COVID has changed the way we look at many tasks we once did automatically. One of these relates to how we handle clothing that might have been exposed to COVID-19.
The World Health Organization notes that COVID-19 is transmitted through small droplets which come from the nose or mouth. These droplets spread when someone who has COVID coughs, sneezes, or exhales droplets. They may land on people, objects, clothing or other surfaces. The droplets transit COVID from person to person.
Is it a worry? Because of paranoia about COVID and how it is spread, many once-simple tasks have become more complicated. With the rate of community spread on the rise, people began to worry about anything and everything they touched. It is logical that concerns over COVID on clothing would become an issue.
Can the virus live on my clothes? When I take my clothes off where should I put them? How can I be sure they are COVID-free?
Hysteria over COVID on clothing is heightened by watching medical procedures of “donning and doffing” personal protective equipment to minimize spreading germs or contaminants. This has led the rest of us ordinary citizens to consider adopting similar procedures with clothing.
Healthcare officials have eased public worry, telling us that, unless we are working in healthcare or in heavily trafficked venues, then practising good donning and doffing techniques is probably not necessary. An example of heavily trafficked jobs include people who work in grocery stores and others who came into contact with a lot of different people.
If you are just going out an appointment or to pick up groceries, your risk of clothing contamination is not high. Remember how COVID is spread.
Research indicates that the virus can live on surfaces for a few minutes, a few hours, or even up to several days.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing COVID lives on copper for four hours. It lived on cardboard for a day. It was live on plastic and steel for three or four days. Unfortunately, this study did not include various fabrics. It is logical to assume that if someone coughed on your clothing the virus could remain on your clothes. However, epidemiologists stated that the biggest concern was spreading the virus from hands.
We are specifically referring to non-medical cloth masks, facial coverings, and clothing articles that may have been in contact with COVID-19. The risk is low but if you are concerned, medical specialists advise that these articles can be stripped off in the garage on your way into your home and bagged for the laundry or the dry cleaners. They caution not to shake this container or bag.
You can then wash these items in hot water between 60 and 90°C using regular laundry soap. Experts agree that the type of laundry soap used is immaterial. It is the water temperature that kills contaminants. After washing in hot water, garments should be dried well on a clothesline or in a dryer. You can wash these items with other clothing. Or, you can send them to the dry cleaners.
Some believe that, because dry cleaning involves the use of solvents, it is somehow more potent than washing clothes. Medical experts on COVID-19 agree that dry cleaning garments is as effective but no more effective than washing in hot water.
Let’s consider what actually occurs during the dry cleaning process. The term is a misnomer. Your clothes do get wet. But, the dry cleaner doesn’t use hot water. Instead, clothes are cleaned using a chemical solvent called perchloroethylene. If you take your clothes to a “green” dry cleaner, he will use liquid carbon dioxide. This is a silicone-based solvent and the term for this method is “wet” cleaning.
Regardless of which solvent is used, this isn’t the part of the dry cleaner’s process that kills COVID. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases professional at University of California, San Francisco notes that it is the next part of dry cleaning that kills the virus. The high heat of the pressing kills the virus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest water or steam should be at least a hundred and sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit to kill viruses. Researchers also recommend garments be left in steam or water above a hundred and forty degrees for twenty minutes.
So, is dry cleaning more reliable than washing clothes? Many believe the use of solvents is equivalent to disinfectants so of course dry cleaning is a better way to assure COVID is killed. It turns out they are wrong. Both washing and dry cleaning are equally reliable as long as heat is used at some point in the process. Viruses hate heat. So, if hot water is used in laundering clothes, virus will be killed. If steam is used in dry cleaning, COVID will die.