Doing Laundry during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Prior to reading this blog post, please review the disclaimer at the bottom of this blog post.


carry dirty laundry in plastic laundry basket instead of hugging it

If the COVID-19 pandemic has you questioning your laundry routine, you're on the right track, but with a few adjustments, you've got this!

Keep Calm and Wash Your Laundry infographic

I have always been somewhat old-school when it comes to washing underwear and towels with hot water, but if you're still washing everything cold, you might want to turn up the heat. In a recent report by CBC News on etiquette and best practices in the laundromat during COVID-19, David Evans, a virologist and professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta, supports using "nice hot water with a good, standard laundry detergent".(1) Soaps and detergents are effective at breaking up the fatty protein layer that surrounds the RNA nucleus. Not letting piles of laundry build up can also be helpful in preventing transmission of any virus, according to Evans.

washing machine dial being adjusted

With many of us working from home at this time, a great way to get control of the laundry chore is to begin the day with doing one load of laundry, before doing anything else. I have been doing this as part of my own laundry routine for years. When the load is done I pop the laundry in the dryer for about 5-10 minutes on medium high to help kill any remaining pathogens, and then immediately hang it either on my indoor drying rack or outside on the line. The dryer accelerates the water molecules which speeds up the hang-drying process, plus removes wrinkles before hanging the laundry. Benefits of reducing your dryer usage are reduced electricity or gas costs, lower CO2 output, and less strain on the fibers so your clothes last longer. 

Motivation Tip for Doing Getting the Laundry Done

If you are caring for a loved one at home who has COVID-19, the Government of Canada provides the following guidelines:

  • Place possibly contaminated laundry, including non-medical cloth masks and facial coverings, into a container with a plastic liner and do not shake.
    • Wash with regular laundry soap and hot water (60-90°C), and dry well.
    • Clothing, linens and non-medical cloth masks and facial coverings belonging to the ill person can be washed with other laundry.
  • At least once daily, clean and disinfect surfaces that people touch often, such as toilets, laundry containers, bedside tables, doorknobs, phones and television remotes.  (2)

Of course you will still want to follow the manufacturer's instructions on the garment label for the warmest possible washing temperature if you don't want to ruin your clothes. If you need to wash a load of possibly contaminated items in cold water, you could avoid wearing the items for a few days. Various evidence suggests that the COVID-19 virus remains viable for hours to several days on surfaces, depending on the type of materials, which includes different types of clothing and fabrics.

And then there is a whole new part of our attire during the COVID-19 era: the face mask. I really admire crafty, talented people who have taken up sewing pretty or even trendy facial coverings, because I have two left hands when it comes to working with needles and thread.

homemade face mask

Although these non-medical cloth face masks can protect others because they prevent people from "speaking moistly" on them, it is important to note that these homemade masks may not be as effective as an N95 respirator and have several limitations. Please refer to this Government of Canada page for more information on the use of non-medical face masks. When it comes to laundering these masks, here are the government of Canada guidelines:

  • change a cloth mask as soon as it gets damp or soiled
  • put it directly into the washing machine or a bag that can be emptied into the washing machine and then disposed of
  • cloth masks can be laundered with other items using a hot cycle, and then dried thoroughly. (3)

Also keep in mind that many commercial laundry detergents contain synthetic fragrance, and if you're washing your cloth face mask with a scented product, you'll be breathing in the compounds used to produce the fragrance. According to the Canadian Lung Association,

Scents are usually made from a mixture of natural and man-made chemicals. A typical fragrance can contain between 100 to 350 ingredients. The problem with scented products is not so much the smell itself as the chemicals that produce the smell.
Scented products can contain several toxic chemicals that constantly turn into vapor in the air and attach themselves to hair, clothing, and surroundings. One commonly used chemical is diethyl phthalate, which is used to make scents last longer. It can cause allergic skin reactions (contact dermatitis) and is classified as a skin sensitizer and a reproductive toxin,...

While some people are only mildly affected by scents, others have severe reactions. Some common symptoms include:
  • headaches
  • feeling dizzy
  • feeling tired or weak
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • cold-like symptoms
  • worsening asthma symptoms (4)

So especially for washing your cloth face masks, you may want to opt for a fragrance-free laundry detergent that lists all of the ingredients, because some products have a masking agent added to hide other smells.

A word of caution when washing facemasks in the washing machine: always make sure to put them inside a mesh garment bag instead of just adding them to the load. I have been reading about reports of masks getting stuck in the filter or pump of the machine, which can potentially end up in an expensive repair bill.

I always wash our family's facemasks in a small plastic pail. I add a quarter scoop of powdered laundery detergent, add a full kettle of boiling water, and use the potato masher to agitate the masks in the wash water for about five minutes. Then empty the washwater from the pail and rinse twice with cool water. Squeeze out the excess rinse water and then hang the masks to dry overnight. Voila! The facemasks are ready for the next day.

Here are some other tips that may help to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus responsible for COVID-19:

  • Disinfect plastic laundry baskets before putting clean clothes in them
  • Don't pile dirty laundry on the floor
  • Avoid carrying dirty laundry except in a laundry hamper or bag designated for soiled laundry
  • Don't shake dirty clothes
  • Disinfect the control knobs and handles of the washing machine and dryer
  • Wipe clean light switches, door knobs and counters in the laundry room
  • Close the dryer door when not in use
  • Clean your washing machine more often
  • Wash your hands after handling dirty laundry.
  • Wash clothes after grocery shopping or returning from work.

If you are currently working from home and/or practicing social distancing at home, and are wearing the same clothes for days on end, please go and change right now and do some laundry!

clothes drying on outdoor drying line






The contents of this blog post, including the text, graphics, images, and other material contained herein, are for general informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or symptoms. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on my blog.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 or local emergency number immediately.

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