How to Do Laundry While Protecting Yourself From Coronavirus
It’s an understatement to say that the new coronavirus pandemic has completely thrown a wrench into our lives. It’s forced us to restrategize and change how we go about pretty much every single day-to-day task, including something as simple as doing laundry.
Some people are lucky enough to have their own washing machine and dryer in their homes. Many others (myself included) have to rely on shared laundry facilities, like a local laundromat or the laundry room in the basement of an apartment building. That means doing laundry involves leaving our homes, spending time with other people in a typically cramped space, and touching machines that many others have touched before us.
With all the talk about COVID-19 transmission and social distancing guidelines, it’s tough to figure out the right way to drag your clothes, towels, and linens to these spaces and safely wash and dry them. What are the risks involved? How can you be as prepared as possible? And how can you try not to bring the virus back into your home with you if you encounter it while out in the world?
For starters, here’s a quick refresher on how COVID-19 spreads: “There’s a strong consensus that far and away the most common way you catch this virus is by being in close proximity to a person that is infected,” John Swartzberg, M.D., infectious disease doctor and clinical professor emeritus at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, tells SELF. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when someone with the infection coughs, sneezes, or talks, they spread respiratory droplets into the air, potentially around six feet away. These can get into your system and make you sick if they land on your nose or mouth or if you inhale them.
Experts also believe that it may be possible to catch the virus from touching a surface that has the virus on it. “Touching contaminated surfaces is not the main way [this spreads], but it is a risk,” Joshua G. Petrie, Ph.D., M.P.H., research assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, tells SELF. It’s still not clear how long the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes this disease remains active and infectious on surfaces and how many viral particles would need to be present to actually infect someone, but experts are still recommending caution until we know the details.
All this is to say that keeping a suggested six-foot (or more) distance from people outside your household is the best thing you can do to protect yourself and others. The next best lines of defense include washing your hands frequently, especially after touching things other people have touched, and avoiding touching your face (specifically your mouth, nose, and eyes).
How does this all factor into doing laundry, in particular? We looked at the CDC recommendations and spoke with germ scientists and infectious disease doctors to find out the best ways to stay safe in a shared laundry space and how to make sure you’re washing your clothes properly to avoid getting the new coronavirus.
1. Wear a cloth face covering.
The latest CDC recommendations say that everyone (even those who are seemingly healthy) should wear some sort of homemade cloth mask whenever they’re going to be in a public setting where social distancing might be difficult. A laundromat or shared laundry room would certainly be one of those places.
The CDC’s reasoning is that, according to emerging data, more than 50 percent of people with the new coronavirus seem to be asymptomatic or presymptomatic at some point during their illness, meaning they can actively spread the infection without seeming sick at all. While homemade face masks aren’t perfect, they can at least help reduce the sheer number of droplets that people put out into the environment when they talk, cough, and sneeze, lowering their risk of infecting others. Here’s what you need to know to make sure you’re wearing a mask the right way to reduce your odds of getting (or spreading) this disease.
2. Avoid doing laundry during popular times.
The usual social distancing rules apply when you’re doing laundry. “You want to keep that distance,” Peter Raynor, Ph.D., environmental health professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and director of the Industrial Hygiene Program, tells SELF. That can be hard, since laundromats and communal laundry rooms are typically small, and the machines are packed closely together.