How Long Does The Coronavirus Live On Surfaces And In The Air? - Save Our Bones

With each passing day, scientists are learning more about the properties of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The spread of the disease has been rapid, reaching most countries in the world, and all 50 of the United States.

Today we'll look at the latest information about how this coronavirus functions, including survival time in the air and on surfaces. Then we'll review the measures you can take to protect yourself and those around you.

What We Currently Know About The Novel Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus is formally named SARS-CoV-2, and is a never-before-seen coronavirus that causes a disease called COVID-19. Other known coronaviruses cause the common cold and the diseases MERS and SARS that emerged over the past twenty years. Humans have no immunity to this new virus, allowing it to spread rapidly across the globe.

SARS-CoV-2 transmits through human respiratory droplets and contact with infected persons. The name SARS-CoV-2 stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The virus is highly transmissible, due in part to its ability to survive outside the human body. Scientists have been conducting studies to determine how long it can survive on different surfaces and in the air.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined the aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2. They found that the virus persists as follows:1

  • In aerosols: three hours
  • On copper: four hours
  • On cardboard: 24 hours
  • On stainless steel: two to three days
  • On polypropylene plastic: three days

Polypropylene is a type of plastic used for food containers, toys, and many other everyday products. Aerosols are solid particles small enough to suspend in the air. The scientists don't have a definitive answer as to why the virus survives such differing lengths of time on different surfaces.

These results are useful for making safety decisions. They indicate that people can acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects. The long life of the virus on steel and plastic underscores the importance of regularly sanitizing frequently used surfaces and objects.

The 24-hour lifespan of the virus on cardboard has not translated into infections from packages that arrive in the mail. This is likely because shipping conditions kill the virus. Nonetheless, it's important to sanitize everything that enters your home.

While the virus persists for three hours in aerosol droplets, air movement tends to prevent the virus from hanging in the air for long periods. In a study conducted in Singapore, researchers tested the hospital rooms of infected patients and all air samples came back negative.2

In that study, 13 of 15 other room sites came back positive for the virus, including an air vent, suggesting that the virus is traveling via aerosol particles to locations beyond the reach of the infected patient. However, when the rooms of infected patients were tested after cleaning, all the room sites came back negative.2

These study results have been brought into question by a study that examined outbreaks on cruise ships. Researchers found traces of SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces in the cabins of the cruise ship the Diamond Princess as long as 17 days after passengers left, but before the cabins had been disinfected. This finding, although not reproduced in controlled studies, underscores the importance of disinfecting to destroy any trace of the virus.3

Synopsis

SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can survive on tiny particles suspended in the air for three hours, on copper for four hours, on cardboard for 24 hours, on stainless steel for two to three days, and on polypropylene plastic for three days. Even though a study found traces of the virus lingering in cruise ship cabins for up to 17 days, the results were obtained prior to disinfection. Regular disinfecting is critical to prevent the spread of the virus.

What You Can Do To Prevent Infection And Spread

These results confirm the importance of the social distancing, disinfecting, and isolation practices currently recommended.

Here are the best practices for minimizing contact with the virus:

  • Disinfect objects you bring into your home, including boxes, groceries, delivery containers, etc.
  • Remove outer layers of clothing when returning home.
  • Remove shoes and socks (to avoid slipping!) when you come in from outside and place them in a bag by the door.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using household cleaning spray or wipes.
  • Wash your hands when you get home, before you eat or prepare food, and after you cough or sneeze.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue then throw the tissue away.
  • Stay inside your home as much as possible.
  • Continue to avoid physical proximity to others – if you go out, remain six feet away from other people at all times.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • If you start to feel sick, call a medical professional.

How To Effectively Disinfect Surfaces

Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects is a simple and effective means of reducing your risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2. A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection examined the results of 22 studies on the persistence of other coronaviruses on surfaces and strategies for disinfecting them.4

According to their results, disinfectants with 62-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (bleach) can efficiently inactivate coronaviruses within a minute.

The CDC has stated that diluted household bleach solutions, alcohol solutions containing at least 70% alcohol and most EPA-registered common household disinfectants are effective at disinfecting surfaces against the coronavirus.5

The CDC recommends wearing disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

Discard gloves after cleaning. If your gloves are reusable, designate a pair exclusively for cleaning or disinfecting surfaces for SARS-CoV-2. Wash your hands after you remove gloves and store them in a separate bag for future use.

