In the last post I wrote about keeping your mind healthy during quarantine. This time we’ll look at ways to clean and sanitize the soft goods in your home, including memory foam. Covid-19 cases are on the rise again. We don’t know what the infection rates will look like when flu season hits or what kind of health risks we might face in the future. The tips and techniques in this post will help you to minimize the exposure risk. The good news is that there are many simple and inexpensive things you can do to sanitize your home.
Regular laundry makes up the lion’s share of weekly cleaning. And it’s a real possibility that we haven’t seen the worst when it comes to Covid-19 infections. It’s vital that we know how to disinfect our clothes at home. High temperatures and bleach are your best bets. For delicate items I’ll list some alternative methods.
Washing Your Whites
When washing your whites, chlorine bleach will kill 99.9% of viruses. I suggest that you follow the directions for your specific machine, but a general rule is to add ½ to ¾ Cup of bleach for a full load of laundry. You want to add the bleach into the bleach dispenser or into the water before adding your clothes. High heat in your dryer isn’t necessary if you use bleach in the wash, but it won’t hurt either.
Washing Your Colors
Bleach isn’t an option with your colors and the hot setting in most washing machines will only get up to about 130° F (54.4° C). This isn’t hot enough to kill coronaviruses effectively. For your colors you’ll want to use the high heat in your dryer. The high heat setting on your dryer should get up to 135° F (57.2° C) – just above the 56° C recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Running your dryer on high heat for 30 to 60 minutes should be effective in killing off most viruses.1
Washing Your Delicates
Delicate articles might not withstand bleach or high heat. You’ll need alternative methods for these. Direct sunlight, specifically UVB rays have proven to be effective against bacteria and viruses. Studies are still early, but there seems to be “…evidence that sunlight may rapidly inactivate SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) on surfaces.”2 One thing to remember is that the surfaces in the study were already dry. You may need to line dry or machine dry your items before exposing them to sunlight. Once dry, you should allow each side of the item to be exposed to direct sunlight for at least 15 to 60 minutes. The higher your relative humidity, the more effective this method will be. If you suspect that your clothes may be contaminated, be sure to disinfect any surfaces they may have touched – including your washing machine and dryer.
If sunlight isn’t an option Lysol does make a Laundry Sanitizer. However, due to the unprecedented demand I’m not able to locate it anywhere. It claims to be colorsafe and gentle enough for baby’s clothes. Keep an eye out if this is something you need. I will update this post if I find a source.
Finally, a garment steamer will allow you to disinfect even delicate items if used properly. Ideally, your steamer will produce steam that is at least 212° F (100° C). Just for reference water boils at 100° C, so most well-designed steamers should be alright. Try to use only distilled water in your steamer. Tap water can leave mineral deposits in the reservoir. Do not use a steamer on “dry clean only” items. Some color fabrics will “run” with steamers. If you’re unsure about a material test a small area first. Make sure to read the care label. There are some fabrics that cannot withstand the high heat output of a steamer.
Towels and Bedding
Towels and bedding are a major concern. We use them every day and when you wash them they will stay damp for long time because of their bulk. For white or light-colored pieces bleach is still the best option. It may be possible to use bleach on some color items, but you will need to test the bleach resistance of each one. To do this mix 1 teaspoon of bleach into ¼ cup of water. Put 1 drop of this solution on a hidden area of the item you are testing. Leave it for 1 minute then blot it dry. If there is no color change the item should be safe to bleach.3 I would still go on the low end with ½ cup for a full load.
For color towels and bedding the dryer is still your number one tool. You need to remember that towels are thick and hold a lot of moisture. You’ll need to run the dryer until you are positive all of the items are completely dry. You also need to be sure that the load is exposed to “high” heat for at least 30 minutes. It’s a good idea to remove bulky items immediately when they are done so you can be sure they are 100% dry and will not provide a breeding ground for bacteria.
Pillows can be challenging to clean, much less disinfect. The fill in your pillows will determine the best course of action. For most pillows it’s a good idea to wash two at once. This will help your washing machine stay balanced.
Using a pillow liner or protector is a great way to keep the fill of your pillow from getting soiled while it’s in use. I suggest having one on your pillows at all times and washing the liner when you wash rest of the bedding.
Polyester or Fiberfill Pillows
You will be able to bleach most of these pillows. Again, I would use less bleach than a full load of laundry, ½ cup for the load. Remove any pillow cases or liners from the pillows and wash everything on the highest temperature allowed by your materials (check the tag). Run an extra rinse cycle to get all the bleach out of the pillows. You can add a rinse cycle to your program or just manually set a rinse cycle when the load is done. You should be able to dry these types of fills on normal dryer settings. Because pillows are so bulky, make sure they are totally dry before taking them out. Run the dryer again if you have to. To keep pillow fill from bunching you can put a few clean tennis balls or laundry balls in the dryer to fluff them up.
Down or Feather Pillows
These fill materials require a little more TLC. Check the care tag, but most of these can be washed on delicate in your washing machine. Inspect the item for any holes or “leaks.” If you find any holes, you’ll need to hand wash it – the agitation from the machines may pull a ton of the fill out. There are laundry detergents specifically made for down products, if you have access to these, that’s what I suggest. If you can’t find down-specific detergents use a gentle or “free and clear” version of your favorite laundry detergent. You want a gentle detergent with minimal fragrance because you don’t want to damage or strip the natural oils from the feathers. Use the gentle cycle on your washer with cold or warm water.
