Coronaviruses: how long can they live on surfaces?

Written by: Top Doctors®
Published: | Updated: 29/11/2023
Edited by: Laura Burgess

By now, we should all have an awareness that coronavirus (COVID-19) can spread from person-to-person through close contact and via respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses, which can cause diseases that range from the common cold to more well-known viruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

It was recently revealed in the New England Journal of Medicine that coronaviruses, however, can remain on surfaces that have been touched by a person who has a strain of the respiratory disease.

Coronaviruses can easily come into contact with a healthy person who may touch a table or door handle, where, for example, COVID-19 unknowingly sits and which then ultimately spreads.

In this article, we explain just how long coronaviruses can persist on surfaces from paper to glass, and how often you should clean your hands, house and workspace to ensure that you’re not picking up and passing on the disease.


How do coronaviruses spread?

Researchers are now beginning to understand more about how the new coronavirus spreads, thanks to studies being carried out on the family of coronaviruses, SARS and MERS.

As with many respiratory illnesses, if a person infected with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, the particles can land on other people, clothing and any surrounding surfaces. Some of the particles also remain in the air. However, touching a surface that contains the virus and then touching your face is not considered to be the main way that the virus spreads.

                               Image source: Medscape, taken from the Journal of Hospital Infection

How long can coronaviruses live on surfaces?

A recent research paper published in the Journal of Hospital Infection revealed that: ‘human coronaviruses can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to nine days, but can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures…’ 

The guidelines on how long coronaviruses, such as the ones that cause SARS, can live on surfaces, as published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, are as follows:

  • Aluminium - 2-8 hours
  • Paper - 4-5 days
  • Glass - 4 days
  • Wood - 4 days
  • Plastic - 5 days
  • Surgical gloves - 8 hours
  • Steel - 48 hours

This is an analysis of the SARS virus, however, it is the closest known relative to the new virus.

Whilst it may be possible that someone can catch COVID-19 through touching a surface and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes, we must again remember that this is not thought to be the main way that it spreads.

How can coronaviruses be prevented from spreading?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has emphasised that washing your hands, cleaning and disinfecting frequently-touched surfaces daily are key in the prevention of spreading COVID-19. It is encouraged to clean surfaces such as tables, mobile phones, countertops, light switches, and door and cabinet handles. Surfaces should be disinfected daily with cleaning products that contain at least 60 per cent ethanol.

It is best to clean your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds each time, but if you’re out and about without access to a sink, soap and water, you should use hand sanitiser.

As this article is published in March 2020, now is not the time to visit your local medical centre if you are worried that you have symptoms of COVID-19. Please call the NHS 111 number for advice.

If you need to see a specialist about another medical issue and feel too cautious about visiting a hospital, here at Top Doctors, we work with hundreds of doctors from different specialities, many of whom use our e-Consultation service. This means that you can have a video call with a specialist instead of visiting them in the clinic. 


By Topdoctors
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

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