Covid can stay on clothing for up to 3 days - and healthcare staff shouldn’t wear their uniforms home

Covid can stay on clothing for up to 3 days - and healthcare staff shouldn’t wear their uniforms home (Photo: Shutterstock)

Covid-19 and other similar strains of virus can survive on clothing and transmit to other surfaces for up to 72 hours, a new study has concluded.

Looking into how coronavirus behaves on three fabrics commonly used in the healthcare industry, scientists from De Montfort University (DMU) found that polyester poses the highest risk for transmission.

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Virus present for 3 days on polyester

The study was led by microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, virologist Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar and postdoctoral researcher Dr Lucy Owen. The researchers added droplets of a model coronavirus called HCoV-OC43 (which shares a similar structure and survival pattern to that of Sars-CoV-2) to polyester, polycotton and 100 per cent cotton.

Research found that polyester poses the highest risk for transmission, with infectious virus still present after three days that could transfer to other surfaces.

Scientists said on 100 per cent cotton the virus lasted for 24 hours, while polycotton provided the best results, with the virus only lasting for six hours.

De Montfort University said Dr Laird advised the Government that all healthcare uniforms should be laundered in hospitals to commercial standards or by an industrial laundry machine.

“When the pandemic first started there was very little understanding of how long coronavirus could survive on textiles,” Dr Laird said.

“Our findings show that three of the most commonly used textiles in healthcare pose a risk for transmission of the virus.

“If nurses and healthcare workers take their uniforms home, they could be leaving traces of the virus on other surfaces.”

Dr Laird, who is head of the Infectious Disease Research Group at DMU, added: “Once we had determined the survival rate of coronavirus on each of the textiles, we turned our attention to identifying the most reliable wash method for removing the virus.

“While we can see from the research that washing these materials at a high temperature, even in a domestic washing machine, does remove the virus, it does not eliminate the risk of the contaminated clothing leaving traces of coronavirus on other surfaces in the home or car before they are washed.

“This research has reinforced my recommendation that all healthcare uniforms should be washed on site at hospitals or at an industrial laundry.

“These wash methods are regulated and nurses and healthcare workers do not have to worry about potentially taking the virus home.”

How to launder clothing effectively in Covid-19 era

If you are washing clothing because you have been exposed to the virus, these washing tips can help:

  • Place your clothing and reusable fabric masks in the washing machine when you remove them
  • Don’t shake out dirty clothing items, in case you release the virus into the air
  • Wash your clothing with the warmest water that’s allowable for those items
  • If you have a dryer, place your clothes in there, rather than air drying them

How to launder clothing when someone in your household has Covid-19

If a member of your household has been ill with Covid-19, you may need to do their laundry for them. These practices will help minimise infection:

  • Keep their laundry in a separate hamper, rather than combining it with family members’ clothing
  • If you a placing laundry in a hamper you use regularly, place the clothing in a disposable bag first to minimise virus spread
  • Disinfect the hamper after removing the dirty clothing
  • After handling any of the clothing, wash your hands thoroughly
  • Clean your washing machine and all buttons and handles with disinfectant wipes or spray, once wash is complete, and before washing your hands
  • Clean the inside of the washing machine with bleach or a disinfectant wipe after removing the laundry

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, the Edinburgh Evening News