We didn’t use any bleach in the wash and as you’ll see in a minute, we can’t dry on high heat. So how do we sanitize down/feather pillows? A garment steamer can work in this situation. You can use the steamer at any point in this process (before washing, before drying, or after drying). In fact, if you don’t want to do a full wash of your pillow, steaming should sanitize it even if you haven’t washed it. Keep the steamer moving fairly quickly and try not to soak your items. Steam can “scorch” down and delicate feathers. Then the item will lose some of its loft or fluffiness.
Drying down and feather pillows should be done on the coolest temperature setting you have. Remember the tennis balls or laundry balls from above? You absolutely need them for down items. The feathers need to be “beaten” while drying or you’ll have a clumpy and uncomfortable pillow.
If washing and steaming won’t work for you, the sunlight method is still an option. Find a place where you can lay the pillow in direct sunlight. Because of the thickness of a pillow not all of the UVB rays will penetrate the fill effectively. Knowing this, try to expose each side of the pillow for a least 60 minutes, longer if possible.
Mattresses and Furniture
Mattresses and furniture can’t fit in the washing machine so we’ll need to get a little more creative. It’s a good idea to vacuum all the surfaces you want to clean. Smaller cushions and cushion covers can be laundered according to the more standard methods I’ve mentioned. For large surfaces, like a couch, a garment steamer is going to come in handy again. The steam should get deep enough into the cushions to kill any germs. Something that might surprise you is that Lysol and similar disinfectant sprays do work on soft surfaces.4 Use just enough spray to dampen the area without soaking it. Allow all of the cleaned, steamed, and sprayed areas to dry completely before reassembling everything.
Memory Foam and Sponge Foam
Memory foam and sponge items should never be washed in a machine. The repetitive motions and agitation can break down the structure quickly. Instead hand wash these in a large sink, bathtub, or basin. Use a gentle detergent, let the pillow soak for a few minutes and carefully press the pillows to flush water through it. Don’t squeeze or twist memory foam or it might tear. Next, you’ll need to press and flush the pillow in clean water multiple times to get all of the detergent out. To dry the memory foam you can use some dry towels and press out as much water as possible. Wrap the pillow in a dry towel and leave it in a well-ventilated area to dry. Letting the pillow dry outside might be even better. In fact, the sunlight disinfection method can help you to get the pillow dry. Garment steamers and disinfectant sprays are safe to use on memory foam. For large items like a mattress pad or even a whole mattress you will need to go with the steamer, spray, or sunlight. No matter which method you use, make sure to let the item dry completely before you put it back in use.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? These are a few guidelines that will help you no matter what you need to clean or sanitize.
- Wear rubber gloves and possibly a face mask when handling potentially infected items
- Segregate and clean dirty articles as soon as possible
- Use a washable bag to keep soiled items from coming into contact with non-infected surfaces
- Wash the bag at the same time as the contaminated items
- The bleach solution below can be used for a lot of general sanitation jobs
Chlorine Bleach Disinfectant Solution
For limiting infections the CDC recommends a bleach solution of 1,000 – 5,000 parts per million.5 You can create this concentration with 1/3 cup to 1.5 cups of bleach to 1 gallon of water. You should let the solution stand for 5 – 10 minutes before wiping it off.
Disinfecting Your Washing Machine
Your washing machine touches just about every dirty piece of fabric in your house. That being the case, it’s worth it for you to complete a sanitizing procedure on it every so often. Some machines have a “sanitize” setting. If that’s the case follow those instructions. Otherwise run the machine on the hottest cycle. Add 1 cup of chlorine bleach to this cycle, either directly in the water or the detergent dispenser.
After the cycle completes, you’ll want to take a look at the inside of the drum and door as well as the fabric softener and detergent dispensers. If there is any residue build up or mildew you can use a bleach solution (1/2 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water) and cloth or soft brush to clean those areas. If you do have to scrub any of these areas, run a complete rinse and spin cycle to flush the bleach out of the machine.
Finally, you can use the bleach solution to wipe down any gaskets, the inside of the door, and any exterior surfaces. Let the solution stand on the surface for 5 – 10 minutes before rinsing/wiping off completely with plain water.
Disinfecting Your Dryer
Studies indicate that the heat produced by a residential clothes dryer can be effective in killing coronaviruses. Most residential dryers reach 135° F on the “high” temperature setting. You will want to dry your items on high heat for 30 to 60 minutes. An unpublished preprint on BioRxiv resulted in evidence that 56° C (132.8° F) should be effective in killing the Covid-19 virus.6 This study is not peer reviewed yet, but the results agree with other studies. And According to the World Health Organization (WHO) 56° C is also effective at killing the SARS virus that is very similar to Covid-19.7
The same chlorine bleach solution and method you use to clean hard surfaces on your washer can be used on your dryer.
You can see it’s not terribly complicated or difficult to sanitize the soft goods in your home, but it does take a little know how.
- If you don’t already have access to one, purchasing a garment steamer can be a huge help for a multitude of sanitizing tasks.
- Bleach can be diluted to clean hard surfaces and is one of the best options to kill germs in your home and laundry.
- Preparation and planning will help you manage any exposure in your home.
- Disinfectant sprays, surprisingly, can be used to sanitize soft items too.
- UVB rays in sunlight can be effective in killing germs. Make sure to give each side of an item enough exposure time. And make sure items dry completely.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share it with them. We’re going to make it through, together.
Lysol or other Disinfectant Spray