Dear Home-Ec 101,
Do you need to use hot water to kill germs in the laundry? What about COVID? I work with kids, so I’m around germs all day. I do all the standard stuff. I wear a mask and wash my hands frequently. I also change as soon as I get home, but what about my clothes? Do my roommates need to bleach the washer before they do their clothes?
This whole thing makes me anxious.
Concerned in Concord
Insert standard disclaimer here: I am not a medical professional; this is not medical advice.
First, thank you. As someone who works with her youngest children practically perched on her head, I know the parents that have to leave their children with you are grateful. Thank you for being concerned. Thank you for taking precautions. It is important.
Second, we’re still learning, but we’ve learned so much since back in March. Some of the early information and guidance isn’t the same as it was then. It doesn’t mean that the science community or those in charge of public health don’t know what they’re talking about. It means that we as fallible humans learn as we go, and as we know better, we do better.
Next, so far, I’ve only learned of one confirmed case of fomite transmission of COVID-19. Fomite transmission is when a disease is caught by one person depositing the virus on a surface, where another person gets the virus onto themselves, usually their hands, and then into their body, typically through a mucus membrane like the eyes, nose, or mouth—stop touching your face! That case took place in a nursing home. Does this mean it hasn’t happened elsewhere? Of course not. It just means that the chances are low, but keep washing your hands, to be sure.
When you add in the process of washing your clothes, you’re adding in all kinds of other disruptors to the transmission process:
You are diluting the number of virus that can be transmitted at once.
You are rinsing away some of the virus, reducing what can be picked up.
But here’s the kicker, the coronavirus itself is covered in a lipid (fatty) coating, and detergents break down this layer, which causes the virus to fall apart. Yay!
So no, you do not have to wash your daily-wear clothing on hot to be safe concerning COVID. If you’re cleaning up after a sewage backup or diaper explosion, that’s a very different story.
Kids are little petri dishes and are excellent transmitters of so many things. So, please don’t forget to get your flu shot this year, the normal germs are still going to make the rounds of preschools and daycares.
Stay healthy and send your questions to email@example.com.