There’s been a lot of focus on keeping your hands and the surfaces in your house clean over the past few weeks — and for good reason. These simple actions can go a long way toward preventing the spread of COVID-19. But a topic I’ve heard a lot less about is your clothes, and I started wondering… can you catch the virus from your clothes? And if so, what hygiene practices do you need to practice with your clothes during this pandemic to protect yourself?
First off, you should know that your clothes most likely do carry the virus for some period if they come into contact with it. Infectious disease experts don’t know exactly how long. But they suspect it could be anywhere from several hours to one day. It depends on environmental factors like temperature, humidity, etc.
So, there is a chance that you could be exposed to the virus from your clothes. But, just like with surfaces, there are a lot of hygiene best practices you can start immediately to reduce this risk.
Navigating tricky clothing and laundry situations in the COVID-19 era
If you’re practicing social distancing, the odds of your clothes coming into contact with the virus go down significantly. But what about those rare occasions when you do leave the house to get groceries? Or if you use a shared washing machine in your apartment building or at a laundromat? Or if someone in your household gets sick? What precautions do you need to take then?
Let’s start with those (increasingly rare) excursions out of the house… If you venture out of the house to get groceries or do another essential task and you come within six feet of another person, you’ll probably want to pop your clothes in the washing machine right when you get home… just to be safe.
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You could also have a pair of “outside clothes” that you always wear when going out of the house. When you get home, you could put those clothes in a closed bag (right now scientists suspect that the virus can’t survive in a closed bag). Take your shoes off at the door too, if you don’t already.
If you share a washing machine with other people in your apartment complex or you wash your clothes at a laundromat, you’ll obviously want to be extra careful. First, you should focus on disinfecting hard surfaces like knobs, dials, and handles. Wearing gloves is a good idea too.
When it comes to washing your clothes, use the warmest water you can without ruining your clothes. You should also dry your clothes for at least 45 minutes if possible. This will increase the odds of killing the virus if it does happen to be lurking on your clothes. Also, do your best to visit shared laundry facilities at off-hours when there are fewer people there, for obvious reasons.
If you’re washing clothes at home (and no one in your house is sick), you can follow most of the same laundry washing practices you always do. Except you may want to pay more attention to keeping your laundry hamper clean (inside and out) since the virus lasts for quite a while on surfaces.
Now, if someone in your house is sick, you’ll want to take extra precautions. Put on disposable gloves while handling any clothes, bed linens or sheets they touched. Don’t shake the laundry (that could cause the virus to spread). And wash their laundry on the hottest setting you can without ruining the clothes.
Surprisingly, you can wash the sick person’s laundry with laundry from other people in your household. That’s because the detergent and the temperature should be enough to kill the virus. But be super diligent about cleaning any hampers that the sick person’s laundry came in contact with.
Don’t overlook outerwear and accessories
One last piece of advice… Don’t forget about outerwear and accessories. Many of us live in cold areas where we’re still wearing coats, hats, gloves, scarves, etc. And often, we’re wearing these items into grocery stores and pharmacies. Make sure to wash these items too.
I know most of these tips would’ve sounded crazy just a few months ago. But as you know, these are extreme times we’re living in. And we want to do everything we can to keep ourselves and our neighbors safe.
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