How Long Do Viruses and Bacteria Stay on Clothing?

Updated on February 17, 2012
K.M. asks from Seaford, NY
6 answers

Does anyone know if and if so how long viruses and bacteria stay on clothing? My son loves going to bounce houses but I feel like every time we go he catches a cold no matter how many times we wash his hands. TIA!

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answers from Seattle on

It COMPLETELY depends on the bacteria or virus.

TB, for example, can live for several days. HIV can only live for moments. Some bacteria and viruses require a live host, others can encapsulate and live for thousands of years with no host. We've gotten encapsulated microbes out of tombs and other archeological sites that are crazy fascinating to study (they're also the culprit behind most "cursed tombs"... once they hit a live host, they uncapsulate and start replicating like crazy). ALSO what conditions a microbe can survive in varies a great deal. Some can take heat, others can't. Some can take cold, others can't. Some need moisture, others don't. The list goes on.

The 'common cold' is a series of VERY hardy viruses, it's part of why they're pandemic... but how long they can live outside a host varies per each strain. Some for only a few hours, some for several days.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Most of the cold germs your son encounters in a bounce house are probably flying through the air, not on his duds. There's a lot of laughing, shouting, and fast breathing when kids are playing actively, all of which tend to spray more viruses into the air. So a face mask is probably better protection there – but what child is going to want to keep a mask on? And they do inhibit free breathing after they get steamed up. The best bet would be to avoid the bounce house ;-( if the colds really cut into his life.

Most microbes need moisture to survive. Most die as soon as they dry out on warm, dry surfaces like fabrics, over an hour or a few hours. Many last longer on cool, dry surfaces like doorknobs and handrails. Many live longer in winter because they are "refrigerated" and thus preserved, and they spread more easily in winter because people cluster together in warm buildings more.

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answers from Columbia on

Basically, it depends upon the virus/bacteria.

But, the best answer would be "until you wash it."



answers from Pittsburgh on

It depends very much on the virus. Many only survive in the environment for a few days. Some (like HIV) do not survive in the environment for any meaningful duration and some pathogens (anthrax for example) have spores and are viable for years. He probably touches his face with his infected hands before you ever have a chance to wash them.



answers from Dallas on

It depends. When I take my kids to McDonalds or anywhere like that I make them wash their hands before they do anything or at least use sanitizer if soap is not avalible. Then when we got home their cloths come off and in the washer and they just in the tub and wash up. Those places are breading grounds for bactiria and all kinds of yuck but you really don't want to deprive your child of playing on them. And if he's small you could proably have a change of cloths in the car and change him and put the others in a plastic bag till you get home.

Good luck and God Bless!


answers from Lakeland on

Viruses die within 24 hours without a host (a person carrying it), but bacteria I think can survive longer.
As long as there are children playing in these things there will be germs available to all that enter. I don't know of any on them getting a regular cleaning or even being sprayed with Lysol once in a while.

Your best bet is to keep your child healthy with eating proper foods and teaching good hygiene. But not everything is avoidable.

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