your hands according to guidelines. That means soap and water and vigorous scrubbing, including the wrists, for at least 20 seconds.

As for concerns that you might pick up something in a washer or dryer someone else has used, that’s unlikely. The process should clean away the virus.

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