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Surface Story: How Long Does Coronavirus Stick Around?

Understanding how long the coronavirus lives on surfaces can help you keep your store and products clean and safe for consumers

Laundry in washing machine and basket, interior of pastel colors

Note: This article was accurate, to the best of our knowledge, at the time it was published. However, information about the novel coronavirus and the nation’s response to the pandemic change rapidly. Check CDC.gov and with your state and local health authorities for the latest guidance and information.

The novel coronavirus is changing virtually every aspect of daily life — and mattress retailers certainly aren’t immune. 

In mid-April, CNN estimated 97% of the U.S. population was under some version of a stay-at-home order, with states and localities implementing further restrictions each day. What’s defined as an “essential business” that is allowed to remain open varies somewhat from place to place. Many mattress retailers have been forced to close, while others have chosen to shut their doors or have dramatically changed their operations. 

If you’re still open and serving customers, our goal here is to provide you with information that will help to keep you and your employees safe and healthy. If you’re not open right now, use this article to plan for how your procedures will change when you reopen — because this pandemic is likely to significantly alter how everyone does business going forward.

The stay-at-home orders are necessary because the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is highly contagious, and a fast-spreading virus can overwhelm the health care system. The novel coronavirus is spread from person to person largely through respiratory droplets released by coughing and sneezing, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC notes that the virus also can live on surfaces, and while it’s not the primary mode of transmission, people could possibly get COVID-10 by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes. That’s why we’re supposed to wash our hands — and not touch our faces.

How long can the coronavirus live on surfaces? A new study conducted by the National Institutes of Health and other researchers and published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows the coronavirus is detectable for as long as:

  • Three hours as aerosol (in the air)
  • Four hours on copper
  • Twenty-four hours on cardboard
  • Two or three days on plastic and stainless steel.

The study didn’t test all surfaces and doesn’t include information about how long the virus can live on cloth surfaces, such as mattress fabrics. But a “Coronavirus FAQ” published March 27 by NPR said that because fabrics are porous like cardboard, the virus might live for a similar length on them.

“Porousness is a good thing when it comes to avoiding viral transmission. A surface that is permeable, like a fabric, tends to trap viruses more easily than hard surfaces,” the NPR FAQ said.

As Rachel Graham, a virologist at the University of North Carolina, told NPR, “It’s less at risk of transmitting because the virus gets kind of stuck to the (porous) surface, and so it can’t be easily transferred back off of it. Porous surfaces also suck the fluid out of it. The viral membrane is a lipid membrane, and so if that becomes dried out, it’s basically done, infectivity-wise.” (Even with that said, Sleep Savvy wonders if the pandemic may result in even more mattress manufacturers dressing their beds in zippered covers that consumers can wash at home.)

Rick Carter, co-owner of Fox Mattress, a retailer-manufacturer in Holly Hill, Florida, took a number of steps to clean and sanitize his store before the governor issued a stay-at-home order in early April, including wrapping in easily washable vinyl all the foam samples and demonstration buns that he and his retail sales associates use to explain mattress components to customers. 

When Carter’s operation reopens, all his finished mattresses will be placed in a special room in his adjacent factory where they will be sanitized with ozone, bagged, sealed “and then ready for delivery germ- and virus-free,” he said.

Other steps mattress retailers may want to make required procedures include sanitizing adjustable base remotes after every use and using disposable pillow protectors during every rest-test. (Perhaps some enterprising companies will begin making disposable mattress protectors that could be used during rest-testing, too.) For more ideas about how to keep your store clean and safe in the days ahead, read SleepSavvyMagazine.com/Were-Open-and-Sanitized.

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