According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the coronavirus is usually transmitted through respiratory droplets (from an infected person sneezing or coughing) rather than through fomites, objects and materials that when contaminated can transfer disease. However, the CDC notes that evidence suggests that the novel coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, which includes clothing.
Articles of clothing, according to public health specialist Carol Winner, can hold respiratory droplets, as we use them every single day. These particles can dry out over time and inactivate the virus. But this doesn’t mean that it will happen quickly, and she said scientists are still learning more and more about this virus each day.
Robert Amler, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College and a former CDC chief medical officer, told HuffPost that the duration of the virus depends on the fabric, as some materials are more porous than others.
“Some researchers believe the fibers in porous material catch the virus particles, dry them out and break them apart,” Amler said. “Smooth surfaces like leather and vinyl can be wiped clean.”
Family and emergency Dr. Janette Nesheiwat suggested that polyester, spandex-like material may retain germs longer than breathable cotton-based fabrics, making it important to wash leggings, underwear and dresses carefully (more on how to do that later!).
Polyester spandex-like material may retain germs longer than cotton-based fabrics, but all types of fabrics can be contaminated,” Nesheiwat said.
As information and research pertaining to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to evolve, Winner stressed that so far studies focused on it tells us about the virus’ ability to remain on surfaces such as cardboard, steel, copper and plastic-door knobs and high-traffic areas.
“The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has told us that some viruses can remain active after two or three days on plastic and stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard and four hours on copper,” she said. Be aware that some of your buttons, zippers and other clothing hardware could be made of those materials.
If you suspect contamination, take off your clothes as soon you can after the exposure. When taking off your clothes, try not to touch your face or contaminate other things with the clothes. After they are off your body, place your clothes in a safe location where they can’t potentially contaminate other things.
Whenever handling any clothes that may have the virus, whether they are your clothes or someone else’s, such as someone whom you know has COVID-19, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for handling at-risk clothing. Wear disposable gloves, if available, and toss them, the gloves and not the clothing, immediately after use. If you only have non-disposable gloves, keep them dedicated to situations where you are touching or disinfecting things that may have the coronavirus. Don’t use them subsequently for anything else like cooking or doing face palms. If you have no gloves readily available, keep your hands away from your face while handling the laundry, and wash your hands thoroughly immediately after touching the laundry.
If someone is sick, the guidelines change when someone in your household has a confirmed case or symptoms. The CDC recommends:
- Wear disposable gloves when handling dirty laundry, and wash your hands right after you take them off.
- Try not to shake the dirty laundry, to avoid sending the virus into the air.
- Follow the manufacturers’ instructions for whatever you’re cleaning, using the warmest water possible. Dry everything completely.
- It’s fine to mix your own laundry in with the sick person’s. And don’t forget to include the laundry bag, or use a disposable garbage bag instead.
Wipe down the hamper, following the appropriate instructions.
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