Does Dry Cleaning Kill COVID-19 On Clothing?
At this point in the pandemic, we figured out how to properly wash our hands, clean our homes, and do laundry. But what about the "dry-clean only" clothes in our closets that cannot be thrown into the washing machine? Would dry cleaning disinfect these items against COVID-19?
First of all, you need to know a little about how dry cleaning works. The term “dry cleaning” is a misnomer as your clothes get wet - just not with water. Instead, a chemical solvent, most commonly perchlorethylene, is used to clean clothes. (Green dry cleaners can use liquid carbon dioxide, a silicone-based solvent, or a wet cleaning method instead.)
The garments can then be ironed, steamed or pressed. It turns out it's the higher temperatures used during these processes - not chemical cleaning solvents - that can kill the virus, said Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.
"The high heat used in pressing and ironing during dry cleaning is pretty reliable," he said. "The virus hates heat."
Is dry cleaning better at disinfecting than doing laundry at home?
Based on current research on fabric and COVID-19, there is no evidence that either method is better than the other as long as your laundry reaches a high enough temperature. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu viruses are killed by heat above 167 degrees Fahrenheit. Coronavirus studies recommend 20 minutes above 140 degrees. Domestic hot water can reach 130 degrees or higher.
The chemicals used in dry cleaning do not kill viruses, but the heat applied during pressing and ironing can. (Photo: artwell via Getty Images)
"There's no evidence that dry cleaning is more or less effective at killing coronavirus than washing it in the washing machine," said Melissa Perry, professor and chair of environmental and occupational health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University .
In other words, you don't have to jump in for a professional dry cleaning job on items that you normally wouldn't dry clean.
"Dry cleaning can only be used on materials that are only suitable for dry cleaning, while regular washing is sufficient for washable clothing and bedding," said Perry.
If you do laundry at home, the CDC website states that "You can wash items as needed, according to the manufacturer's instructions". However, it is recommended that you use the warmest water the fabric allows and dry the items completely.
"A normal wash cycle in combination with a deep detergent is sufficient for daily cleaning in healthy households and is also very effective in killing the respiratory viruses that cause colds, flu and COVID-19," said microbiologist Kelly Reynolds, professor and chair at the University of Arizona told Futurity.org that higher water temperatures generally kill more germs.
However, if someone in your household is sick, you should take extra precautions while washing. When handling dirty clothes or bedding, wear disposable gloves, don't shake them out (you don't want to spread the virus), and then wash your hands afterwards. You can also machine dry clothes on high heat for extra protection.
"If you clean clothes at home, you can also increase the virus killing efficiency by using bleach in the cleaning process if clothes allow bleach," said Diana Ceballos, assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health.
Do I need to dry clean clothes more often during COVID-19?
It depends, said Chin-Hong. "If the [garment] belongs to a family member who has recently been diagnosed with COVID, I would prioritize it to get it dry cleaned as soon as possible," he said. “Otherwise, it might be a good idea to dry clean these items when you're back from a vacation or trip. If you are a vital contributor in a potentially risky environment - like in healthcare - you can also have them cleaned more often. "
You are more likely to contract the virus by gathering in a dry cleaner with unmasked customers than with the clothes themselves. (Photo: andresr via Getty Images)
However, unless you are sick and have no known exposure to the virus, there are no extra trips to clean up.
"Dry cleaning as usual to keep the garment clean is good practice and there is currently no evidence that more dry cleaning than normal is required," Perry said.
How concerned should I be about the coronavirus on my clothes?
Not very much at this point. The virus spreads primarily through close personal contact and through the air. Transmission via surfaces is possible, but less common. And soft surfaces such as fabrics are considered less hospitable to the virus than hard ones.
"There is generally very little risk that the virus can live on clothes or bedding for a long time unless someone recently coughed on them with lots of respiratory secretions," Chin-Hong said. “Viruses likely live on fabric for a day or two compared to five to seven days on cold, hard surfaces like doorknobs and faucets. [The Virus] isn't a big fan of soft and porous surfaces like most clothes. "
You are more likely to contract COVID-19 if you congregate in dry cleaning with exposed customers than if you came off the clothes yourself, Chin-Hong said.
"Don't forget the three Ws: wear your mask, wash your hands and keep your distance!" he said.
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Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is known or available at the time of publication. However, guidelines may change as scientists learn more about the virus. Consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most current recommendations.
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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