How long does Covid live on fabric?
As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic is the result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While this infectious disease is mainly transmitted via airborne droplets there is some evidence that can be transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces. These could be fittings within a room, or fabrics like bedlinen or clothing. However, the virus can't survive long outside the human body.
So, what are the risks of transmission of the virus through surfaces? And how long does SARS-CoV-2 live on surfaces?
Can Covid 19 be spread on surfaces?
Since the pandemic first started we have learned a huge amount about how the virus transmits. As we said, there are far fewer cases of Covid 19 that can be traced to surface spread. Yet there are some examples where the virus has spread via surfaces.
Findings show the amount of surface transmission depends on several things:
- The ventilation and air flow in a space
- The amount of virus in the area
- The amount of virus expelled and whether people are wearing masks or other protective equipment
- The length of time between expulsion and someone coming into contact with the virus
Can fabrics and clothes spread Covid 19?
Given the possibility of people being exposed to the virus via contact with contaminated surfaces, it's useful to look at how this might affect our clothing and home textiles. Hard surfaces, like countertops and bathroom fittings, are easy to clean with an antimicrobial solution. It's not as simple to disinfect fabrics.
This is especially important in health and social care settings, where the highest risk workers take their uniforms home. There is a chance they could be leaving traces of the virus in their homes and other places of work. Used textiles in healthcare pose a risk for transmission, although we should note that the highest risk is from airborne particles and aerosols.
How long can SARS-CoV-2 survive on textiles?
We do know how long the virus can remain infectious outside the human body, thanks to detailed research by scientists. Researchers now have a good understanding of how long coronavirus could survive on surfaces.
On porous surfaces the virus can become unviable, and so not dangerous, after just a few minutes. But on commonly used non-porous surfaces the virus can survive for up to three days or 72 hours. This study shows Covid 19 can survive for two days on clothes. In some cases and under certain conditions findings show it could remain viable for longer - up to several weeks. But for the general household or everyday surface three days/ 72 hours is a good guide to how long to quarantine any items that may contain traces of the virus.
Washing clothing and uniforms to remove traces of the virus
So, given the fact that some of us will come into contact with the virus, particularly health care or public health workers, here's how to effectively clean your fabrics and textile surfaces.
Professor Katie Laird of De Montfort University has undertaken substantial research on how long Covid 19 survives on different textiles. She recently published a paper on the ways health care workers wash their uniforms, and how effective this method of laundry disinfection is.
Her research highlighted previous studies that show when workers take their uniforms home a small but significant percentage wash them on too low temperatures to kill the virus. This work is useful for all of us who want to prevent contamination through fabrics if we're sharing our home with someone infected.
How to clean fabrics to stop transmission
It's important to remove items of clothing before moving away from the site of possible transmission. This means taking off uniforms or clothes and laundering them in the original place where possible. If you're living with someone who has coronavirus then follow these tips to reduce the risk for transmission via textiles.
If you're laundering fabrics at home, wash all items that may have been exposed together. Wash towels and sports kit in your washing machine at 60°C. Commonly used textiles that haven't been used by an infected person can be washed as normal. Clean your washing machine as usual, using an antibacterial washing machine cleaner.
It you're travelling to a launderette to wash your clothes or textiles, wait for 72 hours after the item was used. For people isolating with the virus, you need to wait an additional three days after your isolation period ends before taking clothing to a launderette.
- Coronavirus is mainly spread through airborne particles and aerosols
- Transmission of the virus is possible via surfaces
- The risk for transmission on surfaces depends on several factors
- Clothing and bedlinens, especially in healthcare, could be leaving traces of virus on other surfaces or your body
- Wash contaminated textiles at the highest possible heat but follow the care instructions
- Wait 72 hours for garments used by an infectious person before visiting a launderette