6 Laundry Tips an Expert Thinks You Should Know During the Coronavirus Outbreak

published Apr 1, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

When there’s a viral illness spreading, you can expect most aspects of your routine to change—including the way you do your laundry. How often you wash, how you wash, and even where you keep your dirty clothes could be factors that mean the difference between getting sick and staying healthy.

To learn more about the best (and most hygienic) laundry practices during a pandemic, we spoke with Minneapolis-based laundry expert Patric Richardson. Here’s what he recommends for clean clothes you can feel confident wearing when germs are more threatening than ever.

Read all of Apartment Therapy’s disinfecting coverage.

It’s not a bad idea to remove your clothes when you walk in the door

You’re probably not venturing out too often right now, but if you do a grocery store run or even go for a walk outside—basically, anytime you expose yourself to outside germs—you may want to take your clothes off and put on fresh ones before you settle in on the sofa.

Even if you don’t have close contact with someone, 3 to 6 feet of personal space is enough to contaminate your clothes. Most viral illnesses (including COVID-19) spread by droplets, which means potentially infected fluid from someone’s sneeze or cough could land on you. And you could be picking up pathogens from surfaces if you’re using the ends of your sleeves like gloves to grab objects like door handles. Recent research shows the new coronavirus can live on dry surfaces for 2 to 3 days. Moral of the story: It’s not a bad idea to take off, and ideally immediately launder, your clothes upon arriving home.

Keep dirty clothes in their own bin or hamper (and not on a clothes chair)

Can’t do laundry right away upon returning home? Now is not a good time to toss dirty clothes on the chair in your bedroom or in a pile mixed with a clean t-shirt you plan to put on later, since you’d essentially be spreading the pathogens that could be living on them. To keep all the germs in one place, Richardson suggests keeping dirty clothes that can’t be immediately washed in their own bin or hamper until you’re ready to launder everything.

Wear gloves when you do a sick person’s laundry 

If someone is sick in your home, be extra cautious. The CDC recommends wearing gloves while you do laundry to avoid infecting yourself, along with keeping the soiled clothes away from your face and body while laundering. Immediately after washing the clothes, toss the disposable gloves and thoroughly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.

Use a sanitizing product in the laundry, if you can

Richardson says hot water and a hot dryer are often effective sterilizers, but using heat on your clothes often can wear down your garments relatively quickly. Same goes for the “sanitize” cycle on your washer. 

“If a person is ill, or if you were out in public, I would wash everything with the Laundress’ All-Purpose Bleach Alternative, which is sterilizing.” It contains sodium percarbonate, found in many bleach alternatives, which is a solution that breaks down into hydrogen peroxide. For everyday cotton items and activewear, you can put it right in your laundry. For wool clothes, Richardson says he mixes it with water in a tub and dips his clothes in as a pre-treatment before washing.

If you don’t have a sanitizing product, rely on warm water and your dryer

In place of a sanitizing product, Richardson recommends washing your clothes in warm water and then running your items through the dryer. The dryer part is important, he says, because you know you’ll get ample heat through a dry cycle, but you can’t always guarantee the water in your washing machine will be hot enough to take care of germs. “If it were me and I didn’t have a bleach alternative product, I’d use my normal laundry method then put everything in the dryer,” he says.

Use a steamer in a pinch 

Whether you can’t dry certain clothes in a dryer, you want some extra security, or you need to disinfect a garment in a pinch, your steamer (or iron) is your new best friend. Richardson says steam on its own is enough to sanitize clothes and other linens (like bed sheets and towels). If you don’t have a steamer, you can use an iron for the same thing—just spritz your garment with water, then set your iron to the cotton or linen setting.