Clothing can probably spread fungal infections (e.g. athlete's foot) from person to person.

There's not a lot of evidence that clothing can spread bacterial infections. But Bloomfield et al. quote Gebel et al., who write: "Absence of definite evidence for a health hazard is not equivalent to evidence of absence of risk."

So, indeed, as Bloomfield et al. write, you might want to sanitize your laundry in certain situations. For example:

  • if it's full of feces, vomit, or blood, or
  • if someone in the house has a fungal infection (e.g. athlete's foot), or
  • if you encounter certain other circumstances.

How can you disinfect your laundry?

COVID addendum

We're not yet sure how long the pandemic coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) can survive on clothing. This source discusses some theories. In April, a Texas biomedical scientist concluded that the chances of getting COVID-19 via contaminated clothing were likely quite low. Even today, researchers think that COVID is spread mainly by close contact between people, not by contaminated clothing.

If you're washing the laundry of a likely COVID patient, though, extra precautions are wise; please see my answer below.


Edit: COVID and your laundry

In April, a Texas biomedical scientist published an article about COVID and clothing. She suggested that, during the COVID pandemic, it's usually fine to just do laundry in the ordinary way. But, if you're washing the laundry of a likely COVID patient, it's wise to take extra precautions. Please see the CDC's recommendations, plus the rest of my post (below).

A scholarly report discusses the matter

Some years ago, a scholarly report was published. The report's "Appendix A" discusses, among other things, how to clean your laundry if there's a risk that it may be somewhat contagious.

The advice given

The report advises:

  • Whenever you do laundry, add some activated oxygen bleach (AOB).
    • Notes: You can use standalone AOB, or a detergent with AOB included. This link discusses your options. In the US, Tide powder is one good choice. Certain products are probably not good disinfectants, including Tide liquid, Tide pods, and OxiClean.
  • If possible, also do laundry at 140 °F (60 °C).
    • Note: This may shrink and/or destroy certain items. (Source.) Read their care labels.
  • Use the regular cycle. Don't enable "quick wash", "water saving", or any other environmentally-friendly options.
  • Make sure each item goes through the rinse and spin cycles at least twice. Preferably three times.
  • It's best to wash items belonging to the infected family member in separate loads from everyone else's laundry.
  • If you can also dry the items in sunlight, this is an extra bonus.
  • The report also gives other advice; please see here.

Water temperature

In some countries (including the US and certain others), if you want to wash clothing at 140 °F (60 °C), there's a problem.

An article on the Bottom Line Inc. website states that, in these countries,

household water heaters typically are set to 120 °F [50 °C] to minimize the risk of scalding.

The article suggests three possible workarounds.

  • One (dangerous) workaround would be to raise your water heater's temperature to 140 °F (60 °C). But this is a dangerously-high setting. (Source.) It may also be illegal in your jurisdiction. (Source.) Water at 120 °F (50 °C) takes 5-10 minutes to cause a third-degree burn; but water at 140 °F (60 °C) takes just 3-5 seconds. (Source.) Third-degree burns sometimes kill people. (Source.) Maybe I should email the Bottom Line Inc. and suggest that they revise their article.

  • Another workaround might be to pour a kettleful of boiling water into your top-loading washer shortly before it's finished filling.

  • A third workaround is to use a washing machine with a water-temperature-boosting feature, "such as the Whirlpool Front-Load Washer with Deep-Clean Steam, model #WFW86HEBW, which can get the water up to 150 °F [65 °C]".

  • Just wondering: Why did you ask a question and post the answer which is the same as your answer to the Athletes Fungus Question? If it was for reference for newcomers, I think that they will find the Athletes Question just by searching a few key words about disinfecting laundry. Then there is your Community Meta Question thread.
    – Narusan
    Apr 26 '17 at 16:40
  • I would recommend you to expand the latter and not simply recycle your old answer, as this is frowned upon by the community. Cheers.
    – Narusan
    Apr 26 '17 at 16:42
  • @Narusan: Good comments; thanks. Why did I post this question/answer pair? Because I did a Google search for [ how to disinfect laundry ] and saw how much poor advice came up. Apr 27 '17 at 10:03
  • @Narusan: Google shows a "featured snippet" which implies that vinegar is a sufficient disinfectant for laundry! In truth, diluting a cup of vinegar into your wash is the wrong course of action; see this comment and this source. Apr 27 '17 at 10:03
  • 2
    @tealhill This appears to be an exact duplicate of an answer to another question on the same subject. That's highly frowned on and one of these two questions needs to be deleted.
    – Carey Gregory
    Oct 14 '18 at 16:15

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