The Heat Is On: Clothes Dryers Are The Way To Combat COVID-19

ByMarc Silberberg


Times have changed since I mistakenly put my daughter’s new top into the dryer while helping her after her baby’s birth. Wow, was she upset. In those days lots of clothes were off limit for entry to the clothes dryer. Luckily, nothing terrible happened to my daughter’s precious top.

When my children were young, I was advised against putting anything besides towels, underwear, and sturdy linens into the clothes dryer. I found a portable standup clothes dryer helpful in keeping my garments in good condition. These foldable models can be opened and closed easily and put into a closet when not in use. In earlier times the fresh smell of newly washed laundry that was put out to dry on a clothesline with clothespins, was the normal way to dry. (If you are ancient enough to recall what a clothespin is). The garments sometimes needed additional care such as ironing and folding, but the wear and tear was less without the tumble in the clothes dryer.

As society got lazier and more eager to throw out laundry items more frequently, drying in the clothes dryer became the regular routine. Today, especially since clothes dryers have different settings, the chance of ruining a garment is much less. Even for the tried and true air dryers among us, COVID-19 has changed much of how we do laundry presently. We have learned a lot about simple hygiene due to the pandemic. This includes frequent hand washing, social distancing and disinfecting our laundry. Experts recommend specific parameters to kill the virus such as using the hottest water possible in the washing machine and heating the clothes dryer to a specific temperature. Dry cleaning can also kill the virus, not because of the chemical solvents that are used but the steaming of the garment afterwards during pressing. Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease doctor claims that the heat emitted during the pressing process is reliable. “The virus hates heat”.

Folks who are extra cautious will want to know exactly what temperature will kill the COVID-19 virus and if it would be helpful to sanitize the dryer as well. The experts have learned about the effect of heat on germs in general from experience with pests such as bed bugs. Bed bugs will die at 113 degrees Fahrenheit, but their eggs have a longer survival rate. According to Dr. Dini Miller of the Department of Entomology at Virginia Tech, the ratio of degrees to time is, drying at 113F degrees for ninety minutes will kill bedbugs and 118F for ninety minutes will kill the eggs. The higher the temperature the faster the thermal death point, or the point of no survival. Other nasty germs such as strep, MRSA and hair lice have similar thermal death points.

There is much dispute on how long the COVID-19 virus stays alive on different types of fabrics.

Most of the time the virus is not likely to attach itself to clothes specifically. Compared to hard surfaces, the COVID-19 virus will not last for long on clothing. However, if a person is a healthcare worker or has been exposed to a COVID-19 patient the risk increases. The virus can be detected on clothing for up to two days at room temperature as opposed to plastic or metal where it can live up to seven days. In any event all agree that the best way to kill the virus is with heat.

The magic number 113F, is the temperature that infectious viruses and bacteria start to die. To disinfect clothes, however, you would need to up the temperature to 140F according to Dr. Ryan Sinclair, of Loma Linda University Department of Environmental Microbiology. The problem is that not all home dryers reach this temperature with some dryers reaching about 135F degrees. Some viruses flourish in moist environments. So instead of line or air drying, it would be prudent to only dry your garments in a clothes dryer. If the number of harmful microbes is reduced to just a tiny amount then the chances are just as tiny that anyone in your household will contract the virus from the clean clothing that they wear. First, the clothes must be washed in the washing machine at the highest temperature possible for the type of garments or linen that you are washing. Then the dryer will do the trick, however, putting soiled clothing in the dryer will not only not kill the virus properly, but it can also contaminate your dryer. Some laundry detergents contain a disinfectant, or you can just add a bit of Lysol to your load. Make certain that when possible to use the “high heat” setting on your dryer. Now is not the time to save money on the “energy efficient” cycle.

Remember, it is the dryer not the washing machine that will kill the harmful pathogens. If you run the dryer at high heat for at least twenty-eight minutes the virus should die, says Professor Kelly Reynolds, germ researcher at the University of Arizona.

So now that we know that dryers are the way to go to kill the COVID-19 virus, let us get into more details. The WHO contends that temperatures of 140 F to 150F are hot enough to kill off pathogens. Most germs will die at 140F according to Manish Trivedi, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at AtlantiCare. The heat of a clothes dryer generally ranges from 135F to 150F.

Here are the WHO guidelines for this prudent approach.

1) Three minutes at temperatures above 160F

2) Five minutes at temperatures above 149F

3) Twenty minutes at temperatures above 140F

Now these recommendations may not fit your personal home dryer. Most typical home clothes dryers hit about 135F maximum. However, count in the hot water of the washing machine and the laundry detergent and some extra timing and your clothes should be ready to wear without any doubt.

Let us say you are a stickler for exactness. There is a product out there called the IR gun that measures dryer heat. This is generally used for laundromat dryers. You can try purchasing it for personal use or whenever you get your dryer duct cleaned you can ask the serviceman to measure your maximum dryer temperature.

Your dryer vent should be cleaned out at least once a year. When you know your dryer vent is clear, you can be less worried about dryer fires when the dryer gets too heated up.

If there is leftover lint or damp fibers stuck in the vent, they can easily catch fire when the dry is hot. Laundromat dryers may be hotter than home dryers but if your vent is spic and span, you will be successful in killing harmful germs from COVID-19 and other bugs, such as cimex (bed) bugs, lice, MRSA, e-coli, strep and other annoying and dangerous pathogens.

So far, we have been gathering information about the general washing and drying of clothes. What about clothes that have been contaminated by the COVID-19 virus itself from sick people in your home? This cleaning and disinfecting will be somewhat more challenging because even if you wash the sick person’s clothing separately his germs can still be present in the washer and even the dryer after his clothes are out. For the washer, simply run a regular hot water cycle with either bleach or another type of disinfectant to make sure there are no lingering germs before you wash the rest of the family’s laundry.

There is also an effective way to sanitize your dryer if you have just dried a sick person’s laundry.

1) Fill a container or bucket with four cups of warm water and have a fresh sponge handy.

2) Create a soapy solution using a little bit of liquid detergent.

3) Check to make sure your dryer is bare.

4) Wearing rubber gloves, plunge the sponge into the soapy water and squeeze it out.

5) Wipe out the inside of the dryer including the back wall.

6) Clean the sponge to remove all the soap and wipe down the dryer surface and door.

7) Dry with an old rag.

All experts agree that your clothes dryer is the best option for killing the COVID-19 and other harmful organisms. Keeping your dryer in ship shape condition is especially important in these frightening times. At least you will know that your family’s clothing is safe from contamination from the virus when they get dressed in the morning. Your clothes dryer is your best friend right now and a good friend should be treated right. Do yourself and your family a big favor and get your dryer checked out including the dryer vent. Since we are using our dryer often to control the COVID-19 virus, at least we can relax knowing it is doing its job properly. Now if doctors can figure out a way to kill the virus before it enters our bodies, we will have a bright future. So, let us stay positive and hope for the best either with a safe vaccine, a true cure or a sudden disappearance of COVID-19 made possible by the one above.

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