Researchers at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester looked at how Covid-19 behaves on three fabrics commonly used in the healthcare industry and found that traces can remain infectious for up to three days.
The study involved adding droplets of a model coronavirus, with a similar structure to that of SARS-CoV-2, to polyester, polycotton and 100 per cent cotton.
The scientists, led by microbiologist Dr Katie Laird, virologist Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar and postdoctoral researcher Dr Lucy Owen, then monitored the stability of the virus on each material for 72 hours.
According to the study, Polyster poses the highest risk for transmission, with infectious virus still present after three days that could transfer to other surfaces.
On 100 per cent cotton, the virus lasted for 24 hours, while on polycotton, the virus only survived for six hours.
“When the pandemic first started, there was very little understanding of how long coronavirus could survive on textiles,” said Dr Katie Laird, head of the Infectious Disease Research Group at DMU.
“Our findings show that three of the most commonly used textiles in healthcare pose a risk for transmission of the virus. If nurses and healthcare workers take their uniforms home, they could be leaving traces of the virus on other surfaces.”
NHS uniform and workwear guidelines say it is safe to wash healthcare workers’ uniforms at home, provided the temperature is set to at least 60C.
But Dr Laird is calling on the Government to advise that all healthcare uniforms be laundered in hospitals to commercial standards or by an industrial laundry.
The scientists conducted tests with the aim of identifying the most reliable wash method for removing the virus from clothing.
Their findings showed that coronavirus was stable in water up to 60C, but was inactivated at 67C.
Dr Laird said: “While we can see from the research that washing these materials at a high temperature, even in a domestic washing machine, does remove the virus, it does not eliminate the risk of the contaminated clothing leaving traces of coronavirus on other surfaces in the home or car before they are washed.
“We now know that the virus can survive for up to 72 hours on some textiles and that it can transfer to other surfaces too.
“This research has reinforced my recommendation that all healthcare uniforms should be washed on site at hospitals or at an industrial laundry. These wash methods are regulated and nurses and healthcare workers do not have to worry about potentially taking the virus home.”