How Long Do Germs Live on Surfaces You Touch? Part 1

02/18/21 By Dana Szymkowiak

Part 1_ How Long Are Germs Infectious on Surfaces You Touch_-1

Germs are everywhere. They’re all around you, no matter how clean you are. For the most part, germs are harmless. However, there are also some problematic disease-causing germs out there. These are known as pathogens. 

Pathogens evolved to live in or on hosts. Pathogens cannot live forever once outside of a host. However, they can hang around on the right surface for quite a while, awaiting their next host.

How long a pathogen can survive on a surface depends on the type of pathogen and surface. Although viruses (i.e., cold, flu & SARS-CoV-2) usually live the longest on hard, nonporous surfaces, any surface can harbor pathogens.

The Lifespans of Common Pathogens

If someone is suffering from an infectious disease like the flu, it’s easy for the illness-causing pathogens to leave their bodies by coughing and sneezing. Once germs come into contact with a surface, they can remain infectious for quite some time out of the body. A pathogen’s ability to make you ill degrades over time, and if it is no longer “active,” it cannot cause an infection.

How Long Do Germs Live Outside the Body?

That is the question scientists have been trying to answer for decades. There are so many factors to consider, like temperature, light exposure, surface material, type of virus, and the amount of virus present. 

  • A 1982 study of influenza germs on stainless steel and plastic found they could remain viable for up to 24 to 48 hours. This same study found that germs on tissues, fabric, and paper remained viable for between eight and 12 hours.
  • study in England in 2011 looked at flu germs on household surfaces and found that germs were no longer viable after about nine hours. Surfaces they studied included computer keyboards, telephones, stainless steel, plexiglass, and light switches. In comparison, germs on porous surfaces like fabric and wood only remained intact for about four hours.
  • A study in 2016 looking at stainless steel surfaces found that flu germs can remain viable up to seven days after contamination.
  • 2007 research study in a hotel found that common virus-positive sites were door handles, pens, light switches, TV remote controls, faucets, and telephones. Rhinovirus was transferred from surfaces to fingertips in 60% of trials 1 hour after contamination and 33% of trials 18 hours (overnight) after contamination. 

The Takeaway

Flu viruses may live for a day yet pose much less threat even after the first five minutes. While a cold virus may live for several days, it becomes less infectious after the first day. Whether or not germs are infectious depends on how many pathogens are present, the route of exposure, and a person’s immune system. 

In “How Long Are Germs Infectious on Surfaces You Touch? Part 2” we’ll dive into longer viability surfaces, different types of pathogens, and minimizing germs and bacteria. Sign up for our E-newsletter and receive updates right to your inbox.

Made in America, for America

Founded in 1992, Safetec of America products are USA made and manufactured in Buffalo, New York. Safetec continues to make significant investments in our FDA Regulated manufacturing facility, the machines we use to manufacture, and the people of Safetec to ensure the quality and strength of our products.

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*According to the emerging viral pathogen claim.