Surface transmission (touching virus droplets deposited on a surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth) is one way that viral illness spreads from person to person.
For example, when a contagious person coughs or sneezes on a surface like a kitchen countertop, they leave behind droplets that contain the virus. Viruses survive on surfaces for different amounts of time, depending on the type of surface, the type of virus and various environmental factors. Disinfecting hard, nonporous surfaces interrupts the chain of transmission and helps to prevent the spread of illness.
Across different research studies, survival time for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) varies widely from hours to weeks depending on the study. To develop more specific guidance from this data, the Centers for Disease Control factors in the environment (like air flow and temperature) and the likely viral load in respiratory droplets.
On nonporous surfaces like stainless steel, plastic and glass, the virus can last up to 3 days in a typical indoor environment. On porous surfaces like cotton fabric, the survival time is shorter, up to a day.1
Depending on where cold and flu virus droplets fall, they can last from hours to days,2 and up to 48 hours.3 They last longer on non-porous surfaces than porous surfaces. As with SARS-CoV-2, the viral load in any droplets that fall on surfaces—along with temperature and humidity — impact how easily a virus can spread to another person who touches the droplet then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
Along with frequent handwashing (especially after contact with a sick person or handling their laundry), cleaning and disinfecting hard, nonporous surfaces during the time window where the virus remains viable after exposure (up to 3 days for Covid, and up to 2 days for the cold or flu) will help prevent infection.
Disinfectant products should be registered with the EPA and known to kill cold, flu and SARS-CoV-2 viruses. For laundry, select the hottest temperature possible and add the appropriate laundry additive to get clothes and bedding as clean as possible.
Illness caused by SARS-CoV-2