How to wash clothes properly to help ward off viruses

The best advice on how to wash clothes and reduce the risk of transmitting germs.

Updated 4 April 2023


AuthorBy Cleanipedia Team

Reading Time5 minutes

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We know that washing our hands is one way to help protect ourselves against the coronavirus. But can it spread through clothes too? Whilst experts don’t know this for sure, knowing how to disinfect clothes and laundry will certainly help you to ward off viruses.

Can the coronavirus spread through clothes?

In short, yes. Clothes worn by someone with a virus, or by a person nursing someone with a virus, could transmit germs. Experts are still finding out about the coronavirus and how it’s transmitted, a sensible precaution to take would be to wash everyday items as normal, separating any high-risk items which will need to be washed separately.

It’s worth noting here that with a normal laundry load (so anything not high-risk), most harmful bacteria is killed in the high temperatures of a tumble dryer cycle.

How to wash clothes that are high risk

High-risk clothes are those that have either come into contact with someone who has a virus (especially someone you live with), or anything that is soiled. These items need to be treated differently to regular washing, separated from your regular wash load and washed together at a much higher temperature. High-risk items include:

  • Towels and bedsheets

  • Medical uniforms

  • Sportswear

  • Any clothing from someone with a virus

What temperature kills viruses on clothes?

It’s only high-risk clothes that need to be washed at a hot temperature for a deep clean that will kill most viruses. A normal wash using regular detergent is effective in helping kill bacteria on everyday items. According to the NHS, high-risk clothes or fabrics that need to be disinfected can be done so by washing them at a minimum of 60°C, adding a bleach-based product for extra disinfecting power.

For towels and sheets, which can especially harbour bacteria, choose the longest wash setting with an extra rinse. To ensure a proper deep clean, make sure you don’t overload the machine.

What about drying to disinfect clothes?

If you have a tumble drier, it’s recommended you put laundry on the longest drying cycle to ensure it is thoroughly dry. If items like towels and sheets are still damp, they can harbour bacteria. Tumble driers reach temperatures of around 65°C, which will kill most germs.

If you don’t have a tumble drier, hanging clothes out to dry is the next best thing. Otherwise, if indoors is the only option then follow these tips:

  • Hang clothes on a drying rack near radiators or heaters

  • Maximise ventilation with open windows or extractor fans

  • Hang clothes on coat hangers to speed up drying

  • Avoid exposure to mould spores, drying clothes in areas of your home you spend less time in, so avoid bedrooms and the lounge if possible.

Deep cleaning clothes at a glance

  • Separate high-risk clothes and wash together

  • Use a minimum 60°C cycle for high-risk clothes

  • Towels and sheets can be washed on the hottest setting

  • Add bleaching agent to hot cycle for disinfecting

  • Use tumble drier where possible

Following these simple steps will help ensure your laundry is clean and germ and virus-free. If you’re looking for more tips on how to keep your home safe during a virus outbreak, we share some straightforward tips on home hygiene here.


The information in this article is accurate at the time of publishing. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it’s possible that some guidance may have changed since publication. While Cleanipedia is trying to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations by using GOV UK and NHS.

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