- As the public is encouraged to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, people are wondering how to safely do their laundry if they don't have a washer and dryer.
- It's not clear exactly how long the virus can live on fabric, but laundromats are unlikely to contaminate your clothes, since the detergent and heat can kill pathogens, according to a microbiologist.
- However, you may want to disinfect public machine handles, tables and carts, and wash your hands thoroughly after touching those surfaces.
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As major cities institute mandatory shutdowns and social distancing efforts to prevent spread of the novel coronavirus, people are wondering how to go about ordinary life activities like washing clothes.
People who rely on commercial laundromats or shared apartment services needn't be worried about additional risks of contamination from clothing, according to Dr. Lee Riley, professor and chair of the Division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology at Berkeley Public Health. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful while doing your laundry, though.
Research on the novel coronavirus is still ongoing, so we don't yet know everything about how long it can survive on inanimate objects under varying circumstances, according to Riley.
"Clothing could be a potential source of infection for coronavirus. Whether they serve as important sources of transmissions is not really clear," he told Insider.
However, bleach and other disinfectants will kill the virus. So will soap on your clothes as well as on your person, which is why experts have continually emphasized the importance of frequent hand-washing to prevent infection.
"Detergents and hot dryers are good for killing pathogens. That's why hospital laundries are effective in cleaning bedding, etc.," Miryam Wahrman, a biology professor at William Paterson University and the author of "The Hand Book: Surviving in a Germ-Filled World," told Insider in an email.
As such, a laundromat isn't likely to pose a threat to your clothes.
"That shouldn't be a problem. With detergent, the virus would be killed very quickly, and with a dryer, the heat would kill it. Your clothes are not going to get contaminated," Riley said.
You're likely to be more at risk from hard surfaces like tables and door handles or person-to-person contact
However, both Riley and Wahrman recommended common-sense precautions for going to the laundromat. Practice the same hygiene habits you would elsewhere in public places by avoiding crowded areas, keeping a reasonable distance from people, and washing your hands after contacting high-touch surfaces.
While doing laundry, those surfaces could include washer and dryer door handles, coin slots, folding tables, and public containers. Riley advises bringing your own laundry bins or bags and making sure your clothes go right in once they've been cleaned, so they come into contact with as few unknown surfaces as possible. You may also want to sanitize your hands after you've put your laundry into the machines, he said.
Dropping off your laundry, however, could add an extra layer of uncertainty.
"The question is, who is touching the laundry when it comes out of the dryer? Who is folding it? Are they well, and did they wash hands properly? If that's not known, then there's a risk," Wahrman said.
Most commercial laundromats also already take hygiene precautions when it comes to laundry services, and the CDC hasn't changed its guidelines for washing textiles. The Coin Laundry Association recently issue guidelines advising extra measures such as providing adequate sick leave for employees and conducting more frequent sanitation of services.
Regardless of how your laundry gets done, be sure that you're wash your hands thoroughly when you arrive home and before folding and putting it away, so you're not inadvertently spreading germs from onto your freshly-cleaned clothes.
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