While many are hunkered down in their homes as coronavirus sweeps across the globe, essential workers still have to go to their jobs, and trips to the grocery store and pharmacy remain necessary. But can the clothing people wear out spread Covid-19?
If so, what is the best way to handle clothes on your return?
That may depend on exactly what you do when you leave the house. For example, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) urges nurses and doctors to think of hospitals as "hot zones", and advises them to remove all of their clothing before re-entering their home. An immediate shower or bath is also advised, with work clothing kept away from other clothing until thoroughly washed in hot soapy water.
But for the average person, the role of clothing in infection risk is much less clear.
Hottest water cycle possible
"I have seen nothing published that suggests that people need to strip off clothes, launder and shower right after a trip to the store," noted Elizabeth Scott, associate dean at Simmons University's College of Natural, Behavioral, and Health Sciences in Boston. Scott is also the founder of Simmons' Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community.
At this point, "the focus should remain on hand hygiene practices, wearing a mask, and not touching the face" for most people, Scott said.
However, Scott said that as a precaution for store employees, sanitation workers or anyone in routine contact with the public, "It would make sense to remove outer clothing when they get home, and either launder them or leave them hanging until the next shift." And she advised washing hands right after doing so.
Scott also echoed US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advice that "laundering should be done using the highest water setting possible, followed by thorough drying".
"I would always use the hottest water cycle possible for the type of fabrics being washed," she stressed. "And it is also possible to do a sanitising wash, using household bleach following label instructions."
The CDC also advises against shaking out dirty laundry, to prevent unintentionally circulating any virus in the air.
What about laundromats?
For those who don't have a washer and dryer at home, are laundromats safe?
Scott suggested they are, so long as physical distancing is followed. To that end, she advised minimising laundromat time by sorting out dirty laundry in advance and folding clean laundry back at home.
"I would also suggest that you bring your own soap and hand towel," said Scott, to wipe down the outside of any public washer or dryer you might use. "I would add if you need to use a communal cart or laundry basket, wipe down all of the hand contact surfaces with sanitising wipes or hand sanitiser."
Finally, Scott took pains to emphasise the importance of maintaining hand hygiene throughout your laundry trip.
"You should wash and dry your hands before you leave home if possible and sanitise your hands once outside the laundry room/laundromat," Scott said. "And, once you get home, wash and dry your hands again."