While many of us are staying indoors and practicing social distancing, there are many people who simply don't have that luxury. And even if you are able to work from home, whether it’s for a walk around the block (one taken with precaution, of course) or a trip to the pharmacy to stock up on essentials, there are, in fact, a few circumstances when going outside is necessary.
So, if you do have to venture out during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s important to consider what to do once you come back. By now, we know that washing our hands for 20 seconds or more is essential, as is disinfecting travel items like your phone, keys, and credit cards. One thing we’re not quite sure about these days, though, is what we should be doing with our “outside” clothes.
According to the CDC, flu viruses are killed by heat above 167 degrees, as well as with cleaning products that include chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and detergents. At this time, there is no reason to believe that those same preventative measures aren’t equally as effective against the novel coronavirus. Because of that, the CDC is recommending that if, for any reason, you do end up outside, your best bet is to wash your clothes using the warmest appropriate water setting possible (preferably above 167 degrees) and dry items completely. As for the laundry process itself, it’s key that you remember to wash your hands before touching anything, wear disposable gloves, and then wash your hands again immediately once you take them off.
The CDC also recommends that you clean and disinfect — which are two different procedures — any surfaces where dirty clothing, linens, and towels were stored prior to washing, like for example, your hamper. If possible, placing a disposable bag liner into the hamper rather than simply tossing dirty laundry into the bin is also suggested.
According to Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology and immunology at The University of Arizona, coronaviruses transfer much more easily from surface to person if the surface is hard, like stainless steel, as opposed to soft, like cloth. Cloth only picks up about 1% of viruses that it's exposed to, compared to steel’s 70%. However, that doesn’t mean that once picked up, cloth surfaces won’t hold onto the virus.
So far, there’s no definitive data surrounding the exact length of time that COVID-19 can survive on soft surfaces. Based on prior research of other coronaviruses, though, Dr Daniel Kuritzkes, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told NPR that “flat surfaces and hard surfaces are more friendly to viruses than cloth or rough surfaces.”
Nevertheless, it’s always better to be safe. Whenever possible, save your outside clothes for outside and your inside clothes — the ones that haven’t been on the subway, in the supermarket, or in contact with anyone or anything that doesn’t exist within the 900 square feet of your apartment — for inside.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.