UPDATE: This article has been updated with new information on September 12, 2020, 6:00 a.m.
With stay at home orders becoming more and more common across the country, most of us change from our day pajamas to our night pajamas without leaving the house. However, every once in a while, you may need to make a trip to the grocery store for necessities or go outside for a walk to avoid cabin fever. While you may be taking precaution and staying at least 6 feet apart from others, what about the things you’re wearing? Should you clean clothes and shoes each time you go out?
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When an object or material (such as clothing) can transmit a disease, it is called a fomite. This is how it works: An infected person touches the object or material and transfers the virus to it. Then, a healthy person comes along and touches the same object or material, which transmits the virus to them, potentially making them sick.
What we know about novel coronavirus so far is that it’s most commonly spread through respiratory droplets among close contacts, and less commonly through fomites. That being said, current evidence suggests that the virus can survive for hours to days on a variety of surfaces, making fomite spread a distinct possibility. There have been no studies that specifically looked at the virus’ survival on clothing, however, it has been shown in studies to survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours. Cardboard and clothing are similar in the fact that they are both porous surfaces, unlike glass and plastic. However, according to NPR, this might actually reduce your likelihood of getting the virus from fabric because the pores trap the virus, making it more difficult to be transmitted to a person.
But what about shoes? While shoes often consist of similar porous material as clothing, they also often have rubber and leather components, which are less porous, similar to plastic which COVID-19 can survive on for two to three days.
Taking all this information into consideration, if you are going for a walk outside and maintaining appropriate social distancing, it is probably not necessary to immediately dump your clothes in the washer to avoid COVID-19. However, it might be a good practice after entering a highly populated place like a grocery store, where you might encounter more people or other objects that can transmit the virus more effectively. When it comes to shoes, it’s always safer to leave them at the door — not only could you possibly track the virus through your house, but who knows what other bacteria might be lingering.
If you are worried about the virus catching a ride on your clothes, there are a couple tips to keep in mind when washing them. What we do know is heat can kill the virus. So when washing clothes, make sure to do it on the hot water setting on your washer (if the clothes can handle it) and let them run the full dry cycle.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has outlined specific guidelines for handling the laundry of someone who is ill. These include wearing gloves when handling the laundry, not shaking the laundry to avoid dispensing virus through the air, and laundering the items using the warmest water and making sure to dry them completely.
Lastly, if you are using a reusable face covering, make sure you wash it every time you come home. Virus particles can stick to the outside, so make sure you also wash your hands immediately after removing it.