Hello, I’m Ian Wahl, founder and clinical director of St. Louis Allergy Relief Center in Chesterfield, Missouri.
Lately, I’ve received some emails from patients asking me if I know how long the coronavirus or COVID-19 lasts on the things that we touch every day. Considering how frightened people are and how much misinformation there is online, I thought that was a great question.
The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 mainly spreads when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, sending droplets containing the virus into the air, and a healthy person then breathes in those droplets. However, you can also catch the virus if you touch a surface or an object that has the virus on it, and then you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes. It’s the touching of your mouth, nose, or eyes that transfers that virus into your body. If it stays on your hands thoroughly, washing for 20 seconds with soap and warm water will take care of the problem.
And the coronavirus can indeed live for hours or days on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs, but how long it survives depends on the material the surface is made from. So this is a guide to how long COVID-19 can live on some of the surfaces that you are probably touching on a daily basis.
Keep in mind that COVID-19 is a new coronavirus. Researchers, as of the end of March 2020, don’t know whether exposure to heat or cold or sunlight will affect how long it lives on surfaces. All the information I’m giving you is based on coronaviruses in general. The CDC can only extrapolate that to COVID-19 as research is just now developing on this new coronavirus strain.
Coronavirus on Different Objects
Metal such as doorknobs, jewelry, metal eyeglass frames, silverware will last about five days. In wood, such as furniture, decks, it can last about four days. In plastics (we’re talking about packaging, milk containers, detergent bottles, plastic water bottles, plastic molded seats you find in buses or schools, plastic backpacks, elevator, and ATM buttons, plastic eyeglass frames and polycarbonate) between two to three day. In stainless steel objects (refrigerators, pots and pans, sinks, some water bottles) it can last two to three days.
In cardboard such as shipping boxes and shoeboxes, you’re talking about 24 hours. Now copper, like pennies and some cookware that has copper bottoms or some copper cookware that’s sold, it can stay alive on those surfaces for about four hours. Aluminum, which would be soda cans, aluminum foil, certain water bottles around two to eight hours. Glass is very important because we’re talking about drinking glasses, measuring cups and mirrors, windows, the virus can survive up to five days.
With ceramics like dishes, pottery, and mugs, it is also about five days. Paper presents a bit of a problem. The length of time that a coronavirus can live on paper varies. Some strains of coronavirus live for only a few minutes on paper, while others live up to five days. So for paper, more research needs to be completed to give a definitive answer.
How About Food And Other Ingested Items?
Coronavirus doesn’t seem to spread through exposure to our food, at least that’s what we’re told. But you have no idea if someone has shed the virus on any fresh fruit or vegetables that you’re buying at the store. Therefore, it’s imperative to wash fruits and vegetables before you eat them or before you even put them away, scrub them with any veggie wash or even mild soap and water. Use a brush or your hands to remove any of the germs that might still be on their surface. And when you come home from the supermarket, you should always wash your hands before you wash your fruits and vegetables. If you have a weakened immune system, you might want to consider buying frozen or canned produce too.
I want to talk about water because I actually got an email asking me about water. Coronavirus hasn’t been found in drinking water. Now experts say if it should get into the water supply, your local water treatment plant filters and disinfects water in such a way that that should take care of any problems. But again, this is true for the coronaviruses in general. We don’t really know at this time if coronavirus 19 or COVID-19 really responds exactly as other coronaviruses do, but current research does show we don’t have to worry about our water supply.
What Can You Do To Prevent The Spread?
Let’s talk about fabrics and clothing. Coronaviruses can live on a variety of fabrics from a few hours to about a day. And washing clothes takes care of it. So wash your clothes when you come in from outside.
What else can you do? You can clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects in your home and office every day, and that would include your countertops, doorknobs, tables, bathroom fixtures, phones, keyboards, remote controls, toilets, your favorite pen. Use a household cleaning spray or wipe. Or you can use soap and water and then disinfect it. Even if everyone in your home is healthy, you still should keep the surfaces clean. People who are infected may not show symptoms, but they can still shed the virus onto other surfaces.
After you visit the drug store or supermarket or bring in take-out or delivered food or any package, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. I’m going to repeat the mantra you’ve heard these past few weeks. Hand-washing is the most important step you can take to prevent the spread of COVID-19. So don’t get so obsessed with disinfecting surfaces and washing clothes that you actually forget to wash your hands and then go and touch your face.
All of this information is accurate as of March 31, 2020. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data may change. I encourage you to stay informed on news and recommendations from the CDC and your local public health departments.
Now if you live in the St. Louis County area, we have on our Facebook page of St. Louis Allergy Relief, a PSA from them that’ll tell you where you can go or where you call and who to call based upon where you live in St. Louis or the County or if you think you have the symptoms of COVID-19.
I hope you learned something useful, and, at this time, please continue practicing social distancing. Follow the CDC or WHO recommendations, such as the ones I’ve mentioned. And also, please pray for those who have been diagnosed and are very sick with COVID-19 and include all the families who cannot be with their very sick loved ones due to the quarantines. And as well as for all those angels working in healthcare, hospitals, nursing homes, and other essential services such as police, fire, military, postal service, delivery and distribution centers, and your grocery stores, where would we be without them?
The Allergy Relievers at St. Louis Allergy Relief Center are wishing you and your family good health.
Want to know more about COVID-19 symptoms? Check out our blogpost on Seasonal Allergy Symptoms vs. Covid-19 Symptoms