How to wash your clothes during the coronavirus pandemic

As the words ‘COVID-19’ and ‘coronavirus’ are going to be part of our vocabulary for quite some time to come, we all need to live with the realities of what that means for our everyday lives going forward. We already extensively wash our hands and keep our distance from others when going outside, but there are other things we need to be aware of too. One of these things is how we handle and wash our clothes during a pandemic.

Our clothes are in constant contact with our body and, when we go outside, they also have the potential to come into contact with surfaces where the virus is present. After all, we know that COVID-19 can live on various surfaces for hours and even days. Our clothes are no different. So while we have systems in place to keep our hands clean and stopping ourselves from getting and passing on the virus to others, what do we do about our clothes? And if you’re looking after someone who is self-isolating because they may (or do) have coronavirus, how do you wash their clothes?

Well, not to worry! We here at Repair Aid have assembled some great washing tips that can help you keep you and your clothes safe during the pandemic. And, when the pandemic is over, you can even continue to keep using these tips to keep you and your family as safe as possible from coronavirus and other viruses too.

How often should you clean your clothes?

You should try to clean your clothes as often as you can. While hard surfaces, such as kitchen worktops, are easily cleaned in one or two swift motions, clothing is comprised of layers of soft fibres. As such, virus particles can become trapped in the layers and may end coming loose later when the clothing is moved around. This is why they need to be immersed in hot water alongside a quality detergent to ensure deep cleaning or, alternatively, correctly dry cleaned with the right solvents.

As you are not likely to be entertaining guests anytime soon, you may be tempted to wear some of the same clothes for more than one day. Don’t. This only further increases the virus risk of your clothes, particularly if you have been outside while wearing them. Clean your clothes after every use – particularly clothes that have come into contact with hard surfaces. However, don’t use too much detergent. This is because too much can create soap suds which can trap dirt, debris and possibly virus particles. Soap suds then attach to clothes instead of being washed away. To prevent this, just use the normal amount of detergent that you always do.

Make sure to always wash your hands after you’ve touched dirty clothes as you may unwittingly transfer virus particles onto your hands. And, lastly, don’t shake any clothes when you’re getting ready to wash them. This could disperse any trapped virus particles from the fibres and free them into your environment.

The ideal temperature to kill the coronavirus

When washing clothes – whether they have been worn by someone who has or has not been in contact with the virus – the classic washing temperature of 30 degrees Celsius just won’t cut it if you want to eliminate COVID-19 or any other virus. Our bodies happen to be an ideal temperature for many viruses to thrive in and, on average, our body temperature is about 37 degrees Celsius. This is why you need to wash at 60 degrees Celsius if you want to eliminate most, if not all, traces of the virus.

This can pose a problem if some of your clothing is of a more delicate nature and such high temperatures, over a consistent period of time, may damage them. You may also have environmental concerns over running more washes at a higher temperature. An alternative approach to this is only washing clothes that are likely to come into contact with bodily fluids (and the outside world) at 60 degrees Celsius. Examples of this include sportswear, towels that are shared, tea towels, bedding, scarves, hats, gloves, reusable nappies and so on. Everything else? Wash it as normal, but with more regularity and preferably at temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius or above.

If you don’t have a washing machine, you can always handwash clothing items. However, keep in mind that you need to do so at a high temperature. You may want to wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the heat and possible contamination.

Should you clean your washing machine more?

You don’t need to make any special effort to keep your washing machine cleaner than usual. However, you may find comfort in purchasing and using a specially formulated washing machine cleaner with anti-bacterial properties. A number of these cleaners (from brands such as De Beckmann and Dettol) claim to kill 99.9% of bacteria.

While many lifestyle gurus have recommended using household bleach as a makeshift cleaner, this shouldn’t be the case in your washing machine. This is because it can erode and destroy the rubber seals which can lead to water leaking out during a wash. This can not only pose a health and safety risk, but would require you to call up a repair – like Repair Aid – to sort out the problem. While our work has been deemed essential by the UK government and we continue to provide essential repairs for people in their own homes, we would, of course, rather minimise any emergency call-outs at this time! You can, however, use some bleach products (such as bleach-based detergents) to wash your clothes.

If you are using a communal washing machine, you may want to co-ordinate your cleaning efforts with others to create a set of guidelines for usage of the machine. If you’re visiting a laundrette, it may be worth phoning or emailing them to ask about their guidelines on how they will be cleaning their machines. Keep in mind that if you’ve just completed seven days of self-isolation, you should wait a further 3 days before going into a communal space like a laundrette.

What to do if you’re living with someone who is self-isolating

If you’re currently sharing a home with someone who is self-isolating, it may be best to wash their clothes separately. However, if you have environmental concerns or are worried about your energy bills, it should be okay to wash them together with your clothing as long as the wash is at a sufficient temperature to kill the virus (see above). There should be very minimal risk of the virus being distributed between all the clothes as the temperature and detergent should eliminate it. However, washing separately is the safest approach.

When handling their clothing items, make sure to wear rubber gloves and make an effort to clean their clothing on a daily basis. While these clothes can be stored in a hamper or a basket, you’ll want to disinfect this container/space with regularity to minimise any possible spread of the virus beyond this area.

Lastly, don’t share any clothes or towels with a person who is self-isolating. Any communal items or clothing are an easy way for the virus to make their way from one person to another.

Some extra tips

We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. If you’ve made it this far, here are a couple of extra clothing-related tips that could help you feel even safer during the pandemic:

  • Change your clothes for bed: While some people wear some of their day clothes to bed (such as t-shirts, underwear and socks), you can reduce the chance of the virus finding a home on your bed by changing into designated bed clothes. This is especially important if you’ve been outside whilst wearing those day clothes.
  • Give the outside of your machine a wipe: It’s important to remember that you will likely handle dirty clothes and then touch the dials or touchscreen of your washing machine. To minimise any potential contamination, give this surface a clean with an anti-bacterial solution or wipe after every use and then wash your hands.
  • Swap out fabric softener for vinegar: Surprisingly, vinegar is a great alternative to fabric softeners during this crisis thanks to it having natural anti-bacterial properties. Just stick half a cup in the machine’s softener drawer during the rinse cycle for some extra peace of mind. While the smell should disperse by the end of the wash, you can always add a few drops of essential oils to mask any potential whiff.

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