University of Sydney postdoctoral research associate Hannah Sassi, whose areas of expertise are environmental microbiology and virology, says while there is no “defined standard for ‘good’ hygiene”, there are sensible guidelines for how often people should launder their clothes, bedding and towels.
“It’s going to vary by people’s lifestyles and home situations,” she says. “For example, your job, how often you exercise, if you have any pets. It also depends on the time of year and where you spend most of your time. Linens, like bedsheets, can carry a lot of dirt, bodily fluids (drooling, sweating, etc) and dead skin or debris. So it’s recommended these are laundered and changed every one to two weeks.”
The one exception is hand towels, which she advises to wash more frequently as they are most often used by the entire household. “This means, inherently, they will be ‘dirtier’ than your personal towel for showering or face washing,” she says. Although the survival of COVID-19 on textiles is low compared to hard surfaces, “survival increases on damp soft surfaces, though. Allowing hand towels to completely dry out between uses will help decrease the virus survival.”
Dr Sassi says there are no additional measures to ward off coronavirus, unless, of course, you are dealing with the laundry of someone who has COVID-19. In this case, the advice is clear: use a separate washing basket, do not shake the items, as viral particles can spread, use the hottest recommended water or cycle for the item by the manufacturer, and wear disposable gloves.
“Laundry detergent doesn’t really have much of an effect on organisms – it’s designed to target stains, smells and soils … Heat and drying out are the most effective methods to kill microorganisms,” Dr Sassi says.
LG Australia’s senior marketing manager of home appliances, Brad Reed, says there has been a spike in sales, which may also be down to people spending more time at home and noticing wear and tear on their appliances.
Reed says that since the outbreak of the virus, “people are more conscious about the need for cleaning, and about clothes specifically”.
He says one of the common mistakes people make is choosing the wrong cycle for their clothes. In hygiene terms, that can mean gym clothes that still harbour sweat enzymes and bacteria if they are not washed for long enough or hot enough. But, he stresses, it’s still important to heed the manufacturer’s care label to find a balance between hygienic washing and garment care.