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Can Coronavirus Live on Clothes? Your FAQs Answered

Here’s what we gathered from today’s experts on coronavirus transmission via clothing so you don’t have to fear doing laundry.

With thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. alone, you might be discouraged to even get the mail or take out the trash. (We don’t blame you for using this time to do some serious binge-watching on Netflix.) As advised by the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the most effective ways to prevent the virus is by maintaining best hygienic practices like washing your hands frequently, but what about the clothes we’re living in? 

Everyday clothing - from designer jeans to casual jackets to fashion sneakers - come into contact with not only our bodies, but also outside surfaces that we ultimately bring back home. There’s still little known about coronavirus transmission and its survival rate on different surfaces including natural and synthetic fibers. While much research on COVID-19 is still ongoing, here’s what the experts have found so far about coronavirus transmission via clothing. 

Q: CAN CORONAVIRUS SURVIVE ON CLOTHES? 

A: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirmed that the coronavirus remains stable for several hours to days on surfaces. However, there still isn’t enough research to confirm how long the coronavirus can live on soft (porous) fabrics such as clothing.

Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, explained to Business Insider that porous surfaces - like hair and fabric - are generally inhospitable surfaces for viruses because the microbe becomes easily trapped in small spaces or holes, preventing it from transferring. 

The NIH and Montana’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories performed some of the earliest tests on how SARS-CoV-2 reacts on different surfaces. Vincent Munster, head of virus ecology at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, reported to BBC, “We speculate due to the porous material, it desiccates rapidly and might be stuck to the fibres…[We’re] currently running follow-up experiments to investigate the effect of temperature and humidity in more detail.”

Current research shows that it can survive on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours, cardboard for up to 24 hours, and copper for up to 4 hours. Moreover, temperature and humidity can also affect the stability of viruses on different surfaces.

Q: SHOULD I CHANGE MY CLOTHES WHEN I GET HOME?

A: Yes, doctors are suggesting to change out of street clothes and into clean loungewear to minimize possible exposure to the virus. (Guys, this is the time to take advantage of those comfy men's onesies.) You should also avoid wearing shoes inside the house; leave them at the front door and wear slippers or socks instead.

“When you take your clothes off, don’t shake them. That’s one of the important things, too, that sometimes we tend to do because that can spread the germs” environmental toxin expert Tonya Harris said.

Q: WHICH CLOTHING ITEMS ARE MOST SUSCEPTIBLE TO POSSIBLE CORONAVIRUS TRANSMISSION? 

A: Most clothing contains synthetic fibers, like polyester and nylon, that are made up of microplastic particles. Since the coronavirus can survive up to 3 days on plastic, it’s best to take extra precaution with any synthetic garments, especially clothing that comes into contact with public surfaces.

Outerwear, like jackets and shoes, are common carriers of bacteria and viruses, especially since they’re not washed as regularly as t-shirts and pants. Jeans can accumulate and harbor germs not only from coming in contact with outside surfaces, but also because it’s been commonly discouraged to wash denim to preserve its longevity. 

It’s not only types of clothing that matter, but also certain areas of clothing could need extra deep cleaning. Pockets are high-touch zones that are constantly in contact with phones, keys, and wallets. 

In all cases, continue to treat all clothing equally when it comes to disinfecting your home. Don’t forget to wash and disinfect regularly used items, like towels, pillow covers, and cushion covers. If possible, use disposable paper towels instead of kitchen linens and hand towels.

Q: HOW CAN I DISINFECT MY CLOTHES?

A: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises to clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces, which can include clothing, towels, and linens. More importantly, coughing into your elbows instead of your hands also means there’s a possibility that the coronavirus can remain on your sleeves. 

According to the CDC, you only need to handle laundry with disposable gloves if you’re cleaning dirty clothes from an infected person. Avoid shaking your clothes and linens to minimize the chance of the virus dispersing in the air. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions as regularly provided on the item’s tag. If possible, use the warmest water setting and make sure to dry them completely. “Make sure you scrub hard. You want to scrub like you’re trying to get something off because that also helps break down the membrane of that virus,” environmental toxin expert Tonya Harris said.

As constantly advised, don’t forget to wash your hands when finished.

There’s also a complete list of coronavirus fighting products you can use to wipe down your hamper, washing machine, and dryer. You can also use a disposable bag instead of the hamper to transfer clothes into your washer and dryer.

Q: IS CORONAVIRUS TRANSMISSION POSSIBLE VIA MAIL?

A: Currently, government sources report that there is very low risk of coronavirus transmission via delivered mail. Although the virus can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours, this study still did not prove that people are at risk of infection from surfaces. What we do know: the virus is mainly spread through person-to-person contact from respiratory droplets, as stated by the CDC

In short, you can continue shopping online normally for whatever you may need, like clothing, groceries, and household items, but also be smart about it. In all cases, continue to wash your hands thoroughly after handling items or use an alcohol-based sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water.