August 8, 2022 – Is your laundry a way to spread monkeypox?
As monkeypox cases increase worldwide, health officials have warned that the virus is mainly spread through direct skin-to-skin contact with a monkeypox lesion. But according to the CDC, poxviruses like monkeypox can survive in bedding and clothing, and live especially well in “dark, cool, low-humidity environments.” Indeed: The federal agency pointed to a study where live virus was found 15 days after a patient left home.
Keeping your laundry clean is good for your health and can be especially important if you or someone close to you has monkeypox. Read on for expert advice on how to keep your laundry free of monkeypox.
Clean 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 physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says monkeypox can live so long in clothes because materials like cotton are more porous and breathable than plastic or metal surfaces.
“People with monkeypox are advised to do their own laundry, assuming they feel well enough,” he says. “People doing laundry for infected people should wear gloves, a gown and a mask to reduce the risk of transmission.”
Glatter recommends using hot water to wash clothes that have come across someone with monkeypox. The CDC also notes that if you don’t have your own washer and dryer in your home, you should contact your local public health department for help with laundry that has come in contact with monkeypox.
But it’s important to note that while monkeypox can be spread by touching clothing and fabrics, Glatter says the risk of this happening is “minimal,” compared to the risk of skin-to-skin contact. He says it is strongly recommended to wash your hands with soap and warm water or use hand sanitizer after direct contact with someone with monkeypox. The Environmental Protection Agency also has an online list of disinfectants it recommends to kill the monkeypox virus.
Best Practices for Overall Clean Clothes
Aside from monkeypox, it’s important to know how to keep laundry clean and free of anything that can make you sick in general. Mold and mildew are two common suspects that can leave you feeling bad if left unattended.
Preeti Arya, PhD, assistant professor of textile development and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, says mold can travel from anywhere in your home to your laundry. Molds create cells called spores which they use to spread to other places and grow.
“Even if a spore sticks, it begins to grow,” Arya explains. She says mold and mildew thrive in laundry because it’s a “favorable environment”; they like heat and humidity, which are easily found in washing machines. (The CDC also says common places in the home for mold include roofs, pipes, walls, and potted plants.)
Besides the unpleasant odor, mold and mildew in laundry can trigger allergy symptoms if left untreated.
John Costa, MD, an allergy and immunology physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says people can be allergic to common household molds. Molds can cause allergy symptoms in the eyes, nose, and lungs, similar to allergies to pollen or animal dander.
That said, mold in clothing would be “highly unlikely” to make you sick, Costa says, because “the amount of mold exposure for those toxins to make you sick has to be massive and overwhelming.”