The coronavirus pandemic has many of us thinking more about how often and thoroughly we should clean our homes and belongings. But what about our sheets and other bedding? Germs can spread easily when pillowcases and sheets are shared by more than one person, the United Kingdom’s National Health Service warns.
Thankfully there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.
Here’s what experts have to say about washing bedding during the coronavirus pandemic.
How often to wash bedding
Fabric that is closer to the skin including towels and bedding should be washed most frequently, dermatologist Joshua Zeichner told the Huffington Post.
Before the pandemic, he recommended washing pillowcases and sheets once a week and duvets every other week since they don’t come in contact with the skin as frequently.
His guidelines have changed since the onset of coronavirus. Now Zeichner recommends cutting typical wash periods in half, HuffPo reported, meaning that sheets should be washed at least twice a week. However, dermatologist Hadley King says the best thing you can do for your family is focus on cleaning yourself when you get home.
“I think this makes more sense than focusing only on bed linens,” Hadley told HuffPo. “This may mean more showers, more hair washing and more changing clothes and washing ‘outside clothes’ more often, but it will help keep you, your home and your bed clean.”
How to wash bedding
When it comes to laundering your bedding during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says to wash items as directed by the manufacturer, with a few additional precautions.
The federal agency also warns against shaking dirty laundry for fear it could spread the virus.
You should also take care not to “hug” dirty laundry close to your body, per the New York City Department of Health’s guidelines for businesses.
When washing, be sure to use the warmest water setting appropriate for the fabric and dry your bedding completely, according to the CDC. Be sure to disinfect clothes hampers when you’ve put your last load in the wash.
No washing machine?
Your best bet is to stock up on extra sheets and pillowcases to help you keep your bedding fresh and clean, Wirecutter reported.
Washing the bedding of an ill person
If someone in your home has tested positive for coronavirus or suffered its symptoms, you should take extra caution when washing their bedding, but there’s no need to wash it separately, according to the CDC.
Good Housekeeping recommends wearing gloves when handling the bedding of someone who’s been sick and washing with bleach, if appropriate, in water that’s at least 140 degrees.
When your laundry is finished, don’t leave it sitting in the machine — the damp environment will make it easier for any leftover germs to multiply, Good Housekeeping reported. When you’re done, be sure to thoroughly wash your hands, according to the outlet.
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Clean your hands
Practicing good hand hygiene isn’t fancy or novel, but it works, says Starnbach. Washing with simple soap and water, and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t available, can help keep you from transporting germs from an infected surface to your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Also, be sure to follow local and state recommendations, which may include additional strategies such as wearing a mask and avoiding large gatherings, particularly indoors.
Eat healthy and exercise
Prime your immune system to effectively fight disease by keeping your body healthy. Follow a nutrient-rich diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Also, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. “Being in good health helps us to resist infectious diseases,” says Starnbach.
Don’t skip doctor visits
Some people may fear getting exposed to illness, so they decide to avoid routine screenings and doctor’s appointments. But they may be putting themselves at higher risk by doing so, says Starnbach.
“Doctors’ offices are now equipped for routine visits in a coordinated and safe manner,” he says.
Whether you show up in person or visit via video, it’s important to check in periodically with your doctor. Screenings are important for maintaining overall health and catching potential problems early, when they are most treatable.
Vaccinations aren’t only for kids; they’re a proven means of boosting your immune system to protect against certain viruses and other infectious agents. Although COVID-19 has taken center stage recently, don’t forget about traditional threats, such as the flu. Getting your annual flu shot is essential this year. Adults should also make certain that they are up to date on their tetanus shot, which should be given every 10 years, and consider getting the newer shingles vaccine, called Shingrix, which is recommended to everyone over age 50. It’s designed to prevent the virus that causes chickenpox (which remains in the body even after the infection has cleared) from reactivating and causing the painful shingles rash and other symptoms.
Adults over age 65 may also want to consider the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against a type of pneumonia unrelated to COVID-19. And stay tuned for news about a vaccine that could protect against COVID-19, which Starnbach says he hopes may become available in the not-so-distant future.
A host of products on the market claim to protect you from germs — “self-cleaning” surfaces, ultraviolet (UV) lights, and even substances you’re supposed to ingest, says Starnbach. Many of these items have some scientific basis, but it’s often a big leap from that basic science to the final product, he says. For example, one type of “self-cleaning” surface claims to use crystals to kill germs. While those crystals might indeed kill germs in a laboratory, it’s not at all clear that they work the same way to kill germs in a real-life setting, says Starnbach. So, there is much room for skepticism.
The same is true for UV lights. UV light at certain wavelengths definitely has the ability to kill bacteria and viruses; however, those specific wavelengths are also dangerous to human eyes and skin. Plus, in order to work, the light has to come into contact with the virus. Most viruses you pick up in the environment are contained in droplets of mucus, he says. UV light typically can’t penetrate the mucus, which means it can’t deactivate the virus. Even something as simple as dirt can cast shadows that keep the light from reaching its target. Fogging devices run into the same problem. They can really disinfect only if the surface is cleaned first.
Ultimately, the best way to keep your environment germ-free is to wipe surfaces clean and then disinfect to deactivate any virus. You don’t need any special devices, just a rag and some generic cleaning products.