Do My Clothes Have Coronavirus?

What to know and how to take care of your clothing.

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A package from your favorite brand or online retailer just arrived. With increased awareness around how contagious coronavirus is, you’re now worried about whether or not you should even open your package, let alone try on your new duds. But what about the clothes you already own? If you’ve been to the grocery store or other public places, there are active precautions you can take to stay safe and prevent yourself from possibly contracting the disease.

How does coronavirus get onto my clothes?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coronavirus spreads via water droplets in the air, dispelled by people who have contracted COVID-19. Sneezing, coughing or even just talking can cause these water droplets to travel several feet, landing on surfaces, skin and clothes.

How long does it last on my clothes?

The jury is still out on exactly how long the novel coronavirus lasts on various surfaces, but the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that it could survive anywhere from a few hours to several days.

How do I get rid of it?

You can get rid of it by simply washing your clothes and fully drying them. The washing process disrupts viral structures, causing them to bind less effectively. Dr. Linda Anegawa, MD, a physician at virtual healthcare platform PlushCare says, “As long as you’re using adequate laundry detergent and you’re washing your clothing at a temperature over 80-degrees Fahrenheit — warm to hot water — you should be killing the virus.”

Most importantly, you need to fully dry your clothes. Dr. Anegawa recommends drying your clothes on high heat to make sure your clothes are completely dry, thereby eliminating the water droplets in which the virus survives. So, if you don’t have access to warm or hot water through your washer, drying your clothes on high heat can still be effective. If you don’t have access to a dryer or have delicate clothing, air drying shouldn’t be a problem. But if you live in a space with someone who has COVID-19, you’ll need to keep your clothes at a safe distance away from them, too. Otherwise, you’ll have to launder your clothes again.

When and how often should I wash my clothes?

If you’re practicing social distancing properly, maintaining a distance of at least six feet from any person, then you shouldn’t have to wash your clothes more than usual. However, if you have been in close contact with anyone, beyond what is generally considered safe by the CDC or WHO, then you should launder your clothes. “At a bare minimum, if you live with someone who is sick or even if they aren’t exhibiting symptoms, don’t let them borrow your clothes,” Dr. Anegawa says. She goes on to say that everyone “should be washing their clothing every single day as a precaution.”

Are washers and dryers safe?

In short, yes, washers and dryers are safe. At least, they should be. The scientific data is spare in this area, but Dr. Anegawa says that if you’re washing your clothes with warm water (80-degrees Fahrenheit or more) with the recommended amount per load, it’s enough to properly rid the clothes of bacteria, viruses and debris. It’s like washing your hands with soap. Because dryers are ridding your clothes of moisture, they should also be safe, as long as your clothes are completely dry when they come out.

The communal spaces that some washers and dryers are in — like laundromats or laundry rooms in apartment buildings — are potentially dangerous. “I think that the bigger concern with laundromats is making sure you still practice social distancing and are refraining from coming into contact with possibly contaminated surfaces,” Dr. Anegawa warns. Laundromats are tight spaces and many people use the machines. If you can, avoid touching surfaces, bring hand sanitizer with you as well as your own laundry basket and avoid using any of the laundromat’s baskets or folding tables.

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