Covid-19 and other similar strains of virus can survive on clothing and transmit to other surfaces for up to 72 hours, a study has found.
Research carried out by De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester looked at how coronavirus behaves on three fabrics commonly used in the healthcare industry.
Scientists said polyester poses the highest risk for transmission, with infectious virus still present after three days that could transfer to other surfaces.
The study, led by microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, virologist Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar and postdoctoral researcher Dr Lucy Owen, 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.
Scientists said on 100% cotton the virus lasted for 24 hours, while on polycotton it only survived for six hours.
The university said Dr Laird advised the Government that all healthcare uniforms should be laundered in hospitals to commercial standards or by an industrial laundry.
Dr Laird, head of the Infectious Disease Research Group at DMU, said: “When the pandemic first started there was very little understanding of how long coronavirus could survive on textiles.
“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.”
She continued: “Once we had determined the survival rate of coronavirus on each of the textiles, we turned our attention to identifying the most reliable wash method for removing the virus.
“While we can see from the research that washing these materials at a high temperature, even in a domestic washing machine, does remove the virus, it does not eliminate the risk of the contaminated clothing leaving traces of coronavirus on other surfaces in the home or car before they are washed.
“We now know that the virus can survive for up to 72 hours on some textiles and that it can transfer to other surfaces too.
“This research has reinforced my recommendation that all healthcare uniforms should be washed on site at hospitals or at an industrial laundry.
“These wash methods are regulated and nurses and healthcare workers do not have to worry about potentially taking the virus home.”