How to Disinfect Clothes {in the time of Corona} & other outbreaks : 5 methods


Washing clothes – never thought much about it, except to toss them inside the washing machine and forget about till it is time to take them out. But today, that is not the case.  Am I doing the laundry correctly? Am I doing enough to disinfect the virus I may have picked up from someone who is infected in the lift or that cloth bag at the supermarket which is contaminated? – these worries gnaw at my mind all the time.

You will wash your hands, many times a day, that is a given – even the smallest child knows that you should wash hands for 20 seconds but what about the clothes?

According to this article, the corona virus remains on the clothes for many hours. I do not think that enough studies have been conducted on whether these particular viruses can be transmitted to others and oneself through these clothing. But better to be careful and do everything you can.

Best methods to Disinfect clothes


Cleaning with Laundry Detergent

Cleaning clothes with a good quality laundry soap/detergent is the most simple and very effective way to fight against any viruses, bacteria and fungi lingering on clothes. They are designed to destroy all these deadly germs that cause illness.

Use powder detergent for the best results to wash clothes.

Use small loads of clothes in the washing machine. Use the full water level to wash and rinse thoroughly.

Do not skimp on detergent – the soap will destroy all germs if allowed to work at full capacity. If not, you will have to count on luck.

Use the hottest water safe for the clothing you have at hand. But be aware that synthetic fabrics do not take much heat. Washing the clothes in water with a temperature over 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 degrees Celsius) is said to kill germs, according to Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), USA.

Related post : Different types of detergents.


Disinfectants contain germicidal ingredients that can destroy contagious disease-causing germs. They can very effectively disinfect laundry if you use it the way it should be used – following all the directions written on the package to the T.

Prewash the contaminated clothes of already infected people in cold water and then wash in hot water with powder laundry detergent and then use disinfectant in the final rinse.

Add the disinfectant to the rinse cycle after you have washed the clothes in the washing machine.

Allow some time for it to work. If your machine has a soak feature use that – a 10 minute soak is enough.

Bleach as a disinfectant. 

You can use liquid household bleach (sodium hypochlorite) as a disinfectant – very inexpensive when compared to other branded ones. There are detergents that contain bleach.

Some fabrics like wool and silk cannot be washed with bleach and bleach will remove color from colored clothes. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Do not use bleach with ammonia based or acidic products. It is dangerous.

And by the way, Oxygen bleach is not a disinfectant. Only Chlorine bleach is.

To disinfect properly the clothing should be immersed in bleach solution for some time. Mix 1 or 2 tbsp. chlorine bleach in water and use.

To use bleach as a disinfectant read all the instructions on the back of the product as well as your washing machine manual.  

Use bleach after washing clothes with detergent, or atleast after 5-10 minutes of washing in the washing machine. The detergent and its ingredients should work first. This is true for any disinfectant.

Using Wipes

Use ethanol or bleach-based wipes to wipe clean clothes and accessories that cannot be washed – leather and faux leather garments, faux fur etc.

Discard the used wipes after single use; or you would simply be shifting germs from one place to another.

Using Sanitisers for spot cleaning

You can spot clean clothes with disposable tissues dipped in sanitizer.

A sanitizer needs to have a concentration of atleast 60-70% alcohol (70% is ideal) for it to be effective to kill viruses and germs. This percentage of ethanol in the sanitizer is said to destroy the cell wall of bacteria and viruses, causing them to be ineffective.

Steaming and pressing

Using a hot iron on clothes can destroy germs to a degree. A steaming process, likewise, which heats things to between 248°F and 302°F can also disinfect. This is done at professional cleaners.


Soiled clothes can be boiled in a pot of boiling water for half an hour – A sure fire way to kill all the germs. This is not practical for clothing but you can do this for infected towels and handkerchiefs.

A few words of caution

In your scurry for cleanliness do not neglect safety. I mean safety from these cleaning agents themselves. Store all the cleaners, disinfectants, sanitizers out of reach of small kids. Having 101 sanitizers lying around maybe a new thing for many households. If you have small kids, store them away from easy reach. They are all toxic. Even a simple sip can lead to danger.

If you are disinfecting contaminated clothes used by an infected person, do not forget to wear rubber gloves and a dust mask. Clean and disinfect the gloves after the work is done. If using disposable gloves, discard them after each use.

I would avoid trying on clothes and buying online for some time. 

Virus thrives on wet surfaces. Dry out anything which is damp.

When you have been outside, once you reach home change clothes immediately.

It is easy to make fakes and very lucrative, and in times of tragedy, bad people try to make hay. Check the disinfectants and cleaners for authenticity. Buy things that comply with the guidelines set by an authority (Like Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US) in your country. They will have special registration numbers and certificates from that issuing authority.  

This article suggests that synthetic fabrics may hold on to the germs for more time than natural fabrics.

The virus is new and nothing is written on stone. I read something new every day about this virus. Update yourself.

Best reference for cleaning and disinfecting can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website

Related posts : Make a fabric mask for safety ; Fold a fabric into a mask; Mask fabric 101; Basic Garment care

Site Map of sewguide. 


Comments 8

  1. Thank you. It is all very informative and easy to make sense of! Most of the government guidelines are very wordy and the important issues are lost amongst the words.

    1. Post
    1. Post
  2. I’ve been seeing (self proclaimed sick) people asking for cotton fabric and elastic to make face masks for hospitals but I hesitate on making them or encouraging others as it just doesn’t seem sanitary or safe. Have you heard anything from legitimate sources?
    Hope all is well and thanks for another great article!

    1. Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *