Explained: Should you wash your clothes every time you return home?

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If you stepped out, return and change but leave your outdoor clothes unwashed, it may be safe to wear the same clothes the next time you step out. (Representational picture; Source: Thinkstock Images)

When someone returns from outdoors, is it essential to wash their clothes? While it always helps to wash your clothes if you can, you might want to weigh the need against the risk — or what is known of it — of not doing so.

The novel coronavirus probably survives on fabric for some time, although no research has been done on how long that is. Generally, viruses tend to last longer on non-porous surfaces (steel, plastic etc) an for a shorter time on porous surfaces (which include clothes).

The risk of infected clothes depends on where you went. At highest risk are healthcare professionals who deal with COVID-19 patients, and the government has guidelines including on washing their clothes. Dr Tanu Singhal, infectious disease expert, said, “It is assumed a detergent kills the virus when clothes are washed.”

coronavirus india cases

Union Health Ministry update at 11 pm, April 3. Some states may have reported higher numbers. Only states with most cases are listed above. 163 patients discharged in 19 states across the country.

As of now, the general population in India is seen as being at low risk because widespread community transmission has not yet begun. So, if you stepped out, return and change but leave your outdoor clothes unwashed, it may be safe to wear the same clothes the next time you step out. This is provided you have not kept wiping their unwashed hands against these clothes. And if you are a healthcare worker, repeating unwashed clothes is not safe.

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(Source: Johns Hopkins University, updated at 11:30 pm on April 2)

Should such clothes be washed separately? If you stepped out to buy groceries, it is probably safe to wash those clothes together with everyone else’s. If you travel out often, you should use a separate towel. If you travel frequently to high-risk clusters, to hospitals or quarantine facilities, you should wash clothes separately.

The government guidelines advise that if a person is suspected to have symptoms of COVID-19, his or her clothes must be separately washed wearing gloves to avoid contamination. In Kasturba Hospital, the nodal isolation facility for patients in Mumbai, staff go home, bathe and wash their clothes in warm water separately from other laundry as a precaution against transmission.