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How to clean your travel gear after a trip

For folks who've been on-the-go during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Updated

Fact checked

You’re home safe and sound — but is your stuff? It’s normal to be concerned about lingering bacteria on your belongings after a trip. Disinfecting your gear can help eliminate any chance of getting sick.

How long can coronavirus live on surfaces?

On March 17, the National Institute of Health (NIH) reported that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can remain stable in aerosols and on surfaces for hours and days at a time without human intervention.

NIH reported the virus can survive in aerosols for up to three hours, on copper for up to four hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours. And on plastic and stainless steel, the study showed COVID-19 can survive for two to three days. This means that when you travel, a virus could potentially linger on your suitcase, clothes and other gear you brought along on the trip — even if you carefully avoided person-to-person contact.

Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that contaminated surfaces are “not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” So the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 through contaminated surfaces is low — especially if you’re diligent about washing your hands and not touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

    How to clean up after travel

    Your main goal? Disinfect all surfaces, especially those that may have been touched by someone else. If you have antibacterial wipes or disinfectant, great. If not, soap and water should do the trick.

    Here’s how to clean travel gear — and yourself — when you return home.

    • Hands. Wash your hands with soap and water — ideally at an airport or gas station before you get home, and again when you’re inside.
    • Body. Take a shower — and use plenty of soap.
    • Clothes. Clean your clothes as usual — in the washing machine with hot water and detergent.
    • Suitcase. Wipe down your suitcase with disinfectant. For fabric suitcases, you may want to use a damp rag soaked in soap and water to avoid staining the fibers.
    • Purse/backpacks. If your personal item is washable, throw it in the washing machine. Otherwise, wipe it thoroughly with disinfectant or a rag soaked in soap and water.
    • Other travel items. Remember to clean smaller items like reusable water bottles, sunglasses and even books that you may have read on the plane. When in doubt, wipe it down with disinfectant.

    Or you could isolate your travel gear for a week.

    If you’d rather not wash each item individually, experts say that the virus will die over time — give it at least a week. But keep it in a contained area, and don’t touch it or move anything around.

    What items should you disinfect when you get home after a trip?

    Here’s a quick-and-easy list of things to clean after you’ve been traveling:

    • Suitcase
      • Handle
      • Wheels
    • Purse
      • Handle
    • Backpack
      • Handle
      • Straps
    • Briefcase
      • Handle
    • Clothes
      • Tops/bottoms
      • Jacket or outer layers
    • Accessories
      • Hat
      • Gloves
      • Sunglasses
    • Wallet
    • Phone
    • Water bottle
    • Book
    • Laptop

    Bottom line

    Disinfecting your travel gear is an important part of the effort to contain and eliminate COVID-19. Packing a coronavirus travel kit to bring along can also help keep you safe along the way.

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