How long do germs live on clothes - and how can I remove them?

Keeping your home germ-free is important, particularly after an illness. But how long do viruses live on surfaces and clothes and how do you kill them? This guide has all the answers to help keep your home hygienic and stop germs spreading.

Updated 5 July 2023


AuthorBy Cleanipedia Team

Reading Time7 minutes

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Maintaining good household hygiene is a key step in preventing the spread of germs and keeping you and your family safe. But can viruses live on clothes? What kills viruses on surfaces? This guide has got all the answers so you can stop the spread of germs for a happy, healthy home.

How long do germs live on surfaces?

Here’s the bad news - some germs, like bacterial spores, can survive indefinitely. The lifespan of germs varies so much that some, for example, E.coli and Salmonella may only live for around 20 minutes when actively multiplying, while other bacteria can become dormant and actually survive millions of years!


  • Salmonella and campylobacter: Usually less than four hours, though they have been known to survive for up to 50 days on dirty surfaces.

  • Norovirus and clostridium difficile: More than eight hours – and some studies have revealed they can live for up to five months.

  • Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): Seven days to seven months.

  • Influenza virus: Around 24 to 48 hours.

  • Cold virus: They survive for around seven days, but lose the ability to infect people after 24 hours.

Because of this, it’s important to maintain good levels of household hygiene, even if you think you or a family member haven’t been sick. 

How do germs get on clothes?

Germs can easily find their way onto clothes through various avenues. One common route is direct contact with contaminated surfaces or objects. When we touch items that have been touched by someone who is unwell or has unclean hands, the germs can transfer onto our clothing. Additionally, airborne germs can settle on clothes when someone coughs or sneezes in close proximity. Other sources of germ contamination on clothes include exposure to polluted water or environments, like public restrooms or medical facilities. Sharing clothes, towels, or personal belongings with an infected person can also facilitate germ transmission. Practicing good hygiene and regularly washing clothes can help minimise germ presence.

How long do germs live on clothes?

We often think of germs as nasty things lurking on hard surfaces such as door handles and bathroom floors. But can viruses live on clothes? And how long do germs live on fabric? The answer is that it depends. Viruses and bacteria can live on soft surfaces and clothes, but how the survival of germs on fabrics depends on several factors:

  • The type of fabric. Germs tend to live longer on cotton for example, as it holds on to residual water and has a very high surface area. By contrast, germs won’t live as long on polyester because it doesn’t absorb as much water.

  • The cleanliness of the fabric. Fewer bacteria will survive on very new, clean fabric whereas older, worn fabrics may have ‘invisible dirt’ that protects germs.

  • The humidity. Not only can mould survive on clothes stored in humid environments – it can actually grow.

What kills viruses on surfaces?

Now you know the answer to ‘how long do viruses live on surfaces?’, let’s look at what kills bacteria on surfaces, including viruses and disease, and the steps you need to follow to help keep your home hygienic:

  • Clean surfaces first with soap and warm water, as this will help reduce the dirt and germs on the surface.

  • Once you have cleaned the surface with soap and water, use a good disinfectant to kill the remaining bacteria and viruses.

  • Make sure you thoroughly dry any surfaces after cleaning. Dampness helps germs to survive and they can multiply if there is enough water present.

Germs on the computer

Does washing clothes kill viruses?

Once you’ve been ill, it’s important to clean your clothes as well as surfaces around the house. But does washing clothes kill viruses and bacteria? Very simply, yes, but there are some key steps to follow to make sure your clothes are virus-free:

  • Ideally, aim to wash your clothes at a temperature of 60 degrees or higher.

  • Bleach-based washing powders like Persil Bio will also help to control germs in the wash and some can be used for disinfection when used as a pre-soaker.

Germ-fighting laundry tip! You can also use Persil antibacterial laundry sanitiser when washing clothes to kill germs. Add it to the wash along with your favourite Persil detergent to give extra protection. It kills 99.9% viruses* and bacteria even at 20°C making it a great way to help disinfect your clothes and your machine! 

How to stop the spread of germs

While germs will always be around the household, you can take a few simple measures to stop them from spreading:

  • Washing your hands is the most important. Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom, and before and after handling food. Try washing your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds – you can follow our tips on how to wash your hands effectively. Why not have a go at making your own antibacterial handwash?

  • If you have a cold or cough, use a tissue – and encourage others to do the same. Put the tissues in the bin when you’ve finished with them.

  • Clean ‘high-risk’ areas - like the toilet and kitchen countertops – thoroughly with a detergent cleaner or disinfectant. Check out this list of 5 things you should be cleaning regularly to prevent the spread of viruses.

  • Pay particular attention to damp areas, where germs tend to grow. Clean the area thoroughly with detergent or disinfectant and wipe dry. Also, make sure cloths, mops, kitchen towels and sponges can dry between uses. You could also put cloths in the washing machine on a 60°C cycle to help get rid of germs.

  • Keep wet areas of the bathroom clean and as dry as possible to discourage mould growth. Wipe down grout and the shower tray with detergent to remove residual soap scum and dirt that could encourage bacteria growth. Open the window after using the bath or shower to let condensation escape.

  • If people in your household are ill, try and wash underwear separately on a 60°C wash with a bleach-containing detergent.

  • Keeps pets away from food storage areas - and always wash your hands after handling pets.

For more tips on ensuring your home is clean and ready to tackle and prevent germs spreading, check out our handy guide on preparing your home for a virus outbreak.

Other home hygiene questions:

How long does norovirus live on fabric? Viruses such as norovirus can live on soft surfaces and fabrics for up to 12 days. It’s therefore important to wash contaminated clothing as soon as possible, and separately from non-contaminated clothing.

How long does E. coli live on clothes? E. coli is nasty bacteria that can occur when infected food and drink is consumed. If you or a family member has been sick due to E. coli, it’s important to wash contaminated clothing as it can lurk on clothes for weeks. Wash infected clothing as soon as possible to prevent the spread.

Does the dryer kill germs on clothes? Wondering ‘does the dryer kill bacteria on clothes’? Well, the answer is yes! In fact, heat from the dryer is particularly effective at killing germs. If your clothes are unsuitable for the tumble dryer – or you need an alternative – hang your clothes outdoors or in direct sunlight. UV light from the sun will help to disinfect clothing.

How long does salmonella live on fabric? Salmonella is normally caused by eating infected foodstuffs and can be spread easily if good food and personal hygiene is not maintained. The infection can live on clothes for weeks and so washing contaminated clothing is vital to keep you and your family healthy.

And there you have it! Keeping your home free of nasty germs and viruses has never been so easy! Recovering from the flu and looking to disinfect your home? Read our guide on flu cleaning to ensure your home is clean, hygienic, and germ-free!

*Laboratory tested on Influenza H1N1, Vacciniavirus, murine coronavirus (EN14476, 10 mins).

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