If you’re worried about picking up COVID-19 from your clothes or soft surfaces like bus or train seats, we have the answers you’re looking for. To give you up to date, correct information, we asked doctors and other medical experts for their advice about clothing COVID risks and what to do about them – here’s what they say…
Can coronavirus survive on your clothes?
The short answer is that we don’t know. But, while there hasn’t been any research to test how long the coronavirus survives on fabric, we do know how it behaves on cardboard, stainless steel, copper and other surfaces. Honorary Vice President of BMA, Dr Kailesh Chand OBE says:
“Coronavirus can live on plastic and stainless steel for up to 3 days. So far, evidence suggests that the virus does not survive as well on a soft surface (such as fabric) as it does on frequently touched hard surfaces.”
While it’s unclear how long coronavirus survives on fabric, some of your wardrobe is vulnerable to contamination – as the team at Unicef points out: “many items of clothing have plastic and metal elements on which it might live for a few hours to several days.”
And what about shoes? Dr Chand of the BMA says yes, it’s possible that the virus could survive on your shoes, but that, “it’s very unlikely for it to be transmitted to you unless you directly touch the infected area and then touch your face.” The solution? Wash your hands as often as you can, and try to avoid touching your face.
Should you get changed as soon as you get home?
“I would advise showering and changing clothes after using public transport or coming back from work, particularly if you’re returning from a health care setting,” says Dr Kailesh Chand.
Because we don’t know exactly how long the virus survives on soft surfaces like fabric, getting changed when you return home from a people-facing job, or after using public transport is a sensible precaution to take.
Talking to The Telegraph, Dr Bharat Pankhania, clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, recommends creating a physical barrier between the outside world and the safety of your home. His advice is to keep a box by your front door: “take your shoes off, handbag, mobile phone, coat, put it all into a box and then go to the sink, wash your hands, come back… and wipe any outdoor stuff that you want to take inside like your mobile phone. Leave the rest there.”
Taking part in Channel 4’s ‘How Clean is Your House?’ emergency doctor and President of Médecins Sans Frontières Dr Javid Abdelmoniem and virologist Dr Lisa Cross said it’s a good idea to take off your shoes as soon as you get home:
“When you first come in…take off your shoes immediately. Most shoes have a non-porous rubber sole, on which the virus can survive for anywhere between three and five days. Keep shoes in your hallway, or the same spot, and try to use only one pair of shoes to go outside.”
Do you usually remove your shoes as soon as you come through the door? If you’re not in the habit of switching to a pair of snazzy slippers to wear around the house, now is the time to give it a try – you’ll be amazed what you’ve been missing out on.
How should you do your laundry?
When it comes to washing clothing, Dr Kailesh Chand recommends the advice from the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC):
“Don’t shake your dirty laundry, as this may cause the coronavirus to become airborne again, although it’s not certain if it’s infectious at that point.”
And when it comes to using the washing machine, Dr Chand says “…Use the warmest appropriate water setting and dry items completely, or leave the washing in a bag for a few days to allow the virus to die its natural death.”
What if someone in your house has Coronavirus?
If someone in your home contracts coronavirus and you’re handling their dirty laundry, we recommend Dr Akash Patel’s excellent advice. In an interview for the Mirror, he says:
“If you’re handling dirty laundry from a person who is confirmed or suspected to have coronavirus, you should wear disposable gloves if possible, if not – please wash your hands appropriately after handling their clothing before you touch your face or other surfaces.”
But don’t worry about separating your laundry from the infected person – the UK Government advice is that it’s not necessary, and neither is there any need to use a special detergent – your regular washing liquid or powder is all you need:
“Dirty laundry that has been in contact with an unwell person can be washed with other people’s items. To minimise the possibility of dispersing virus through the air, don’t shake dirty laundry prior to washing.”
What are the best clothes for men to wear to work?
Because we don’t know how long COVID-19 survives on your clothes, it’s probably a good idea to shift to a wardrobe that’s machine washable. That way you can make sure that each day you leave the house in COVID-free clothes, and can wash your work gear as soon as you get home.
Being a leader in these times of crisis is less about projecting power and authority than it is about inspiring confidence, providing reassurance, and being approachable. What you wear matters, so why not try dressing down just a little? Switch your formal shirt for a Tattersall shirt – not only is brushed cotton extremely comfortable to wear, its softer silhouette humanises your business look.
If you usually wear a suit to work, it’s worth thinking about switching to a smart casual wardrobe until the pandemic is over. Here are some recommendations:
- Chinos or cavalry twill trousers. Machine washable at 30 degrees celsius, chinos are plenty smart enough for most occasions, but if you feel the need to wear something a little more formal, try giving cavalry twill trousers a go. This fabric has its roots in military uniforms and because of its distinctive diagonal weave, there are more threads packed into the weft, making twill trousers drape beautifully. An added advantage – twill is slightly more windproof than broad weave, keeping you warmer in chilly, blustery conditions.
- Formal shirts such as Oxfords. Also machine washable at 30 degrees celsius, your standard formal shirt goes perfectly with chinos or cotton twill trousers. That said, if you’re a manager, team leader, or company director it’s worth remembering that the COVID-19 crisis calls for a gentler leadership style.
- Wool mix jumper. A v-neck jumper is an excellent top layer for the office or for working from home, and again, boosts your approachability without compromising formality. Too warm for a sweater? A knitted tank top top is a good way of bringing a splash of colour and texture to your ensemble. Our wool mix jumpers and tank tops are also machine washable at 30 degrees celsius.
- Tweed jacket. While it’s not machine washable, the advantage of a tweed jacket over a suit is that it’s interchangeable. By investing in two or three tweed jackets, you have the option of rotating through them. Leave the ones you’re not wearing on hangers inside your front door – that way, you allow any virus that has made it onto your clothes time to die between wears.
- Loafers. What better way to avoid touching your shoes than to opt for a pair of smart loafers? With no laces or buckles, they’re super easy to slip off when you get home, with the added benefit that there’s no bending required!
Tips for cleaning clothes and keeping safe at home
- Remove your shoes as soon as you get home
- Leave coats and outerwear in a box by the door
- Wash your hands thoroughly and sanitise your phone
- Change into clean clothes if you work in the health-care industry, have been in a crowded place or use public transport
- Don’t shake dirty laundry as it risks making the virus airborne
- Wash on the hottest temperature appropriate for the fabric, with your regular washing detergent
- Dry clothes completely to help kill the virus
- Wash your laundry bag or disinfect your laundry basket
We hope our guide to corona clothing care has given you some much-needed reassurance, as well as some helpful wardrobe advice. Remember – although we don’t know how long COVID-19 survives on your clothes, we do know that one of the most effective ways to protect yourself, and the people you live and work with, is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, or to regularly use hand sanitiser. A huge thank you to those busy doctors at the front line who contributed to this article.