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Washing Clothes During Coronavirus: What’s the Safest Way?

The COVID19 pandemic is especially lethal for several reasons: it attacks the lower respiratory system immediately, and it is extremely contagious. While there is still a lot that the scientists do not know about COVID19, the general agreement is that it is spread through droplets that settle on surfaces and can remain contagious for up to 72 hours. Different surfaces have different time frames, however, and experts are not yet certain how long COVID19 can remain on fabric. What we do know is that ordinary soap and water can destroy the virus on the skin. And the same science applies to laundry.

The Science of Soap

Almost all viruses consist of three key elements: ribonucleic acid (RNA), proteins and lipids. There are no strong covalent bonds holding these units together, which means you do not need harsh chemicals to split them apart. The weakest part of the virus is the lipid or fatty layer. Soap dissolves the fat membrane and the RNA and proteins go their separate ways, no longer a threat. Laundry detergent works on the same principles. The surfactants (surface active agents) in laundry detergent have molecules that have two ends: one to attach to lipids (grease and dirt), and one to attract water. So during the wash cycle, the laundry detergent would work on the lipids in the COVID19 virus, breaking them down, and then rinse it all away in the rinse cycle.

Laundry Strategies to Combat COVID19

Knowing that simply doing your laundry can help prevent this disease gives you substantial power over it. While it is not necessary to do your laundry any differently from normal, you may choose to wash clothes at a higher temperature or use a detergent that specifies that it’s good on grease. Other key considerations to minimize the spread of COVID19 are these:

· Do not shake out dirty laundry. You may be in the habit of shaking out your dirty laundry before putting it in the machine. Now is the time to break that habit. Shaking your dirty laundry creates the potential for the COVID19 virus to travel from the fabric to your skin, or some other surface where it can remain infectious.

· Separate towels for household members. Each person should have their own hand towel and bath towel, and they should be washed more frequently than usual. The hand towel especially will be used more frequently because everyone should be washing hands multiple times a day.

· Cloth Face Masks and Gloves. The CDC is now recommending that everyone wear cloth face masks when out in public. They are also clear that you should not diminish the supply needed for medical professionals. It is easy to make or create your own cloth face mask. Similarly, cloth gloves don’t take away from the disposable gloves needed by medical professionals and protect you against COVID19 as well. It is important that you put these cloth face masks and gloves into the washing machine as soon as you enter the house after a public excursion. They need to be washed after every use.

· Wash some items on the hottest setting. Fabrics that have been in contact with bodily fluids should be washed at the hottest setting possible for the cloth. For instance, anything that has had vomit or feces on it (including diapers) should be washed on hot. Sports wear, too, should be washed in water as hot as the fabric can withstand. And of course, towels should be washed on hot.

Your washer is your ally in the fight against COVID19. It’s designed to deal with grease and grime, and COVID19’s fatty layer can be destroyed in your washer as well. Use it frequently to keep yourself and your family safe during this pandemic.

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