Monkeypox typically spreads through skin-to-skin contact with someone’s infectious rash, bodily fluids, or respiratory secretions. But experts say the public should also be aware of the risk of surface transmission.
The monkeypox virus can survive on surfaces for 15 days or more, particularly in a dark, cool, and dry environment, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Porous materials, such as bedding and clothing, can harbor the virus for longer periods of time than non-porous surfaces, such as plastic, metal, and glass.
Brian Mangum, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of Health Sciences Antigua, said the persistence of the virus demonstrates the importance of properly disinfecting any item or surface that may have come into contact with it.
Monkeypox can survive on surfaces for a long time because it has a protective outer layer known as the envelope, Mangum explained.
Despite having an outer envelope, he said, the virus is sensitive to common household disinfectants like Lysol and Clorox. A full list of effective disinfectants can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency’s website.
“When working with items that are potentially infected, please remember to use proper personal protective equipment, such as disposable gloves, eye protection, and a surgical mask,” Magnum said.
Shanina Knighton, PhD, RN, a nurse scientist and certified infection prevention specialist, told Verywell that while household disinfectants can kill the monkeypox virus on surfaces, it’s essential to follow the directions for each specific product closely and accurately.
“For example, if it says, ‘allow 30 seconds of contact time on surfaces,’ that means that the disinfectant should sit on the surfaces for that duration of time,” she said. “If it doesn’t, you can’t ensure that the product is doing what it says it will do on the label.”
When it comes to laundering bed linens, clothing, and towels, Knighton said cleaning items in a washing machine with hot water and regular detergent is sufficient.
“While some people use clothing disinfectants and sanitizers, they’re not required to decrease your risk,” she said.
However, it’s important to allow all linens and clothing to go through a complete wash, rinse, and dry cycle, she said, and any contaminated items should be kept separate from regular laundry.
Anyone handling contaminated linens should also take proper care to prevent transmission, including hand-washing and putting on gloves to handle the soiled items, Knighton said.
“Place clothing directly into the machine while minimally attempting to touch soiled clothing,” she said. ”Remove gloves if you have them, clean your hands properly, and then close the lid and do the washing machine settings. If you don’t clean your hands, you will have cross contamination as an issue because you will take the germs from the bag and possibly the laundry and contaminate the lid and buttons of your machine.”
If in-home laundry facilities are unavailable, the CDC suggests coordinating with your local public health department to determine appropriate laundering options.
Washing your hands with soap and water should be enough to kill the monkeypox virus, said Manoj Gandhi, MD, PhD, senior medical director of Genetic Testing Solutions at Thermo Fisher Scientific. But sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol are the most ideal for proper hand hygiene.
Most importantly, he said, it’s vital to ensure you’re washing your hands thoroughly and effectively, including cleaning the backs of the hands and under the fingernails.
“Good hand hygiene is extremely important in preventing infection and further spread,” he said.
It’s important to remember that the monkeypox virus can survive on surfaces, clothes, and linens. Fortunately, it can be easily killed using household disinfectants and regular laundry detergent.