The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 mainly spreads from person to person. Transmission from person to person can happen through larger droplets from sneezes and coughs but there is also growing evidence that smaller particles called aerosols can hang in the air longer and travel farther. These aerosols may also play a part in transmission.
A variety of studies are looking at how long the virus stays alive on a variety of surfaces. It is still unclear if this increases the chance of transmission. From what we know so far – transmission from surfaces is much lower risk than person to person.
Still, it is possible (though not as likely) to catch the virus if you touch a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
The coronavirus can live for hours to days on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs. How long it survives depends on the material the surface is made from.
Here’s a guide to how long coronaviruses — the family of viruses that includes the one that causes COVID-19 — can live on some of the surfaces you probably touch every day.
Keep in mind that researchers still have a lot to learn about the new coronavirus. But you’re probably more likely to catch it from being around someone who has it than from touching a contaminated surface.
Different Kinds of Surfaces
Examples: doorknobs, jewelry, silverware
Examples: furniture, decking
Examples: milk containers and detergent bottles, subway and bus seats, backpacks, elevator buttons
2 to 3 days
Examples: refrigerators, pots and pans, sinks, some water bottles
2 to 3 days
Examples: shipping boxes
Examples: pennies, teakettles, cookware
Examples: soda cans, tinfoil, water bottles
2 to 8 hours
Examples: drinking glasses, measuring cups, mirrors, windows
Up to 5 days
Examples: dishes, pottery, mugs
Examples: mail, newspaper
The length of time varies. Some strains of coronavirus live for only a few minutes on paper, while others live for up to 5 days.
Examples: takeout, produce
Coronavirus doesn’t seem to spread through food.
Coronavirus hasn’t been found in drinking water. If it does get into the water supply, your local water treatment plant filters and disinfects the water, which should kill any germs.
Examples: clothes, linens
There’s not much research about how long the virus lives on fabric, but it’s probably not as long as on hard surfaces.
One study tested the shoe soles of medical staff in a Chinese hospital intensive care unit (ICU) and found that half were positive for nucleic acids from the virus. But it’s not clear whether these pieces of the virus cause infection. The hospital’s general ward, which had people with milder cases, was less contaminated than the ICU.
Skin and hair
There’s no research yet on exactly how long the virus can live on your skin or hair. Rhinoviruses, which cause colds, survive for hours. That’s why it’s important to wash or disinfect your hands, which are most likely to come into contact with contaminated surfaces.
What You Can Do
To reduce your chance of catching or spreading the new coronavirus, clean and disinfect common surfaces and objects in your home and office every day. This includes:
- Bathroom fixtures
- Remote controls
Use a household cleaning spray or wipe. If the surfaces are dirty, clean them first with soap and water and then disinfect them.
You can also make a bleach solution that will be good for up to 24 hours. Mix 5 tablespoons (one-third cup) of household bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons per quart of water. Never mix bleach with ammonia or another cleanser. Leave cleaners or bleach solutions on surfaces for at least 1 minute.
Keep surfaces clean, even if everyone in your house is healthy. People who are infected may not show symptoms, but they can still shed the virus.
Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after you visit the drugstore or supermarket or bring in takeout food or a delivered newspaper.
It’s a good idea to wash fruits and vegetables under running water before you eat them. Scrub them with a brush or your hands to remove any germs that might be on the surface. If you have a weakened immune system, you might want to buy frozen or canned produce.
There’s no evidence that anyone has gotten the virus from food packaging. But if you want, you can wipe down take-out containers or grocery items and let them air dry.
Wash or disinfect reusable grocery bags after each use. Wash used fabrics often, using the warmest water that the manufacturer recommends. Dry them completely. Wear disposable gloves when handling an ill person’s laundry. Throw them away when you’re done, and wash your hands.
The virus probably won’t survive the time it takes for mail or other shipped items to be delivered. The highest risk comes from the person delivering them. Limit your contact with delivery people as much as you can. You might also leave packages outside for a few hours or spray them with a disinfectant before bringing them in. Wash your hands after you handle mail or a package.
If you want, you can disinfect the soles of your shoes and avoid wearing them indoors.
Coronavirus and Temperature
Coronaviruses generally don’t live as long in higher temperatures and humidity levels than in cooler, dryer conditions. Researchers are studying whether exposure to heat, cold, or sunlight affects how long the new virus lives on surfaces.
Scientists also don’t know how much of the virus it takes to cause an infection. Even if a small amount lingers on a surface for days, this might not be enough to make you sick.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on August 21, 2020
CDC: “How It Spreads,” “Water Transmission and COVID-19,” “Cleaning and Disinfection for Households,” “Frequently Asked Questions.”
FDA: “Food safety and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19),” “Shopping for Food During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Information for Consumers.”
Harvard Medical School: “Coronavirus Resource Center.”
Journal of Hospital Infection: “Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents.”
New England Journal of Medicine: “Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1.”
News release, National Institutes of Health.
Purdue University: “Don’t fear eating your fruits and veggies as virus concerns grip nation.”
UC Davis: “Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables,” “COVID-19 FAQs for health professionals.”
Emerging Infectious Diseases: “Aerosol and Surface Distribution of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 in Hospital Wards, Wuhan, China, 2020.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Coronavirus (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions.”
Houston Methodist: “How Long Can Coronavirus Survive on Surfaces?”
Mayo Clinic: “Can COVID-19 (coronavirus) spread through food, water, surfaces and pets?”
Hackensack Meridian Health: “Can You Get Coronavirus From Packages and Mail?”
Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials: “Can Coronavirus Live on the Bottoms of Shoes?”
The Lancet: “SARS-CoV-2 shedding and infectivity.”
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