Stressed over Laundry

As coronavirus continues to spread, many of us are thinking more about how we do our laundry. Here are some tips from the experts on how you can wash your clothes to reduce the likelihood of infection.

How long can Covid-19 live on clothing?
A recent study suggested that the virus can remain active after two or three days on plastic and stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard and four hours on copper. While there is no specific research on how long Covid-19 stays on clothes, pay special attention to metal zips and plastic buttons. Dr Janette Nesheiwat, an emergency doctor in New York, adds: “Polyester Spandex-like material may retain germs longer than cotton-based fabrics, but all types of fabrics can be contaminated.”

What about towels and gym gear?
The UK’s NHS advice is to be particularly careful about towels and athleisure wear. “Shared towels in your home can harbour many germs, so could quickly spread coronavirus,” the NHS says. “Clothes which come into contact with a lot of bodily fluids, such as sportswear, will have a great number of germs on.” If someone in the household has symptoms and is self-isolating, they should use their own towel and wash all their clothing separately.

What temperature should I wash my clothes at?
You don’t need to wash every piece of clothing at a boiling temperature and potentially ruin them. At 56C, Covid-19 breaks down, according to a study by the US National Library of Medicine. So wash high-risk items, including underwear, sports gear and towels at 60C. But otherwise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing other clothes at the highest water temperature appropriate to the item.

What washing powder/laundry detergent should I use? 
Any bleach-based product is fine. “Viruses do not do well at all in this type of harsh environment,” according to Rodney E Rohde, a professor at the Clinical Laboratory Science Program at Texas State University.

Can I shake out dirty laundry?
No, because it could disperse the virus through the air.

Should I take any extra precautions?
“You can protect yourself from infection by wearing gloves when handling high-risk laundry and always washing your hands thoroughly afterwards,” the NHS says. And if you want to go further, use a tumble dryer. “High-heat drying for at least 28 minutes is the most effective way to kill viruses,” says Chuck Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona.

Elisabeth Perlman, The Times (UK)