Coronaviruses similar to Covid-19 can survive on clothing for up to three days, according to new research.
Research carried out by De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester looked at how a coronavirus behaves on three fabrics commonly used in the healthcare industry.
Polyester enables the virus to survive at infectious levels for up to 72 hours, whereas it dies within 24 hours on 100 per cent cotton.
However, coronaviruses can only survive on a polycotton hybrid however for six hours, the study found.
The study used a model coronavirus called HCoV-OC43 which is very similar to SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19.
Droplets were added to polyester, polycotton and cotton to see how long the virus lasted on these surfaces.
The findings are concerning, the researchers say, because if live virus sticks to the clothing of healthcare professionals then it could be carried from the hospital and into the home of staff and rub off onto various surfaces, allowing it to spread.
Microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, who led the study, has 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.’
Public Health England (PHE) published guidance in 2020 that the uniforms of healthcare workers should be laundered to industrial standards.
However, there is an exception for this if it is deemed to not be possible.
The NHS says a home wash of at least 60°C is fine and able to get rid of pathogens.
However, Dr Laird warns this NHS guidance is based on 14-year-old evidence and is in need of urgent review.
The researchers put the NHS advice to the test on 100 per cent cotton, the most common textile used in a healthcare environment.
When the virus was mixed in with artificial saliva the researchers found home washing machines can fail to remove all of the virus.
Only when a detergent was used and the water was at least 67°C was the virus fully inactivated.
‘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.’