How long does the coronavirus live on surfaces?

The virus can live on different materials for varying lengths of time. We turn to the experts to determine what's safe - and what's not

Can you contract coronavirus from your post, deliveries or groceries? How likely are you to be infected from touching something? And what cleaning products should you be using?

We take a look at how to keep your home clean and the science behind the virus remaining on certain surfaces, according to experts. 

How long does coronavirus live on different types of surfaces?

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed plastic is the surface the virus remains viable on for the longest - up to 72 hours. On stainless steel the virus was detected up to 48 hours after application. For cardboard it was 24 hours and for copper just four hours.

But Dr Bharat Pankhania, clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter, says that rather than try to keep a running list of how the virus operates on various different surfaces and when you last cleaned them in your head, “your mindset needs to be that everything, everyone, everywhere is contaminated. And whatever you handle is a potential risk.”

But that doesn’t mean you need to be afraid of everything you touch, it just means you need to keep up with washing your hands. “Do it meticulously every two hours, mindfully,” Dr Pankhania says, and that is the solution.”

Can the virus live on my clothes?

There is currently no evidence that coronavirus can be transmitted from fabrics. That said, experts advise it would be a good idea to wash your clothes if somebody has coughed on them, or if they have brushed up against someone outside of the household with whom you are isolating.

Dr Pankhania recommends keeping a box for outdoor clothes by the entrance to your home. “You take your shoes off, handbag, mobile phone, coat, put it all into a box and then go to the sink, wash your hands, come back from the sink and have by that box some wipes. In that box you wipe any outdoor stuff that you want to take inside like your mobile phone. Leave the rest there.”

Which cleaning products should I use?

Some advice points to using bleach to disinfect “high touch points” - commonly handled objects such as door handles, railings and light switches. Most disinfectant wipes and sprays are thought only to be fully effective if the surface is left to stay wet for a few minutes. But Dr Pankhania stresses there is no need to over complicate your cleaning: “Liquid soap and a wipe-down are as good as any expensive items.”

Can I catch Covid-19 from my post?

According to the World Health Organisation, the likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low “and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and been exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.”

Do I need to wash my groceries?

The NHS says: “It’s very unlikely [coronavirus] can be spread through things like packages or food.” What you should be doing is to dispose of any packaging and wash your hands thoroughly after handling your groceries.

You should also reduce the amount of in-person contact by getting deliveries rather than going to the supermarket, and having your order left outside.

Can I catch the virus from takeaway food?

Takeaway outlets remain in business - but how can you guarantee you won’t catch the virus from your box of Pad Thai?

When it comes to the food itself, Professor Bill Keevil, Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Southampton, says “it’s very low risk”, adding “if food is heated and cooked, there’s absolutely no danger at all”. Meanwhile, The Food Standards Agency website currently states that “it is very unlikely that you can catch coronavirus from food”.

When it comes to the packaging, “if those preparing your food are following all the guidance for good food hygiene, that should be sufficient,” says Prof. Keevil. If you’re really concerned, Prof. Keevil’s recommendation is “to dispose of the packaging safely and not come into unnecessary contact with it, and to wash your hands immediately.”