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Last updated: Nov 03, 2021
4 min read

How long does the coronavirus last on surfaces?

Important

Information about the novel coronavirus (the virus that causes COVID-19) is constantly evolving. We will refresh our novel coronavirus content periodically based on newly published peer-reviewed findings to which we have access. For the most reliable and up-to-date information, please visit the CDC website or the WHO’s advice for the public.

While the coronavirus can last on different surfaces for hours or even days, chances are you’re not going to catch it from touching something. The more likely mode of transmission for the virus is from respiratory droplets that spread through coughing or sneezing from one person to another. 

When the pandemic first descended upon us and numbers were trickling in in the single and double digits, there was a lot of panic in the air. Toilet paper disappeared from shelves and masks were going for major markups on Amazon, sparking concern around price gouging. And if you ventured out into the real world during those early days, you’d have seen people wearing gloves in the supermarket, or morning show segments on how to disinfect your groceries using chlorine wipes.

We’ve moved forward since then, and with vaccines widely available and a better understanding of how the virus spreads, we can comfortably venture out into the world sans latex. But if you’ve been to the pharmacy or an exercise class, you may notice that there’s still a conveniently located tub of wipes available for quick once-overs on the counter or the community yoga mats. So how long does the coronavirus really survive on surfaces? We’ve got the answers below.  

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How long does the coronavirus last on surfaces?

There have been a number of studies done in both laboratory and hospital settings exploring just how long coronavirus lasts on surfaces. A study published in the Lancet also found that SARS-CoV-2 remains on various surfaces for different lengths of time. For example, it was detected on paper for three hours, wood and cloth for two to three days, and glass for up to seven days (Doremalen, 2020). 

Another study found that SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in aerosols for up to three hours, on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours. However, the virus was very susceptible to disinfectants and was not detected on most surfaces five minutes after disinfecting (Chin, 2020).

And while the virus can be detected on surfaces for a while, research has shown that it’s unlikely for a person to get infected with COVID by touching a surface. Most of the evidence seems to show that the virus itself isn’t very stable outside of our bodies and only non-infectious remnants of the virus remain on surfaces (Goldman, 2020). The CDC notes that there’s a low risk of infection from objects (fomites) because of the virus’s “low survivability on surfaces” (CDC, 2021a). 

So what does that mean? There’s no need to scrub your groceries with disinfectant before putting them in your fridge.

How to prevent transmission of coronavirus

First and foremost, wash your hands regularly, as this is one of the best ways to stop the spread of many pathogens, including coronavirus. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom, after coughing or sneezing, and before eating. Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands. If you use hand sanitizer, make sure it has more than 60% alcohol. But it’s important to remember that handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the preferred method for cutting down on transmission risk.

And, of course, getting a full course of one of the available COVID-19 vaccines is the most important thing we can do to hopefully see the other side of this pandemic. 

How does COVID spread?

The coronavirus spreads via respiratory droplets, which are produced when you cough or sneeze. Respiratory droplets do not tend to remain airborne, but they can travel about six feet through the air. So, if a person is near an infected person with respiratory symptoms or moving through a crowded area, exposure is possible. The virus can also spread if it is introduced to the mucous membranes (surfaces) in the mouth, nose, or eyes. You may get infected from touching these areas if your hands are contaminated, which is why following proper hand hygiene is so important.

If you are exposed to a person with coronavirus, the CDC recommends self-quarantining for ten days. Some people never develop symptoms of coronavirus, even if they are infected, so even if you feel well, it’s still a good idea to get tested

If you are diagnosed with coronavirus, the CDC recommends isolating (even from the people in your household if possible). It’s crucial to stay away from people at risk of developing a severe case of the virus if exposed. This includes people over 65, those with underlying respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD, and individuals with immune system disorders (CDC, 2021b).

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2021a April 5). Science Brief: SARS-CoV-2 and Surface (Fomite) Transmission for Indoor Community Environments. Retrieved on Sept. 10, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/science-and-research/surface-transmission.html#ref8
  2. Chin, A., Chu, J., Perera, M., Hui, K., Yen, H. L., Chan, M., Peiris, M., & Poon, L. (2020). Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions. The Lancet. Microbe, 1(1), e10. doi: 10.1016/S2666-5247(20)30003-3. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanmic/article/PIIS2666-5247(20)30003-3/fulltext
  3. Doremalen, N. V., Bushmaker, T., Morris, D. H., Holbrook, M. G., Gamble, A., Williamson, B. N., … Munster, V. J. (2020). Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(16), 1564–1567. doi: 10.1056/nejmc2004973. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32182409
  4. Goldman, E. (2020, AUGUST 01) Exaggerated risk of transmission of COVID-19 by fomites. The Lancet, Infectious Disease: 20(8): 892-893, Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30561-2/fulltext
  5. World Health Organization (WHO). Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19). (2020, February 23). Retrieved on Feb. 29, 2020 from https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses