We’ve all been told to disinfect our household surfaces with special cleaners to help destroy the virus that causes COVID-19. But what about laundry? Does cleaning clothes in a washing machine kill the coronavirus?
The short answer is “technically, no” …with a relatively large “but” at the end of it.
No, laundering fabrics in a washing machine with detergent doesn’t kill most germs outright, BUT for most of us that’s not an issue. There haven’t been any documented cases so far of anyone picking up the coronavirus from clothing, so your goal should not be to disinfect your laundry but just to cleanse it. That means just laundering your clothes, face coverings, bedding, towels, and other fabrics in the machine on the highest acceptable temperature setting and then drying them in a dryer should be sufficient.
Drying your laundry in a dryer, when possible, is an important part of the process when it comes to COVID-19, because SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is known to be sensitive to heat. To fully decontaminate your laundry, you’d need to dry your clothes at a very high temperature for several hours, but ordinary dryer settings still will reduce the overall number of bacteria and viruses on fabric.
If someone in your household is sick with COVID-19, then it’s a different story. You should take additional precautions. Handle their clothes, bedding, and other fabric items only while wearing gloves. Don’t shake those items out, because you’ll be spreading the virus into the air and onto surrounding surfaces. Use bleach on that laundry, if possible, and dry any contaminated fabrics on the highest possible dryer setting. Wash your hands immediately after handling any contaminated laundry.
But for most people, under most circumstances, just laundering everything in a washing machine and drying it in a dryer will keep your clothes quite clean enough.