Nurses’ uniforms should be professionally cleaned as COVID-19 survives for 3 days, finds study

NHS uniform and workwear guidelines state it is safe to wash healthcare workers’ uniforms at home, provided the temperature is set to at least 60°C. 

Ian Snug
24 February 2021

Traces of the virus can remain infectious for up to three days.

Coronaviruses can survive on clothing and transmit to other surfaces for up to 72 hours, scientists have warned.

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A study by De Montfort University examined how Coronavirus behaves on three fabrics commonly used in the healthcare industry with researchers finding that traces can remain infectious for up to three days.

Led by microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, virologist Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar and postdoctoral researcher Dr Lucy Owen, the research involved adding droplets of a model coronavirus called HCoV-OC43 – which has a very similar structure and survival pattern to that of SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19 – to polyester, polycotton and 100% cotton.

The scientists then monitored the stability of the virus on each material for 72 hours.

The results showed that polyester poses the highest risk for transmission of the virus, with the infectious virus still present after three days that could transfer to other surfaces.

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On 100% cotton, the virus lasted for 24 hours, while on polycotton, the virus only survived for six hours.

“When the pandemic first started, there was very little understanding of how long coronavirus could survive on textiles,” said Dr Katie Laird, Head of the Infectious Disease Research Group at DMU.

“Our findings show that three of the most commonly used textiles in healthcare pose a risk for transmission of the virus. If nurses and healthcare workers take their uniforms home, they could be leaving traces of the virus on other surfaces.”

NHS uniform and workwear guidelines state it is safe to wash healthcare workers’ uniforms at home, provided the temperature is set to at least 60°C.

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Dr Laird has now raised concerns that the evidence that supported the above statements was mainly based on two outdated literature reviews published in 2007.

She has advised the government that all healthcare uniforms should be laundered in hospitals to commercial standards or by an industrial laundry.

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