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19 Mar 2020

Coronavirus: How to wash clothes and kill germs

Germs can spread via clothes, particularly if you're sharing towels, so follow these key tips to minimise the risk if you're living with someone who is self-isolating or at risk
Woman in a utility room setting her washing machin

COVID-19 can enter the body and infect someone through the mouth, eyes or nostrils. This is why you need to wash your hands more often and avoid touching your face.

If you're handling clothes of someone who has been experiencing coronavirus symptoms, make sure you don't touch your face and be sure to wash your hands afterwards.

Also avoid shaking up any laundry too much, otherwise you could be spreading the virus through the air.

Coronavirus: how to clean your home effectively

The current government coronavirus advice for people with confirmed or possible COVID-19 infection says:

  • You can wash items just as the manufacturer's instructions say, as you normally would.
  • Dirty laundry that has been in contact with an ill person can also be washed with other people's items.

How long does coronavirus live on clothes?

Coronaviruses are well known to be resilient, but when SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) was new, little was understood about how long it lived on different surfaces. But a recent study has found that it can survive on clothes for up to two days.

So do you need to wash your clothes every time you come home from being out? Not exactly. If you have remained two meters away from other people, and haven't sat on or grazed past any surfaces, or if no one has coughed near you, then you shouldn't need to. If you do, it's a good idea to.

It's not known how long coronavirus lives on floors and shoes, and hence whether you could walk it into your home. If you are concerned about this, remove your shoes as soon as you enter your home.

You can keep up to date with our latest advice on the coronavirus outbreak over on our coronavirus advice hub.

The NHS lays out some exceptions that you may want to wash separately, at a higher temperature and with a bleach-based detergent - such as a biological powder for whites.

If you're interested in buying or making a reusable face mask, and want to know how to clean it, read our coronavirus guide on where to buy face masks and how to make your own.

Wash these at 60°C with a powder detergent

Sports kit

Clothes which come into contact with a lot of bodily fluids, such as sportswear, will have a great number of germs on, so could pose a greater risk.

Also avoid wearing sportswear more than once between washes.


Shared towels in your home can harbour many germs, so could quickly spread coronavirus.

Wash shared towels often and at 60°C .

If there is someone who is self-isolating or at risk, make sure they use their own separate towel.

Baby clothes and reusable nappies

Any items that come into contact with vomit or faeces are a germ risk.

The most common of these will be baby clothes, which you'll need to wash separately at 60°C to avoid spreading germs to your child.

If you're looking for more specific advice, such as how to deal with clothes used in food preparation or healthcare workers' clothes, the NHS website has some more advice.

Read more: Five ways to safely clean your mobile phone

Do antibacterial washing machine cleaners kill coronavirus?

Coronavirus doesn't mean you have to worry unduly about cleaning your washing machine. Simply following the clothes washing advice above should be sufficient.

You can continue to clean your washing machine as you normally would to keep it running smoothly.

Dettol and Dr Beckmann washing machine cleaners both claim to kill 99.9% of bacteria. All washing machine cleaners should kill bacteria, though, thanks a variety of anti-bacterial ingredients, most commonly oxygen-based bleaching agents.

Don't use regular household bleach to clean your washing machine, as this can damage and erode the rubber seals inside.

Read our washing machine cleaners compared guide to find out more.

What about if I need to go to the launderette?

If you don't have the luxury of your own washing machine, the government warns that you need to wait a further 72 hours after your seven-day isolation period has ended before going to the launderette.

You might also want to follow this guidance if you normally use a shared washing machine in a block of flats, for example.