If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

You can use a diluted household bleach solution if it's appropriate for the surface. Follow the label's instructions for application and ventilation. Always check the expiration date and make sure the product hasn't expired.

Prepare a bleach solution by mixing five tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water or four teaspoons bleach per quart of water.

For soft surfaces such as carpeted floor, rugs, and drapes, clean with the appropriate cleaners indicated for use on these surfaces. For launderable items including clothes, follow washing instructions at the warmest appropriate water setting and dry completely. Be sure to also disinfect laundry hampers.

Never mix chemicals or cleaning substances together, as they often combine to form deadly gases or highly corrosive acids.

Synopsis

Household cleaners, disinfectants with 70% alcohol, and diluted bleach solutions are effective for disinfecting surfaces. Wear disposable gloves and ventilate the area. Follow label instructions for any products. Laundering clothes and other soft washables will disinfect them.

What This Means To You

Take the simple and effective precautions detailed above to destroy the novel coronavirus and prevent it from spreading. Clean frequently touched surfaces often, since the virus can survive many hours on most materials. We know that maintaining a distance from other people reduces the chances that the virus will reach us in the air.

Follow the disinfecting protocols at home, and reduce your potential for exposure by only leaving the house when necessary. Together we can mitigate the spread of the virus and lessen the impact of the COVID-19 health crisis.

References

1 https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMc2004973

2 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2762692

3 https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e3.htm?s_cid=mm6912e3_w

4 https://www.journalofhospitalinfection.com/article/S0195-6701(20)30046-3/fulltext

5 https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/cleaning-disinfection.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fcommunity%2Fhome%2Fcleaning-disinfection.html

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34 comments. Leave Yours Now →
  1. Mary

    Hi Vivian thank you very much for your calm and measured advice. Self distancing and frequent hand washing and disinfecting are the best ways to protect ourselves.
    I do hope you apply the same careful analysis when a vaccine is developed for the virus. I know you don’t normally recommend taking a flu vaccine, but I feel that you as a scientist, should be able to judge vaccines that go through rigorous testing for safely and efficacy as being a very good way to immunise the population so that this virus cannot take such a heavy toll the next time it comes around.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Mary, we’ll have to wait and see what scientists will come up with this time. Of course, I’ll stay on top of the latest news on vaccine development for COVID-19 and will keep Savers informed 🙂

  2. S Ravi shankar

    Highly educated.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      I appreciate your kind words, Ravi!

  3. Abdelghany Ebied

    Thank you for your diligence in presenting this useful information.
    There is an issue I noticed it is not covered in your article , I may be mistaken.
    That subject is how to disinfect vegetables and fruits ?
    knowing that in my neighborhood and at most places in my Country ; Egypt , fresh vegetables and fruits are usually unbacked

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Great question! You can make your own fruit and vegetable disinfectant by mixing 1 part distilled vinegar mixed with 4 parts of water. Pour it in a bowl and add the fruits or vegetables. Let them soak in the solution for at least three minutes, and then rinse with clean water. Or you can put the solution in a spray bottle, spray the produce, and let it sit with the liquid on it for at least three minutes, and rinse. Stay safe and healthy, Abdelghany!

  4. Pegge

    Thanks for the way to make a mask. I live in an apt & when I receive a package, I open it outside & leave it there & bring contents inside & wash my hands. Hopefully this us good.
    I look forward to your emails, so helpful, I’ve have All your books from the very beginning & updated Save our bones, Bon Appétit, blender magic, exercise & now Save Trainer. There so awesome & Im learning a lot & share it with others.
    Thanks for all your hard work!!
    Blessings on you! Stay well! We love you : )

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Pegge, thanks for being such a loyal Saver and for your kind words! You’re being smart about preventing viral contamination by not bringing the packages inside. It spares you from having to disinfect them prior to opening. Stay healthy, upbeat, and inquisitive!

  5. Marlene Villar

    Hello Vivian,

    Thank you very much.

