Assuming that you wear clothes, you may have been wondering how long the COVID-19 coronavirus may stay on your various garments. After all, clothing is what typically keeps many of your body parts away from everything else. The answer though is a bit like Miley Cyrus’s wardrobe: complicated.
When it comes to estimating how long the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) may stay on objects, many have referred to a research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The research letter reported the results of a study that tested how long the SARS-CoV2 could remain detectable in the air and on surfaces. This included the virus remaining in the air for up to three hours, on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and stainless steel for up to two to three days. You’ll notice that most typical clothing materials are not on this list, unless you happen to wear a suit of copper armor or a cardboard box.
So which of the items is most like your clothes? Well, as suggested by an article in New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope who talked to an aerosol scientist and a pediatric infectious disease specialist, it could be cardboard because both can consist of fibers that absorb moisture. The virus needs some moisture to survive. Without it, the virus can quickly dry up and no longer be viable. So should you assume that the virus can survive on your clothes for up to 24 hours? Maybe. Perhaps.
Keep in mind that clothes aren’t necessarily all fabric. They may have metal or plastic parts like buttons or clasps. That’s certainly the case if your clothes have giant plastic windows on them. In theory, the virus could survive longer on less absorbent portions of your clothes.
Then there’s the question of what may happen if your clothes get and stay wet. This may be because of rain, sweat, or excessive tears from the fact that you bought clothes with giant plastic windows on them. If your clothes don’t dry quickly, could they harbor viruses for longer periods of time?
There haven’t been enough studies to tell for sure how long the virus may linger on different articles of clothing. So it’s probably best to take proper precautions if you think that your clothes have been exposed to the virus.
Keep in mind that if you’ve spent the past few days at home with no one else but your hole-filled undergarments, your clothes in all likelihood have not been exposed to the SARS-CoV2. Similarly, if you’ve maintained good social distancing while outside and not contacted anything that could be contaminated, chances are your clothes have not been contaminated.
Contamination could occur if either someone who is contagious or a contaminated object touches your clothes. A contagious person coughing, sneezing, or panting close enough to your clothes could also put your clothes at risk. This may be an issue if you are someone who regularly comes into contact with people with COVID-19, such as a caretaker or a health care professional, as Joshua Cohen covered previously for Forbes.
If you suspect contamination, take off your clothes as soon you can after the exposure. If the exposure occurred in a grocery store, do not do this immediately, as this may cause additional problems. Instead, wait until you are actually in a position to legally take off your clothes, such as when you reach your home.
When taking off your clothes, try not to touch your face or contaminate other things with the clothes. This is not the time to touch your finger to your lip to look sultry while undressing. 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 gigantic face while handling the laundry, and wash your hands thoroughly immediately after touching the laundry.
The CDC also recommends against shaking potentially contaminated laundry, which could spray the virus and other lovely little things into the air. If you have the urge to shake something, shake your booty instead. One exception, don’t shake your booty if you are wearing pants that may be contaminated.
Be sure to disinfect or safely dispose of anything the laundry may have in turn contaminated. If this happens to be your booty, take a shower instead. Do not put chemical disinfectants that are meant for objects on or in your body in any way.
Once the suspect clothes are in the washing machine, set the water temperature to the warmest that the clothes can handle. Use appropriate amounts of laundry detergent. Otherwise, you are simply wetting and spinning you clothes, sort of like putting them on a merry-go-round in the rain. Laundry detergent should be able to disrupt the virus’s structure, so it should be fine to wash other clothes with the potentially contaminated ones. Once the washing is done, dry your clothes completely, which can serve as an additional way of disrupting the virus.
All of this may be more challenging if you don’t have your own washing machine and dryer. If you must go to a laundromat, be careful about what you and your clothes touch. If possible disinfect all surfaces and objects that you may contact, such as any laundry carts, washer and dyer buttons and handles, and tables used for folding laundry. Make sure that you stay at least six feet away from others. This is not the time for pick-up lines such as the one offered by Rachel Shatto writing for the Elite Daily: “Hey, nice folding technique! But I’d rather see those clothes crumpled on your floor.”
There’s one set of apparel that requires a different type of care and precautions. No, not your boa, but your shoes. Your shoes are probably not made completely out of fabric. A shoe completely made out of cotton, for example, tends to be called something else: a sock. Plus, who knows what you shoes may be picking up while they are dragging across floors and other surfaces. Moreover, many shoes can’t readily go into the washing machine.
When you can’t easily and safely launder your shoes, take them off and leave them outside your living quarters. Either do a Mr. Rogers and change to “house shoes” or go shoe-less while inside your apartment, home, or castle. Don’t try any kind of cleaning technique that put you at risk for getting infected. This could in theory happen while you are wiping your shoes with a wet towel that may end up spraying some contaminated droplets into the air.
Again, don’t be paranoid about your clothes. Simply going outside is not going to allow your clothes to catch the virus from the air like a big baseball mitt. Nonetheless, if you think that you may have come into contact with the virus, it is a good idea to take appropriate precautions. You don’t want this virus to catch you with your pants down. (Text and photo courtesy Forbes)