How to wash your clothes to reduce the spread of germs

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Lara Faye
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Washing your hands and putting a distance between yourself and other people are the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19, however could the way we wash our clothes also have a part to play in tackling the pandemic. According to the NHS, these are the best practices for keeping your clothes germ free. 

The most effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus or COVID-19, is to wash your hands, disinfect day to day surfaces, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and put distance between yourself and other people, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Official advice from the CDC states that Covid-19 is usually transmitted through “through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes”, rather than being transferred through contaminated objects and materials. However, the CDC also states that there is evidence to suggest that coronavirus may remain viable for hours to days on surfaces made from a variety of materials, which includes clothing.

At the time of writing, specific research has yet to be done on how this new coronavirus interacts with clothes. However, as we continue to practise social distancing and self isolation, our thoughts are turning how our clothes may be contributing to the spread of the virus. We consulted the official NHS guidelines to change the way we clean our clothes, and reduce exposure to COVID-19. 

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At this stage, there is no known cure to coronavirus and so practising strict measures to block the spread of the virus is key. These practices aren’t just limited to preventing exposure to potentially infected persons through social distancing and self isolation, but by limiting exposure to potentially contaminated surfaces too. Now, the official NHS guidelines on how to prevent germs from spreading contain specific advise on how to handle your clothes and laundry, to prevent infection. 

Wash your hands after handling dirty laundry 

Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from contracting the illness. Be sure to wash your hands throughly after touching your dirty laundry, and wash your hands again after moving it to the washing machine. 

Don’t leave laundry in the basket 

Many of us leave items in the laundry basket for days or even weeks before we wash them, and some germs and viruses are capable of surviving that long. In fact, germs may survive for days and some even weeks. The probability of germs surviving increases if items are moist - think sweaty gym clothes or your t-shirt after a home workout - which may encourage germs to breed. Instead of adding your dirty washing to the laundry hamper for a weekly wash or letting it pile up on ‘the chair’, put it straight into the machine. If daily machine washes are not possible, store your laundry in separate bags to prevent potential cross-contamination from one item to another. 

Remove items from the washing machine straight after washing

Germs and viruses can survive in washing machines and be spread from one load to another. When you place your washing in the machine, start the wash immediately and then hang your laundry out to dry as soon as the wash is complete. Set a timer on your phone to remind you to take out the laundry as soon as it’s ready, and avoid putting the washing on before going to bed, as this will leave your clean clothes exposed to germs inside the machine that may be carrying the virus. You should also consider wiping down your washer and dryer with a disinfectant after loading and removing each wash. 

Wash items on a high temperature setting

Official NHS advice it that all underwear, towels and household linen should be washed at 60C (140F) or at 40C (104F) with a bleach-based laundry product to prevent germs from spreading. 

If you typically wear underwear that is hand wash only, now is the time to purchase pieces that you can wash at 60C without damaging them. Equally, if you regularly wear hard-to-wash items made from delicate silks or cashmere, angora or mohair blends, consider taking these pieces out of regular wear, and instead wear alternatives that can be washed at high temperatures or with bleach-based products.

These same principles can be applied to your homewares too. Though silk pillowcases, snuggly throws and woollen blankets can be soothing during these uncertain times, if you are unable to wash these at the recommended 60C, you may wish to remove these items from your bed or sofa, and instead use them strictly as decorative accents. 

Wash your coats and outerwear

When we think about laundry, most of us seldom consider washing our coats. Right now we are avoiding touching potentially contaminated surfaces with our hands and so if you are using areas of your jacket such as the elbow or the sleeves to touch frequently used surfaces such as elevator buttons, hand rails and shop doors, you should be washing your coat as well as your hands. Don’t be tempted to take the Dettol to your favourite coat - there are anti-germal clothing sprays that are just as effective but won’t damage material. 

However, you may wish to patch test any new products on an out-of-sight area of your jacket before using it for the first time, especially if your coat is made from delicate suedes or leather. 

Wash your shoes and trainers 

If you have come home from outside, chances are you will reach to untie your shoe laces or slip off your shoes before you have the chance to wash your hands. If your hands are contaminated, this may spread to your shoes, and therefore although not official NHS advice, using anti-germal spray on your shoes and laces after touching them can be encouraged. 

Wash towels separately from your clothes 

As towels are often damp they contain the moisture that allows germs to stay alive for longer. To prevent contamination from your towels to your clothes, wash towels separately and on a 60C wash as advised. 

Clean your washing machine 

As germs and viruses can continue to live in your washing machine and continue to spread to each load, consider cleaning the machine itself. The easiest - and most effective - way of doing this is by running the machine with nothing but bleach it in to kill any germs, then running the machine again with nothing but water to remove any traces of bleach in the machine that may damage your clothes. 

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