The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 mainly spreads from person to person. When someone who is infected coughs or sneezes, they send droplets containing the virus into the air. A healthy person can then breathe in those droplets. You can also catch the virus if you touch a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes.
The coronavirus can live for hours to days on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs. How long it survives depends on the material the surface is made from.
Here’s a guide to how long coronaviruses — the family of viruses that includes the one that causes COVID-19 — can live on some of the surfaces you probably touch on a daily basis. Keep in mind that researchers still have a lot to learn about the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19. For example, they don’t know whether exposure to heat, cold, or sunlight affects how long it lives on surfaces. They also don’t know how much of the virus it takes to cause an infection. But you’re probably more likely to catch it from being around someone who has it than from touching a contaminated surface.
Examples: doorknobs, jewelry, silverware
Examples: furniture, decking
Examples: packaging like milk containers and detergent bottles, subway and bus seats, backpacks, elevator buttons
Examples: refrigerators, pots and pans, sinks, some water bottles
Examples: shipping boxes
Examples: pennies, teakettles, cookware
Examples: soda cans, tinfoil, water bottles
Examples: drinking glasses, measuring cups, mirrors, windows
Up to 5 days
Examples: dishes, pottery, mugs
The length of time varies. Some strains of coronavirus live for only a few minutes on paper, while others live for up to 5 days.
Coronavirus doesn’t seem to spread through exposure to food. Still, it’s a good idea to wash fruits and vegetables under running water before you eat them. Scrub them with a brush or your hands to remove any germs that might be on their surface. Wash your hands after you visit the supermarket. If you have a weakened immune system, you might want to buy frozen or canned produce.
What You Can Do
To reduce your chance of catching or spreading coronavirus, clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects in your home and office every day. This includes:
- Bathroom fixtures
- Remote controls
Use a household cleaning spray or wipe. If the surfaces are dirty, clean them first with soap and water and then disinfect them.
Keep surfaces clean, even if everyone in your house is healthy. People who are infected may not show symptoms, but they can still shed the virus onto surfaces.
After you visit the drugstore or supermarket, or bring in takeout food or packages, wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Do the same thing after you pick up a delivered newspaper.
Published: WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on 05.05.2020
CDC: “How It Spreads,” “Water Transmission and COVID-19.”
FDA: “Food safety and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).”
Harvard Medical School: “Coronavirus Resource Center.”
Journal of Hospital Infection: “Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents.”
New England Journal of Medicine: “Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1.”
News release, National Institutes of Health.
Purdue University: “Don’t fear eating your fruits and veggies as virus concerns grip nation.”
UC Davis: “Safe Handling of Fruits and Vegetables.” “COVID-19 FAQs for health professionals.”
Emerging Infectious Diseases: “Aerosol and Surface Distribution of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 in Hospital Wards, Wuhan, China, 2020.”
Jerome Adams, MD, MPH. 20th Surgeon General of the United States. John Whyte, MD, MPH. Chief Medical Officer, WebMD.
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