Coronavirus fact check: Can the virus cling to my clothes and shoes?

Can the coronavirus cling to clothing and shoes?

There are many things we don’t know about the new coronavirus and how it can be transmitted, and one of those things is if and how long the COVID-19 virus remains on clothing and shoes.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in March looked at how long the virus stays on various surfaces. For metal, the virus can remain active for up to three days. On cardboard, the virus was found to be active for 24 hours.

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How long the virus remains active on fabric has not yet been tested, but because the fibers that make up cardboard and fabric are similar, it is believed that the virus lasts about the same amount of time on both surfaces.

Vincent Munster, head of the virus ecology section at Rocky Mountain Laboratories and part of the study published in the NEJM, told the BBC that he believes that the natural fibers in cardboard cause the virus to dry up more quickly than on other surfaces and a similar effect is likely in fabric fibers.

“We speculate due to the porous material, it desiccates rapidly and might be stuck to the fibers,” Munster said, describing what happens to the virus on cardboard.

While the virus can get on clothing, it is not believed that it would pose a great risk of infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that COVID-19 travels through respiratory droplets and “much more commonly” is spread through those droplets rather than through other objects and materials.

So, should you change clothes after you go out on an errand?

Scientists don’t believe it is necessary to change your clothes or take a shower after you return from a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy, but you should wash your hands immediately upon returning home.

What about shoes?

A study conducted in China in late February and early March and published on the CDC website found that half of the health care workers in two hospital wards in Wuhan, China, had traces of the COVID-19 virus on their shoes.

According to the study, “As medical staff walk around the ward, the virus can be tracked all over the floor, as indicated by the 100% rate of positivity from the floor in the pharmacy, where there were no patients.”

“… Therefore, the soles of medical staff shoes might function as carriers.”While shoes can carry viruses and bacteria, it is not believed to be a likely mode of transmission for the COVID-19 virus for most people.

If you do have concerns about your shoes you can wash them in hot water if they are washable. If they are not, you can leave them outside when you come indoors, according to a story in The New York Times.

How should you handle laundry in general?

What is the best way to launder your clothes if you are concerned with COVID-19 transmission?

For clothing, towels, linens and other items

  • Launder items according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Use the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely.
  • Do not shake dirty laundry before putting it into the washer.
  • Clean clothes hampers with disinfectant.

How should you wash clothes for someone who is sick?

Follow the same directions as above, plus:

  • Wear disposable gloves when handling dirty laundry from a person who is sick.
  • Dirty laundry from a person who is sick can be washed with other people’s items.

If you can, you should put a disposable garbage bag in the room for people who are sick and put their clothes in that bag. When it is time to wash the clothes, use gloves and dump the clothes from the bag directly into the washer. Wash on the highest setting possible, then throw out your gloves and the bag and wash your hands.

An Energy Star logo is seen on washing machine displayed for sale at a Conn's Inc. HomePlus store in Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S., on Monday, March 30, 2015.
An Energy Star logo is seen on washing machine displayed for sale at a Conn's Inc. HomePlus store in Knoxville, Tennessee, U.S., on Monday, March 30, 2015. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Bloomberg via Getty Images)