Doing laundry may not be one of your favorite chores, but it is one of the simplest ways to help prevent cold and flu.
Both illnesses are more common in the winter months – and part of the problem may be traced back to your outer winter garments that can harbor microbes.
“People tend to not wash things like winter coats or gloves much during the winter,” Dr. James F. Swiencicki, an infectious disease specialist at Kenmore Mercy Hospital, said in a news release. “This results in the build-up of viruses and bacteria that may lead to illness.”
Swiencicki breaks it down by the most common germ-infested winter clothes that should definitely be washed frequently:
Gloves: They keep our hands warm when the temperatures dip, but they also pick up everything bare hands do, and few people wash their gloves frequently enough. Gloves may carry bacteria, the cold virus (rhinovirus) and influenza virus – especially if people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom and then put the gloves back on. Don’t remove your gloves with your mouth; remove them from back to front like health care workers do, Swiencicki said.
Scarves: While scarves protect the face and neck from the cold wind, they are also very close to our noses and mouths. People inadvertently use scarves as tissues for runny noses. Our scarves soak up this extra mucus and carry around our germs to other people.
The flu virus can live on clothing like gloves and scarves for two or three days, while diarrhea-causing viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus, may thrive for as many as four weeks.
Coats: Be sure to empty your coat pockets of dirty tissues and gloves. When you have a confined space filled with mucus and dirty gloves, you’ve got a lot of microbes on clothing that can cultivate. When washing your coat, empty the pockets and leave the pockets flipped inside out.
Boots: Wearing boots into the house carries bacteria, which can contaminate your surfaces and lead to illness. Clean the bottom of your boots with an antiseptic wipe at least once a week.
Blankets: That cozy blanket feels great on a cold winter night, but it is also crawling with germs. It collects pet dander, pet saliva, children’s snot and saliva, crumbs from leftover food, and airborne illnesses from anyone who might have sneezed on it.
“Clothes including accessories need to be washed often and on a weekly basis to limit the amount of infectious germs on clothes,” Swiencicki said.
Heat is what will really kill microbes. Toss those winter clothes in the wash once a week in the hottest water the fabric allows – and unless you’re worried about shrinkage, throw them in the dryer for 30 to 45 minutes.