Aug. 8, 2022 – Is your laundry a way to spread monkeypox?
As monkeypox cases rise globally, health officials have warned that the virus mainly spreads through direct skin-to-skin contact with a monkeypox lesion. But according to the CDC, poxviruses like the monkeypox can survive in linens and clothing, and live particularly well in “dark, cool and low humidity environments.” Indeed: The federal agency pointed to one study where live virus was found 15 days after a patient had left their home.
Keeping your laundry clean is good for your health and might be especially important if you or someone close to you has monkeypox. Read on for expert advice on how to keep your laundry monkeypox-free.
Cleaning Clothes With Monkeypox
The CDC says the virus can spread to clothing when it touches the rash or bodily fluids of someone with monkeypox. Other common household fabrics like bedding and towels can also potentially spread the virus.
Robert Glatter, MD, an emergency medicine doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says monkeypox may live in clothes for so long because materials like cotton are more porous and breathable than plastic or metal surfaces.
“It’s advisable for persons with monkeypox to do their own laundry, assuming they feel well enough,” he says. “Persons who do laundry for those who are infected should wear gloves, gown, and a mask to reduce potential for transmission.”
Glatter recommends using hot water when washing clothing that has encountered someone that has monkeypox. The CDC also notes that if you do not have your own washer and dryer in your home, you should contact your local public health department for help with laundry that has come into contact with monkeypox.
But it’s important to note that while monkeypox can spread from touching clothing and fabrics, Glatter says that the risk of this happening is “minimal,” compared to the risk from skin-to-skin contact. He says that washing your hands with soap and warm water or using hand sanitizer after direct contact with someone with monkeypox is strongly recommended. The Environmental Protection Agency als has an online list of disinfectants that it recommends for killing the monkeypox virus.
Best Practices for Clean Clothes Overall
Monkeypox aside, it’s important to know how to keep laundry clean and free of things that can make you sick in general. Mold and mildew are two usual suspects that can make you feel under the weather if not taken care of.
Preeti Arya, PhD, an assistant professor of textile development and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, says mold and mildew can travel from anywhere in your house to your laundry. Molds create cells called spores that they use to spread to other places and grow.
“Even if one spore sticks, they start growing,” Arya says. She says mold and mildew grow in laundry because it’s a “favorable environment”; they love warmth and humidity, which are easily found in washing machines. (The CDC also says that common spots in the home for mold include roofs, pipes, walls, and potted plants.)
Besides the unpleasant smell, mold and mildew in laundry can trigger allergy symptoms if they’re not dealt with.
John Costa, MD, an allergy and immunology doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says people can be allergic to common molds found in households. Molds can cause allergy symptoms in the eyes, nose, and lungs, similar to pollen or animal dander allergies.
That said, it would be “very unlikely” for mildew in clothing to make you sick, Costa says, as “the amount of mold exposure for those toxins to make you sick has to be massive and overwhelming.”