How Often Should We Be Cleaning Our Coats During The COVID-19 Pandemic?

Experts explain how to best protect ourselves and our outerwear from the coronavirus.

You may have noticed this already, depending on where you live and how many layers you have on, but if not, allow us to remind you: It’s winter.

Almost a full year has gone by since the COVID-19 pandemic started affecting our lives (to put it lightly), and we’re now experiencing the first full cold-weather season since it began. As a result, you might be wondering what, if any, extra precautions we should take with our outerwear.

Usual guidance suggests that we should be cleaning coats and outerwear once or twice a season. But things are hardly “usual” right now. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health experts generally agree that touching surfaces is “not thought to be a common way” for the coronavirus to spread, and that we’re more likely to catch the virus from being in close contact with an infected person.

“The most important thing is protecting the nose and mouth against droplets or aerosols,” Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases doctor and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told HuffPost. “If someone with known COVID vomited or slobbered all over your coat, and then you repeatedly rubbed your nose or mouth against it, then yes, you will probably get it.”

Is your coat covered in COVID-19? (No, probably not).
Andrew Chin via Getty Images
Is your coat covered in COVID-19? (No, probably not).

Chances are, you aren’t doing that anyway. But the point Chin-Hong aims to drive home is that there is no need to be overly concerned with coat cleaning if you mainly just go out for necessities and you don’t work in a health care setting. He also agreed with the standard approach of cleaning coats only once or twice per season.

“Not everything in COVID protection is equal, and I think it’s important to put that out there,” Chin-Hong said. “People are still fretting about surfaces and not keeping their eyes on the prize, which is really protecting the nose and mouth. If you’re stuck on a desert island, you choose a mask over a dry cleaner.”

Lucy Wilson, a professor in the department of emergency health services at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, echoed that sentiment.

“If a person visits a public space (hospital, retail, grocery store or office), the highest risk of exposure is from droplet transmission of the virus,” she told HuffPost. Still, she offered some guidance for keeping outerwear clean.

“If there is concern that an outer garment has been contaminated, a person can remove the garment and hang it separately or can wash the garment, following careful hand-washing after touching the garment to avoid any other contamination or infection,” Wilson said.

Washing your big winter coat every time you go out is most likely unsustainable. But if the coat you wear while doing essential errands is washable, public health specialist Carol Winner advises throwing it in the wash with your other laundry. Keep in mind, though, that you really shouldn’t be going out often enough for your coat to require that much washing.

“We’re likely (hopefully) not doing these big essential errands all that often, so when you do, it’s good sense and public health practice to wash, keep the garments in a mudroom or garage area and not into the home,” Winner said.

For those of us living in apartments without a mudroom, Winner said simply keeping the coat isolated from other items in your home can help mitigate the chances of potentially spreading the virus.

“Germ particulates will denature over time, and bacteria and viruses aren’t walking into your house ― they stay where you leave them,” she said. “So hanging the coat on a hook near the door and giving it some time before the next wear will also help.”

Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that dry-cleaning your coats is a more effective way to kill germs and bacteria than washing them at home. It’s high heat that kills germs, not the washing method.

“There isn’t evidence that dry cleaning is more or less effective at killing the coronavirus compared to washing in the washing machine,” Melissa Perry, professor and chair of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, previously told HuffPost.

So unless you’ve traveled or been around someone who is sick with COVID-19, you can maintain your usual coat-cleaning routine.