Story at a glance

  • Data suggests that COVID-19 can remain viable and infectious on polyester fabric for at least three days.
  • The CDC notes that COVID-19 is primarily spread through aerosol particles.

New research released Tuesday suggests that viruses with a similar structure to COVID-19 can survive on cloth and fabrics, as well as transmit to other surfaces, for about 72 hours.

Researchers at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) in the United Kingdom applied model droplets of another coronavirus called HCoV-OC43, which is structurally similar to the COVID-19 spike protein. 

Led by microbiologist Katie Laird and virologist Maitreyi Shivkumar, both affiliated with the university, a team of scientists monitored the sample coronavirus as it was applied to polyester, polycotton, and 100 percent cotton fabrics. 


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Their results indicated that after about three days, the polyester posed the highest risk for virus transmission, since the sample of the HCoV-OC43 virus remained present and transmissible to other surfaces past 72 hours.

On the fabric sample that was 100 percent cotton, the virus lasted for a single day, while the dosage on the polycotton sample only survived for six hours.

“When the pandemic first started, there was very little understanding of how long coronavirus could survive on textiles,” Laird said. “Our findings show that three of the most commonly used textiles in healthcare pose a risk for transmission of the virus.”

As the pandemic has continued encompassing the globe, scientists have learned more about how long the virus can survive on an open surface and if that is a key component of transmission. 

While some experts have noted the cellular structure of a coronavirus lacks the necessary protein to survive on surfaces like the influenza virus, other research suggests that it is possible for COVID-19 to survive and remain infectious on surfaces in select temperatures. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes that COVID-19 is primarily spread through droplets in the air. This has guided the development of public health protocols, which include remaining at least 6 feet away from others and wearing masks while in public.

CDC officials do note, however, that people can become infected with COVID-19 if they are exposed to the virus on a surface and then make contact with their mouth, nose or eyes. 

Still, “spread from touching surfaces is not thought to be a common way that COVID-19 spreads,” the CDC notes.

The National Health Service (NHS) of the U.K. has reportedly recommended industrial laundering of health care practitioner’s clothing. If this is not possible, washing and drying uniforms at home is the next best practice.

In light of Laird’s research, she does not recommend washing health care uniforms at home since that could further spread the virus. 

“By taking their uniforms home, workers run the risk of contaminating their home environment, including the washing machine, because unlike in-house or industrial laundries, there is no segregation of laundry based on designated soiled and clean areas,” she noted. “If nurses and healthcare workers take their uniforms home, they could be leaving traces of the virus on other surfaces.”

Further investigation revealed that adding detergent and increasing the water temperature to at least 67 degrees Celsius, or 152 degrees Fahrenheit, can inactivate the virus.   


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Published on Feb 24, 2021