How long do germs live on surfaces? In the age of coronavirus, knowing how long germs live on bedding, plastic, and other surfaces has never been more important. But to correctly answer this question, it's critical to understand that the nature of the surface can greatly affect a germ's lifespan. Did you know that a germ that lives on bedding for 48 hours may live for a week on plastic?
Not only does hard vs. soft surface play a large role, but germs have different lifespans. In other words, some are more "stable" without a human host than others.
Three factors affect how long germs live: 1) the specific virus or bacteria's lifespan, 2) surface porousness, and 3) temperature.
Whether you're wondering about grocery store safety, sharing a space with roommates, or thinking of resuming parts of your routine, it's critical to know how long flu and COVID-19 germs live and what factors impede and prolong their lifecycles.
DISCLAIMER: The following is not medical information and was written for informational purposes only. If you have any questions related to your health, please speak with your physician. For up-to-date information on the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic, please see the CDC website and local authorities.
How Long Do Germs Live on Surfaces? 4 Takeaways
- Coronavirus may live between two hours and seven days, depending on the surface, according to research.
- Germs may live longer on hard surfaces, such as metals and plastics, compared to porous surfaces like skin and fabric.
- Bacteria and viruses vary widely in terms of their lifespan. The avian flu may live up to 2 months, whereas measles may live only two hours.
- The seasonal flu may be contagious for up to three days, though its DNA may live longer on hard surfaces.
I. How Long Do Coronavirus Germs Live on Surfaces?
When it comes to how long coronavirus germs live, research is preliminary, and results are contradictory. However, studies suggest that a surface's texture and porousness may significantly impact COVID-19's lifespan. Here is how long SARS-CoV-2 may live on bedding, plastic, wood, and metal, according to research.
Approximate Lifespan of COVID-19
|Paper money||4 days|
|Paper (printing paper, tissue paper)||3 hours|
|Stainless steel||7 days|
|Surgical face mask||7 days|
The New England Journal of Medicine and The Lancet put forth the above figures. This information is not medical advice.
4 Things to Keep in Mind When Considering Research on How Long Germs Live
- These figures are based on laboratory results and do not consider environmental factors, such as temperature.
- Cardboard had the least consistent results, which suggests caution.
- These figures attempt to gauge the lifespan of contagious COVID-19. Coronavirus DNA may live much longer on surfaces, though it may not be transferable.
- Results differ widely. For example, data from the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that coronavirus may live for up to 14 hours on plastic, whereas research from The Lancet postulates that it could live for up to 7 days.
Other Findings on How Long Coronavirus Germs Live
- One review of 22 studies found that novel coronavirus germs can live on hard surfaces—including glass and metal—for up to 9 days, excluding disinfection. This research includes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) findings, both of which resemble COVID-19.
- Other research suggests that the virus can live up to 48 hours on stainless steel and up to 24 hours on cardboard.
How Long Do COVID-19 Germs Live in the Air?
COVID-19 aerosols may remain in the air for between eight and fourteen minutes, according to a study published in PNAS.
3 Ways of Contracting COVID-19 Germs
According to the WHO and the CDC, there are three significant ways that coronavirus is transmitted:
- Surfaces: Initially, a significant concern among public health officials and citizens, infected surfaces are no longer thought to account for the largest percentage of COVID-19 infections.
- Droplets: Small fluid particles emitted by someone infected with coronavirus, droplets are through to fall to the ground within 3-6 feet. Typically, an infected person will expel droplets when coughing or sneezing.
- Aerosols: Wondering how long these germs live in the air? You've probably heard of aerosols. These are small airborne particles that can stay in the air for hours.
Most COVID-19 Infections May Result from Germs in the Air
Research suggests that aerosols account for the majority of coronavirus infections--rather than surfaces or droplets. As COVID-19 germs can stay in the air for extended periods, outbreaks are common in crowded and poorly ventilated areas.
Events that involve singing and shouting are also more likely to become super-spreader events: a person exhales 50 times more aerosols when shouting than talking.
5 Takeaways on How Long COVID-19 Germs Live
- Surfaces of all types may transmit COVID-19.
- According to research put forth in The Lancet, the virus may live up to 7 days on surgical masks.
- SARS-CoV-2 may live longest on hard, smooth surfaces, such as stainless steel and plastic, compared to copper and cardboard. Cleaning common touch points in homes, workplaces, and public places frequently and thoroughly is essential.
- In a laboratory, the answer to how long do germs live on bedding is up to 2 days.
There is much we don't know about coronavirus. Also known as a novel coronavirus--a new virus that scientists discovered at the end of 2019--SARS-CoV-2 transmission largely remains a mystery for scientists.
The best way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and your hands frequently for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water.
If you are concerned about your health, please speak with your physician. See the CDC website for other information regarding the virus' spread.
II. How Long Do Flu Germs Live on Surfaces?
Germs can survive for hours or days, depending on a variety of factors. Influenza, meaning the flu, may persist up to 48 hours on surfaces. As is true for COVID-19, the typical flu virus exists on harder surfaces longer than fabrics or bedding.
2 Factors that Affect a Germ's Lifespan
- Temperature: Some viruses prefer cold temperatures. For example, influenza may die in temperature exceeding 75 degrees Fahrenheit and encounters more resistance in the body during warmer months, according to the National Academy of Sciences. As a result, the flu is more common in fall and winter.
- Concentration: One study found a high concentration of flu germs may live on money for up to 3 days. If respiratory mucus is present, influenza may live up to 17 days.
How Long Do Cold Germs Live in the Air?
