Just how long can the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 stay viable on surfaces… and what can you do about it?
While scientists race to find a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, our best bet at staying fit and healthy is to avoid coming into contact with the virus. Social distancing measures are the most effective way we can avoid catching the virus. But because it can also live on everyday surfaces, there’s a chance you might catch it by touching something that’s contaminated, such as a worktop or door handle.
We looked at the evidence to find out just how long the novel coronavirus might be able to live on surfaces, as well as speaking to James Milnes, germ expert and Managing Director of Zoono, for advice on how we can best protect ourselves.
How long can coronavirus live?
In a paper published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, scientists from Greifswald University Hospital and Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany compiled data from 22 previous studies on other coronaviruses, to help us understand how long they can live and how they can be killed.
It shows that, unfortunately, there is no definitive answer, as it depends on what type of surface is contaminated, as well as the temperature of the environment.
Studies show it depends on what type of surface is contaminated, as well as the temperature of the environment.
However, the paper concluded that some human coronaviruses, such as SARS, can persist on inanimate surfaces, such as metal, glass or plastic, for up to nine days.
Can you get coronavirus from a contaminated surface?
Having someone cough in your face is one thing, but will the virus still be viable if it’s been left on a surface for a few days?
‘Germs can live on most surfaces for some time and can be transferred from person to person through physical touch from one unclean surface onto another,’ reveals Milnes. ‘As a result, it’s possible to become ill from touching the same surface as someone who is carrying the COVID-19 virus.
It’s possible to become ill from touching the same surface as someone who is carrying the COVID-19.
‘It’s therefore important to wash your hands in line with NHS guidelines, and especially immediately after touching surfaces outside your home. When you’re out and about, take a bottle of hand sanitiser with you and use it every time you touch anything. Be careful not to touch your face, as this helps germs spread from your hands to your skin, mouth and eyes.’
How can you effectively clean contaminated surfaces?
In their paper, ‘Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents’, scientists found that coronaviruses can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures with 62–71 per cent ethanol, 0.5 per cent hydrogen peroxide or 0.1 per cent sodium hypochlorite within one minute.
Milnes says it’s important to consider the type of cleaning agent you use.
‘Not all antibacterial cleaning products contain virus-killing ingredients, so look out for those that state they kill “99.9% of bacteria and viruses” on the packaging,’ he reminds. ‘Alcohol-based wipes or cleaning products may be effective against bacteria, but can also damage some surfaces. Instead, opt for an antibacterial product that uses harmless chemicals. For example, the Zoono range provides an effective yet long-lasting barrier against a broad spectrum of pathogens for both surfaces and skin, while being environmentally safe and non-corrosive.’
How can you reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 from a contaminated surface?
Milnes says it’s important to follow NHS advice closely.
‘This includes not touching your face and washing your hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds, particularly after coming into contact with surfaces, objects or people,’ he reminds. ‘Remember that wearing gloves and a face mask doesn’t automatically stop the virus spreading: bacteria can still live on personal protective equipment.’
If you do use gloves, make sure you dispose of them after use.
‘Throw away the gloves after use, as these may be contaminated,’ says Milnes. ‘Don’t touch your face or skin with your hands while wearing the gloves and never use the same pair of gloves twice. Equally, throw away disposable face masks after use. If you have a reusable face mask, wash it on a hot wash (60 degrees) after each use, to kill germs.’
How often should you clean surfaces?
It can be hard to know how best to stay safe when it comes to surfaces.
‘Clean kitchen surfaces before and immediately after every use, to ensure they’re clean,’ advises Milnes. ‘Always wash and dry your hands before preparing any food, and between handling cooked and uncooked produce.
‘Tiled and laminate flooring should also be cleaned daily with warm water and disinfectant, while weekly steam cleaning is effective against germs on carpets and furnishings.
‘Soft furnishings, such as cushions, sofa covers and curtains, can be cleaned in the washing machine each week.’
Should you wipe down food deliveries and groceries?
If you’re avoiding shops and supermarkets, getting home deliveries can be a great way of shielding yourself. But what about packaging? Could it be harbouring the virus?
‘Germs can be transferred when people touch groceries and they can live on most surfaces, including food tins, fresh produce and packaging, for some time,’ says Milnes. ‘It’s therefore important to wash home food deliveries before putting them away in the kitchen.
It’s important to wash home food deliveries before putting them away in the kitchen.
‘Use disposable wipes, as germs can live in reusable cloths. If you do use dishcloths or reusable cloths, wash them on a hot wash (60 degrees) after each use, to kill germs. Also, wash your hands before and after wiping down or washing your groceries.’