How to safely go to the laundromat during the coronavirus pandemic
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Since the pandemic began, we’ve had to adapt to working from home and even learning from home. But for families without their own washing and drying machines, lugging bags of dirty clothes to the neighborhood laundromat comes with a new set of concerns.
Laundromats are shared spaces, which may be off-putting for some customers. In New York City, some laundromats are no longer allowing customers to stay inside while they wait for their laundry or fold it once it’s done. And essential workers who come in contact with new people every day are afraid their clothing could be bringing the virus home.
Venturing outside to do laundry can be scary when COVID-19 rates show no signs of slowing down. But just like grocery shopping or heading to the doctor, going to a laundry facility can be done safely with a little planning. Fortune asked public health and medical experts around the country to weigh in on using laundromats safely.
Their responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Nicolette Louissaint, executive director of Healthcare Ready in Washington, D.C.: “Doing laundry safely is important, especially for those of us who are in the city and don’t have a washing machine. I have taken the precaution of wiping down the inside and outside of the machine, including the buttons before I use the machines. Just like any other surface that I’m touching, I want to make sure that I’m being careful. I keep my mask on while I’m inside the laundromat, and when I get home, anything I used to carry and transport my laundry gets wiped down and sprayed with disinfectants. You want to be mindful about what you’re bringing back into your home. I’m also mindful that I’m not touching my face or taking my mask off before I’m able to clean your hands.”
Dr. Robert Johnson, dean of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School: “I think staffing of the facility is really important because somebody has to make sure that everyone coming in follows all the rules. From the number of people allowed inside at a time to handing out hand sanitizer, the facility needs to make sure that everyone is being safe. Of course, that means wearing a mask at all times.
“I will only go into facilities where I know those rules will be followed. If they’re not, I just leave. It’s worth finding a laundromat that’s doing a good job managing their customers, for their sake and yours. As far as disinfecting the machines, I don’t think that’s a problem because washing is one of the things we do to remove the virus; I don’t think that by using the machines, your clothes will become infected.”
Dr. James H. Diaz, program director in the LSU School of Public Health: “A lot of people have questions about doing their laundry at a laundromat right now. Coronavirus has really impacted every aspect of our lives, even our laundry. If you’re living with someone who has been exposed a suspected or tested positive for the virus, it’s a good idea to keep their laundry separate in a separate hamper.
When you do your laundry, you may wear disposable gloves if you’d like. What’s most important is to make sure that you’re wiping down high touch areas like the door pull on the washing machine. And as research has shown, our chances of getting the virus from someone else directly is much higher than the chances of getting the virus from a surface. Just like at the grocery store or the park, make sure you’re maintaining social distancing. And a final reminder: When you get home, be sure to give your hands a thorough 20-second wash with soap and water.”
Dr. Norman Beatty, professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine: “Clothes can potentially become contaminated with the virus after direct exposure to an infected person or contact with an object that has the virus on the surface. When handling clothes that are likely contaminated, such as the clothes of someone who works in healthcare, it is likely best to wear disposable gloves when touching these clothes. If you don’t have gloves? No problem, just make sure you’re not touching your face or the clothes you are wearing while doing laundry.
“At the laundromat, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to wipe down other surfaces in the laundromat you will be using with an alcohol-based sanitizing agent or wipes. This includes surfaces such as the buttons, handles, and knobs that control the laundry machine and dryer, laundry cart, folding tables, and bench you may sit at as the laundry is washing. The good thing to report is that once those clothes are inside the laundry machine and washing, the detergents we commonly use to clean our clothes will likely disrupt or even destroy the virus. Try to use the highest temperature possible that is safe for your clothes, as hot water can also contribute to destroying the virus. Lastly, the heat of the dryer also disrupts the integrity of the virus and adds another layer of protection after washing your clothes.”