How Often You Should Wash Your Clothes To Limit Coronavirus Exposure

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How Often You Should Wash Your Clothes While Social Distancing
Health And Wellness

Stay vigilant and safe.

As we're all dealing with a new normal and trying to flatten the curve of the Coronavirus pandemic, it's changing how we work, how we socialize, and even how we shop and eat. And now, we need to consider how it changes daily necessities like doing laundry and changing our clothes.

There's a lot we don't know about the virus that causes COVID-19, and there's information we're still learning. For now, the name of the game is: proceed with caution.

While we learn new information every day, there are still burning questions about keeping ourselves safe when it comes to exiting and entering our home. Specifically, our clothing.

How long does Coronavirus live on clothing?

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If the virus gets on our clothing — if someone touches our clothes, or coughs or sneezes on them — does the virus live on those clothes?

Well, it depends on the fabric. Says Dr. Georgine Nanos, MD, MPH, Physician & CEO of Kind Health Group, “At this point we think anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, possibly longer term.”

But the reality is, we just can’t be certain. And much like we do with social distancing, we need to make smart choices. Take this seriously, act accordingly, and wash clothes as soon as you come into contact with the outside world or another person.

Adds Columbia University virologist, Dr. Angela L. Rasmussen, “We don’t know how long Coronavirus lasts on clothes, but washing clothes with detergent should be fine for cleaning them.”

How high is the risk for transmission?

With regard to touching any objects, the risk for transmission is likely low in most cases (unless you’ve been spending extended time in crowds or are in a position to have those items touched by others).

“I recommend practicing good hand hygiene when you return from an excursion out of your home, or when spending time with other people,” recommends Dr. Rasmussen. In other words, wash your hands always, especially after you touch a shoe that has been outside.

It’s never a bad idea to play things safe, particularly if you’ve been out and about. (We’re being told to shelter in place for a reason!)

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What can help reduce the spread of COVID-19?

Wearing gloves, practicing general good hygiene, and changing your shoes all help.

If you have disposable gloves handy, wear those while performing these tasks. “If you don't have gloves, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands after touching the sheets and towels, and then follow up with hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol-based,” advises Kathy Turley from Home Clean Heroes. You can also make your own hand sanitizer, since supply is so low.

Reducing the spread also depends on where you're going and your level of exposure. It’s a good idea to change shoes and clothes before entering the house. That's especially true if you feel you have come into contact with potentially contaminated surfaces.

“The first line of defense is to always wash your hands and avoid touching your face,” says Dr. Nanos.

What's the best way to handle dirty or contaminated laundry?

First, you'll want to collect the clothes and minimize the contact of them with other parts of the house. Basically, don't don't drop them on the carpet or floor.

Says Turley, “Take a pillowcase that also needs washing and then turn the pillowcase inside out (so the portion where the head is now inside the pillowcase).” This will be the "holding" bin or makeshift basket where you place the other dirty items.  

But why put the clothes inside a pillowcase? You want to avoid "hugging" the clothes by carrying them in your arms or close to your body when going to the laundry room. Likewise, adds Turley, “Because viruses can live on objects for several days in some cases, you want to avoid putting them in a laundry basket for transporting.”

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How do you "socially distance" from your laundry?

Once you have all your clothing in the "holding" pillowcase, can carry them directly to the laundry room.

Says Turley, “Empty the contents of the holding pillowcase into the washing machine, and then put that in there as well. Wash with hot water and your laundry detergent, and dry on high heat.” Then, wash your hands for 20 seconds or more.

What temperature should the water be in the laundry cycle?

It's recommended that you use hot water for your washes.

“As of now, we believe that the COVID-19 virus cannot survive in temperatures above 80 degrees. Wash your clothes with regular laundry detergent in the hottest water that's safe for the fabric,” says Dr. Nanos.

This will all be over soon, but a lot of what we learn from this experience we can use in the future. For example, you can use a similar pillowcase trick for  your bed linens and towels, and taking them to the laundry room.

For now, it's important to stay safe, stay indoors, and stay connected to your loved ones.

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Aly Walansky is a NY-based lifestyles writer who focuses on health, wellness, and relationships. Her work appears in dozens of digital and print publications regularly. Visit her on Twitter or email her.

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