While monkeypox can spread through touching contaminated clothing and linens, there are ways to clean and disinfect these items.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the global monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency of international concern. As of July 28, monkeypox has been detected in at least 78 countries, and reported cases are currently on the rise in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Multiple people on social media (here, here, and here) claim monkeypox can potentially spread by touching clothing, bedding and towels that have previously come in contact with a person who has the virus.
“Think twice before trying clothes on in a store, and maybe bring your own linens/towels for any hotel or Airbnb stay,” one post said.
VERIFY viewer Holly wants to know if these claims are true or false.
Can monkeypox spread through touching contaminated clothing and linens?
Yes, monkeypox can spread through touching contaminated clothing and linens.
Monkeypox transmission most often occurs through direct contact with a rash or sores from someone who has the virus. But it can also spread from coming in contact with clothing, bedding, or other items used by an infected person, according to the CDC and the New York City Department of Health.
Another way monkeypox can spread is through respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, or during intimate physical contact, such as kissing, cuddling, or sex. However, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.
Symptoms of monkeypox can include fever, headache, muscle aches and backache, swollen lymph nodes, chills, exhaustion, and respiratory symptoms, such as a sore throat, nasal congestion, or cough. Some people may also develop a rash that may be located on or near the genitals or anus, but the CDC says it could also be found on other areas like the hands, feet, chest, face, or mouth.
“Monkeypox can spread from the time symptoms start until the rash has fully healed and a fresh layer of skin has formed. The illness typically lasts two to four weeks. People who do not have monkeypox symptoms cannot spread the virus to others,” the CDC writes on its website.
Ilhem Messaoudi Powers, Ph.D., an immunologist at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, said it is a possibility for monkeypox to spread by trying on clothes worn by a person with the virus.
“The act of putting clothes on and removing them can scrape the skin. So, if someone with active monkeypox lesions tries on clothes and then someone else tries them afterward, there is a chance they can contract monkeypox. This is because some of the lesions can release their fluid, which is often full of live virus particles. This is the same for hotel room sheets and towels,” Messaoudi told VERIFY.
Messaoudi explained that it is currently difficult to determine how long the virus stays on clothes and linen after they have come in contact with an infected person, but she said contaminated clothing and bedding “should be cleaned thoroughly to avoid transmission.” Stuart Campbell Ray, M.D., the vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics in the department of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, agrees.
“It’s just a reason to be cautious when somebody who is highly symptomatic has been in an area — it’s a good idea to clean,” Ray said.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says there are currently no disinfectants registered for use against monkeypox in the U.S. But, in May, the agency published a list of disinfectants that may help kill the monkeypox virus on its website.
Oxiclean Laundry & Home Sanitizer is one of the products listed for disinfecting laundry against monkeypox. Several other products that contain hydrogen peroxide may also help disinfect surfaces that have come in contact with the virus, according to the EPA.
The CDC, WHO and NYC Health say it is important for the person who has or had monkeypox to clean and disinfect their own clothing, bedding and other items they may have touched while infected. If that’s not possible, the person who is cleaning should wear a facemask and disposable gloves while interacting with these items.
Each agency shares tips on how to clean and disinfect clothing, linens, towels, and other items that may have come in contact with monkeypox, including the following:
For items that are not machine washable:
If you have a new or unexplained rash or other symptoms, the CDC says it is important to avoid close contact with others, including sex or being intimate with anyone, until you have been checked out by a healthcare provider. If you don’t have a healthcare provider or health insurance, visit a public health clinic near you.