How long can coronavirus live on clothes?

I’ve been keeping track of research that tells us how long the coronavirus can live on certain surfaces, since I think it is helpful in knowing how to reduce your chances of contracting the virus.

I’ve previously written about a paper that shows the virus can live on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours, and on plastic and stainless steel for up to three days. We also have also seen that the virus can remain in aerosols for up to three hours and shoes for up to five days.

But what about when it comes to your clothes?

How long can the virus hang around on your shirts and pants? And how likely is it to land on your clothing in the first place?

Some of us sometimes use our clothes as a way to avoid direct contact with surfaces.

For example, you may have used your elbow to press an elevator button and that’s putting your shirt or jacket in contact with a potentially contaminated surface.

According to some experts, clothing may be most similar to cardboard because it has fibers that absorb moisture. As the Times states:

The absorbent, natural fibers in the cardboard appeared to cause the virus to dry up more quickly than it does on hard surfaces. The fibers in fabric would be likely to produce a similar effect.

So this could mean that the virus could live up to somewhere around 24 hours on your clothes.

Now, obviously some clothing items are made up of different types of materials so different portions of your garments could host coronavirus particles longer than others.

So does this mean that you need to take a shower and change your clothes as soon as you come home from visiting the grocery store?

According to experts, the answer to that is no. You usually just need to focus on other aspects of hygiene like washing your hands.

As reported by the Times:

 “A droplet that is small enough to float in air for a while also is unlikely to deposit on clothing because of aerodynamics,” said Linsey Marr, an aerosol scientist at Virginia Tech. “The droplets are small enough that they’ll move in the air around your body and clothing.”

Basically, the type of droplets you would have to worry about getting on your clothing would be those coming from somebody who is a spit talker or who is sneezing or coughing in close vicinity to you. That’s because those droplets are heavier and would be less likely to be “pushed around” by the airstreams that surround us.

So if you’ve been a little bit paranoid about getting the virus on your wardrobe, I think you can sleep a little better knowing that the risk is not as high as you probably thought it was from casually strolling through a store.

The only exception is when you come in to close contact with someone coughing or sneezing near you because in that case your clothes could be hosting some of those particles.

If that were to happen, then it would likely be a good idea to change as soon as you can into fresh clothes into wash your potentially contaminated clothes.

Just be sure to not touch your face or other surfaces when removing your clothing items because you don’t want to contaminate other areas.

Here are the CDC guidelines for dealing with contaminated clothing:

Wear disposable gloves when handling dirty laundry from an ill person and then discard after each use. If using reusable gloves, those gloves should be dedicated for cleaning and disinfection of surfaces for COVID-19 and should not be used for other household purposes. Clean hands immediately after gloves are removed.

  • If no gloves are used when handling dirty laundry, be sure to wash hands afterwards.
  • If possible, do not shake dirty laundry. This will minimize the possibility of dispersing virus through the air.
  • Launder items as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
  • Clean and disinfect clothes hampers according to guidance above for surfaces. If possible, consider placing a bag liner that is either disposable (can be thrown away) or can be laundered.

So this answers most of my questions I had for contaminated close although I still wonder how easy it is to transfer partners particles from something like a seat to a pair of pants as that would be very relevant to know for many travelers.