Using shared washer/dryer facilities has become an anxiety-inducing experience for many, but there are ways to do laundry safely
You can only live in that ratty old band shirt and sweatpants combo for so long – eventually you’re going to have to do your laundry.
Not everyone is lucky enough to have an ensuite washer/dryer in their condo, house or apartment. Many use shared facilities, either in their building or at public laundromats – an anxiety-inducing thought for many in the age of COVID-19. Recommendations for how to safely wash your hands are easy to come by – less so how to wash your clothes.
Toronto Public Health spokesperson Dr. Vinita Duby, associate medical officer of health, says that the primary concern when washing your clothes should still be physical distancing from other people. She says you should keep at least six feet of distance between yourself and others doing their laundry, which might mean going during off-peak hours.
“COVID-19 is primarily spread through close, prolonged contact with an individual who is contagious,” she says. “It is not primarily spread through contact with surfaces. It is assumed to live on surfaces for hours, though how long it lives depends on many factors such as the material of the surface, temperature and humidity. When touching high-touch surfaces such as washing machines and dryers, it is important to wash your hands. Washing hands after touching surfaces removes any germs.”
She says the virus can live on clothing for hours, but it can be killed by washing with regular laundry detergent in a washing machine and dried in a drier. Your clothes could even potentially be washed in the same load as someone with the virus or symptoms of it, she says.
“Just ensure the soiled laundry is placed in a lined laundry bin, handle the laundry with gloves, and wash hands afterwards. Also be sure to clean surfaces with a disinfectant.”
If you’re going out in public, keeping your clothes clean is an important thing to do. Laundromats and dry cleaners are considered essential services and remain open, while being instructed to make special provisions for COVID-19.
But even for laundromat operators, exact safety requirements are frustratingly hard to come by – which is doubly stressful considering they could face hefty fines if they’re considered to be in defiance of Ontario’s emergency measures.
“I was never given any clear guidance or protocols about running a laundromat through this,” says Alex Winch, the owner of Beach Solar Laundromat in the Beaches. “I’m reading everything I can about how long [coronavirus] lasts on different surfaces and implementing robust cleaning regiments. But there’s no safe harbour that I know of, no one has told me any rules.”
He’s been working around the clock to ensure safety. Beach Solar’s staff wipes down every surface every night with clorox and the floors with double concentration Pine-Sol, and constantly disinfects customer touch points like control knobs thoroughly throughout the day. The laundromat is open 5:30 am to 10:30 pm, and it’s cleaned vigorously during the closing hours. The early morning wash and fold service is now primarily used by seniors and immunocompromised people.
Winch put up a letter in the window (and on the store’s website) asking customers to do the minimum amount of laundry and not let it pile up (“think of it as quarantining your clothes”) and separate and fold clothes at home, while minimizing the amount of time spent in the shop. They’ve also marked six-by-six feet boxes with green masking tape on the floor, creating spaces for people to physically distance from each other.
Coinamatic, which is one of the biggest operator of laundry machines in apartment buildings and condos throughout Canada, has a printable poster outlining safe laundry practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The company, which is also based in the United States, follows the guidelines of the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
It suggests provisions like using gloves to handle any potentially infected or soiled clothing or bedding, wiping down and surfaces also being used by others before interacting with them and washing your hands thoroughly before and after. The CDC also suggests washing on the highest temperature setting in accordance with the label and thoroughly drying everything. Dubey agrees that warmer temperatures of water are preferred, while high temperatures of a dryer are usually effective to kill any remaining viruses that may be present.
Don’t shake your clothes or otherwise agitate them: just transfer them directly into the washer and from the washer into the dryer, from the dryer into your thoroughly disinfected laundry bin or hamper. You could also line the bin and dispose of the liner after. Try to wait somewhere other than the laundromat or laundry room while the clothes are in the machines.
To ensure that social distancing, MetCap Living, which operates a number of apartment buildings in Toronto and throughout Canada, has opened its laundry rooms 24/7. They have a laundry room protocol following guidance from Health Canada, including asking anyone with symptoms to take extra precautions.
Toronto Public Health’s Infection Prevention and Control fact sheet suggests providing hand sanitizer in laundry rooms. Coins are also a potential transmitter, so some residences and hotels have removed the fee from coin-operated machines. If you live in a place with coin-operated machines, it’s worth asking your property manager if they could do the same.
There are a variety of sources for what exactly safe laundry entails, but they all have one thing in common: wash your hands for 20 seconds before and after using any shared facilities and avoid touching your face.