How long can coronavirus live on clothes? Here's what the experts are saying

How long can coronavirus live on clothes? We evaluate the latest research and give you specialist laundry advice

how long can coronavirus live on clothes: laundry
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How long can coronavirus live on clothes? This is something many of us wonder every time we head outside – especially if we have been in a busy place. And we've seen a surge in people asking the same thing, conscious that the virus may have contaminated their clothes, reusable shopping bags, or other fabrics.

Avoiding contact with the virus is key and we know that the way it is spreading is mainly in droplets of saliva from an infected person. If these come into direct contact with your mouth, nose or eyes your risk of contracting coronavirus increases.  However, experts also believe that many cases are a result of people touching something contaminated with these droplets, or touching their face before washing their hands. Clothes and shopping bags taken on your weekly shop could be among these contaminated items.

While there's no hard and fast advice from the government, we've drawn together the most up to date research from scientific studies in a bid to help you reach an informed decision. You'll find coronavirus-specific advice below, or can read our specialist guide to how to do laundry for more general advice on cleaning clothes.

How long can coronavirus live on clothes?

Currently, scientists cannot provide science-backed information on how long Covid-19 can live on clothes. Why? Because there simply haven't been the studies to do so responsibly. What they can offer, however, is information on how long the virus can survive on cardboard.

Published in The New England Journal of Medicine (opens in new tab) earlier this year – an article which is regularly refined as more information comes to light – a study found that the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours. Given that there's some similarity between the fibres in cardboard, and those found in fabrics, many scientists were happy to conclude – at least for the time being – that coronavirus might survive for a similar amount of time on clothing.

This is further corroborated by a study on the SARS virus conducted in 2005 (opens in new tab), where researchers tested the lifespan of the virus on paper samples, as well as on a cotton gown, and concluded that the virus could survive for up to 24 hours, depending on the concentration of the virus.

However, in his article written for Forbes (opens in new tab), journalist Bruce Y. Lee made the very relevant point that clothing with plastic buttons, metal clasps and the like may allow the virus to survive on clothing for longer.

And how about shoes? Given that the soles of our shoes are a breeding ground for all kinds of bacteria, it's advisable that you remove them before entering the home regardless of concerns regarding coronavirus. 

However, a recent study undertaken in Wuhan, China (opens in new tab) which focused on Covid-19 suggested that half of health care workers had evidence of the virus on their shoes. Though this is hardly surprising given their frequent contact with patients. So, if you're a key worker coming into contact with infected people, we'd advisee you to follow the advice outlined by your workplace. 

For members of the public, there's perhaps not too much reason to worry about contracting the infection from your shoes. However, if you're particularly concerned there is no harm in cleaning them regularly and removing them before you enter the house.

Should you remove clothes on entering your home?

There's no official advice from the government when it comes to removing clothing on entering your home, so the choice ultimately comes down to your personal preference and will probably be dictated by how much contact you've had with others.

If you're a key worker coming into contact with those infected, chances are your workplace has already outlined the best practice for limiting the spread of infection and we could only advise following that advice to the tee. If you're a non-medical key worker, it's widely advised that you remove any clothing that may have been exposed to the virus on entering the house. From there, it should be washed immediately using the advice outlined below.

As of yet, there is little evidence to suggest that you should wash clothing worn during your weekly trip to the supermarket, or daily exercise. However, there really is no harm in doing so if you're particularly concerned about coronavirus. 

The one exception is for fabric face masks – discover how to make fabric face masks in our specialist guide – which should be washed after every use. Disposable face masks should be disposed of after a single use. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) released the following infographic to advise those living with a friend of family member exhibiting coronavirus symptoms. Use this advice, along with the laundry tips we've shared below, to tackle laundry during this time.

Tackling laundry during the coronavirus outbreak

  • Don’t shake your dirty laundry to avoid spreading the virus in the air, and wash your hands after handling it.
  • Don't touch your face while removing clothes if you're concerned that they may be contaminated. Do all that you can to minimise contact with your face and in particular your eyes and mouth.
  • If someone has been ill in the house, you can wash their laundry together with your own.
  • Wash laundry at 60°C (140°F), or at 40°C (104°F) with a bleach-based laundry product to stop germs spreading.
  • Don't forget to wash hats, scarves and other forms of headware, they are absolutely full of germs and should be washed every week during peak cold and flu season (yes, really), even if they're leather. Your scarf is the item of clothing that spends the most time level with other people's coughs and sneezes, and should also be washed about every week. 
  • Remember your handbag too, it may not seem that way, but, ladies, your handbags are filthy. One in five handbags has more germs on it than a toilet seat – and it's the one item you use every single day, placing it on all kinds of surfaces and exposing it to a variety of germs and viruses. Clean yours with a leather cleaner or mild detergent. 
  • For bedding, a study has shown that washing clothes and bedding at 56°C kills the virus – so give that a 60ºC wash, too.
  • Wash your towels on hot, especially if you share, they are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria: deep-pile fabric that gets damp all the time; you get the idea. Hand towels must be changed every three days at the most. Bath and shower towels can be changed every five days or so, provided only you are using the towels. If you share, change them more often and always wash them on a 60ºC cycle.
  • Don’t leave laundry in the washing machine, it can encourage germs of all kinds to spread. Dry it quickly and completely.
  • Clean and disinfect anything used for transporting laundry, regularly.
  • Once your wash has finished, leave your washing machine door open to allow the machine to air (this cuts down on bacteria growth too).
  • Give your washing machine a weekly maintenance wash (that's a 60ºC cycle, run without laundry in). Find out more about how to clean a washing machine in our guide to keep yours bacteria-free.
  • Use a washing machine cleaner that kills bacteria. You can find the best best washing machine cleaners in our guide.

What if someone in your household has been ill?

If someone in your household is – or has recently been – unwell, it's a good idea to wash fabrics more frequently than you might otherwise in a bid to contain the further spread of the virus.

This should include everything from bedding and pyjamas to curtains, towels, clothing and any other fabrics they may have come into contact with. If you're really concerned, there's also nothing wrong with deep cleaning carpets.

A post shared by World Health Organization (@who) (opens in new tab)

A photo posted by on on Apr 27, 2020 at 6:50am PDT

  • We're doing all that we can to keep you entertained during the coronavirus outbreak. For ideas on keeping busy – and occupying the kids for more than five minutes – head over to our no place like home hub.

Looking for more cleaning advice?

Emily first (temporarily) joined the Real Homes team while interning on her summer break from university. After graduating, she worked on several publications before joining Real Homes as Staff Writer full time in mid-2018. She left the brand in 2020 to join the police force but continues to love a second-hand bargain and sourcing unique finds to make her rented flat reflect her personality.