Not only can sneezes travel up to 200 feet, according to research conducted by MIT. Another study on cold germs suggests that they stay alive for up to 45 minutes in the air.
Germs 101: What’s the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?
Both of these illnesses are very common. The average American experiences 2 to 3 colds per year, according to the CDC. Most colds come from a virus called a rhinovirus, though coronavirus and other respiratory viruses may show symptoms. By contrast, the flu is typically a result of Influenza A.
How Long Do Flu Germs Live on Hard Surfaces like Plastic or Metal?
There isn’t a lot of research on that subject, and the results are contradictory. Here is what we know:
- One study found that Influenza may be contagious for up to 3 days.
- Another body of research found that flu germs remained on hard surfaces for a maximum of 9 hours and only 4 hours on porous surfaces, like fabric.
- By contrast, a study from the 1980s found that the flu was contagious on plastic for up to 48 hours.
- The avian flu is exceptionally robust: It may live between two weeks and two months on hard surfaces.
- Measles may live on hard surfaces for two hours, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
How long do flu germs live on surfaces? A lot depends on the virus and the material in question. They seem to have an even shorter life expectancy on human skin. The safest course of action is to wash hands regularly and use natural antimicrobial products.
Which Surfaces Are Most Favorable to Germs?
Hard surfaces, specifically metal and plastic, are more favorable to both cold and flu viruses. However, they can live on human skin and porous surfaces, like fabric, typically for shorter periods.
Not all metals are equally receptive to germs. Our upcoming antimicrobial door knob cover, made from silicone infused with micronized silver, uses silver’s antibacterial properties to stop the spread of germs on one of a household’s most commonly touched surfaces.
Specifically, silver and bronze, including brass, are well-known for killing bacteria and viruses. Stainless steel does not share these properties. Instead, it may house bacteria and viruses for an extended time. Plastic, such as a phone cover, may also harbor germs. It's a good idea to routinely clean surfaces with cleaning agents, such as a natural disinfectant.
What Are Germs, Exactly?
Though this seems like a silly question, it’s important to distinguish between viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Most people use the "germs" to refer to a variety of microorganisms and that cause diseases. But the severity of these illnesses and their lifespans on bedding, plastic, metal, and other materials varies.
Four Types of Germs
- Bacteria: These are single-cell organisms. Not all bacteria cause illness. Bacteria exist in almost every environment on earth, including the human body, especially the stomach and the skin.
- Viruses: Viruses are smaller than bacteria and require a host to survive. When a virus infects someone, it may take over some of that body’s cells.
- Fungi: These are multi-celled organisms that can cause infections. Fungal infections may be less severe than those caused by viruses and bacteria.
- Parasites: These single-cell organisms are larger than bacteria. Parasites resemble animals, such as bugs, more than the other germs on this list. Parasites typically spread through contaminated water.
17 Diseases Caused by Bacteria, Viruses, Fungi, and Parasites
Wondering how long do germs last on bedding or plastic? Now that we know the difference between bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, let's go over some examples of each.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Strep throat
- Food poisoning
- Sinus infection
Remember that not all bacteria are harmful. The digestive tract requires healthy bacteria to function properly. How long do bacteria germs last within the human body? Antibiotics are the standard treatment for many of these conditions—fun fact: Antibiotics only work on bacteria, not viruses.
- Common cold
- Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Viruses range in severity. The common cold is a virus—so is Ebola. In most of these cases, there is no “cure;” getting better may mean resting, drinking fluids, and sometimes taking supplemental oxygen. Some antiviral treatments and vaccines are available, but the medical community has yet to find cures for all viruses.
How Long Do Viruses Live?
COVID-19 is, as its name would suggest, a virus. How long do flu germs live on surfaces is more critical than ever because COVID-19 is so contagious. Like other viruses on this list, COVID-19 is not curable.
Though doctors are discovering new ways to assist patients suffering from coronavirus, there is no "one size fits all" cure. In the worst cases, COVID-19 treatment may involve supplemental oxygen, steroids, experimental medications, or a ventilator.
- Athlete’s foot
- Yeast infection
A fungus is a type of organism that includes mold, mildew, yeast, mushrooms, rusts, and smuts. The difference between mushrooms and mildew is that the former needs a host--in this case, a human, to survive.
How Long Does Fungi Live?
How long do germs like these live on surfaces? Some fungi, such as mushrooms and mold, live in the ground or water in perpetuity. Other types of fungi, such as ringworm and athlete's foot, may live for months on surfaces without finding a host.
The treatment for many of these conditions is an anti-fungal cream or, in extreme cases, an oral anti-fungal medication.
- Cryptosporidium, or Crypto
According to the WHO, malaria--a mosquito-borne infectious disease--is caused by parasites that exist in a mosquitos' saliva. It is both preventable and curable.
How Long Do Parasites Live?
How long can parasites live outside the human body? There are two main types of parasites: facultative parasites and obligate parasites. The former can live without a host while the latter cannot. In many cases, a variety of creatures can serve as the host (ex: a mosquito and a human for the parasite that causes malaria).
How to Stop the Spread of Germs on Surfaces
The best way to stop the spread of viruses and bacteria is to wash your hands thoroughly for a minimum of 20 seconds, maintain social distancing, wear a face covering such as a face shield, and follow other advice from the Center for Disease Control.
But how do you keep germs off common touch points throughout the home and office? We recommend you stay up-to-date on the release of our antimicrobial door handle covers. Made from third-party lab tested antimicrobial silicone, our doorknob covers may help reduce the spread of germs on one of their favorite resting places.