    Marlene

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re very welcome, Marlene 🙂

  6. Lee

    Sounds like we should discontinue eating salads for awhile since they can’t be sterilized. Cooked vegetables & fruits that are cleaned then peeled before eating would be ok? Your comment please Vivian.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Lee, there is no evidence supporting the transmission of the novel coronavirus from contaminated foods, so you can eat raw fruits and veggies and you don’t need to peel them if you prefer to cook them. Just in case, make sure that before you start preparing food, you always wash your hands.

  7. Marilyn

    I was wondering if you should dilute 70% alcohol at the same ratio as the diluted bleach. I read that alcohol is better for stainless steel surfaces than the bleach.
    Thanks for your information.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Marilyn, if you get 70% alcohol, then it’s already diluted. Bear in mind that the optimal alcohol concentration to kill viruses is from 60% to 80%. So you could add a very small amount of water (not more than 10%) or use it as is. Now if you get 90% alcohol, you could dilute it further.

  8. Joan

    I’m walking in my back garden for the last week an hour @ have I do a day really enjoy it glad to here that’s ok .thank you for all the info it helps a lot.keep well
    Regards joan

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Keep enjoying the outdoors, Joan! I’m happy to be able to help Savers navigate these difficult times as healthy (both mentally and physically) as possible.

      • Joan

        Thank you stay safe

  9. Linda

    As always your comments are spot on and very appreciated. I was worried about the cardboard boxes being delivered so I put my gloves on and let them sit in the sun on my patio before bringing them in??? Thanks for your continued suggestions and interventions at this sad and challenging time in our history. I look forward to all your posts. Linda

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Linda, that’s a good idea, and if you won’t sanitize the boxes, make sure they stay out for at least 24 hours since the virus survives for that length of time on cardboard. And I’m glad you find our articles helpful. Take care and be well!

  10. susan

    Hi Vivian,
    You said to stay inside as much as possible. Are you saying we shouldn’t even go outside for a walk or on our patio? I l am in Florida as well and today I was wondering I don’t see many people outside their homes. Thanks for all the great info. You most likely don’t recall but we spoke and had consult 🙂

    Stay Safe and Healthy!
    All the best,
    Susan

    • Maryline

      Thank you to receive your information or newsletter.
      Healthy wishes.
      Maryline Switzerland

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Susan, we can spend time outdoors if we’re not near other people. So if your patio is secluded, that should be fine. And when you go for a walk, make sure you don’t get close to anyone also. I go for walks in the morning and if someone is on my side of the street, I cross to the other side, as a precaution. Good to hear from you, and take care!

  11. Ita

    Thank you, Ita.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re very welcome, Ita!

  12. Carol

    Thank you,Vivian, for passing on that good information. This is a tough time in our lives but we will get through it.
    I love your articles. They are the best!

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I love your positive attitude, Carol 🙂

  13. Elizabeth

    Thank you for your diligence in presenting this useful information.

    A quick question, plrease.

    I need to plant my veggie garden, which is obviously outside. I normally spent 4-6 hours a day working my garden. I live on 80 acres of land in the Mohave Desert, with my home in the center. I have no neighbors and one supply delivery man 3 x per week. I am 76 years old. Will I be safe from Covid 19?

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      To date, spending time outdoors while maintaining at least a distance of 6 feet between individuals has been shown to be safe. In your case, you’ve got all those acres acting as a buffer zone, so provided you’re alone, you should be fine. Make sure, though, you don’t get near the delivery man and that you sanitize all the packages and containers prior to putting them away. Stay healthy and safe!

  14. Natalie

    Vivian.
    Thanks for your info on how we can stay safe. I too have made a mask. So simple.
    Stay well.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re welcome, Natalie 🙂

  15. Paula Geluso

    Thank you for this clear and definite explanation about disinfecting within the home…as well out of doors.Performing our proper duties helps everyone,and we can all get back to more comfortable living sooner,while learning new health methods…that may prevent future outbreaks.God bless and protect us all thru this pandemic.We can learn new ways of survival for our planet.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      It’s my pleasure, Paula!

  16. Jean

    Thank you Vivian for all your advice. Have made the mask. It is so easy and successful. I pray we all keep safe.

    • Vivian Goldschmidt, MA

      You’re welcome, Jean! Stay safe and healthy!

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