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What does the science say about COVID-19 on surfaces?

Last modified on 30 July 2020

What our experts say

The virus that causes COVID-19 primarily spreads through close, person-to-person contact, not through surface contamination. However, the virus can live on surfaces and the amount of time that COVID-19 can survive on a surface depends on the material of the surface. According to recent studies, COVID-19 can survive from 3 hours to 7 days on surfaces, though the virus’ lifespan varies greatly on different areas.

It should be noted that the amount of living virus that is on a surface decreases over time. In practice, the amount of the virus on a surface usually drops dramatically in the first few hours. It is also important to note that even though some of the living virus might still be detected on a surface after several hours or days, it might not be present in a large enough quantity to make someone sick.

According to The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, the living virus could be detected on different surfaces for varying periods of time:

• Aluminum: 2-8 hours • Stainless steel: 2-7 days • Paper: 3 hours • Copper: 4 hours • Cardboard: 24 hours • Cloth: 2 days • Wood: 4 days • Plastic: 3-7 days • Metal: 5 days • Glass: 5 days • Paper money: 4 days • Face masks: 7 days (Note:_ A small amount of viable virus was still present on the outside of the mask after 7 days, but masks should be frequently washed, sanitized, or be used only once._)

If a person touches a contaminated surface with traces of the virus and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth, they could become infected if the surface contains large amounts of the virus. This is why it is important to clean and disinfect any surfaces that people might come into contact with, especially those like doorknobs, cell phones, light switches, handles, countertops, sinks, toilets, and more. If possible, people should try to avoid touching high-contact surfaces in public. Washing your hands for 20 seconds, avoiding touching your face, maintaining six feet (two meters) of distance and wearing a mask are key steps in combatting the spread of the virus.

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Context and background

The current science suggests that people most commonly become infected with COVID-19 through close contact with another infected person, even if the infected person is not showing symptoms. Close contact is when people are within about 6 feet (2 meters), and the infected person spreads the virus by coughing, sneezing, talking, or breathing into the close space.

Even though the current science suggests that COVID-19 spreads most often through close personal contact, the public health community is continually learning about other ways that COVID-19 spreads. A major idea put forward is that COVID-19 could be spread from one person to another if the virus remains alive on surfaces like packages, food, plastic, or metals for long amounts of time, and that people touch their faces after having touched these surfaces. Multiple studies have analyzed how long the virus survives on different surfaces, and this evidence will continue to add to the understanding of the virus and how it is spread. This new evidence allows scientists to better understand whether or not people are likely to become infected by touching items in a market, collecting their mail or packages, or by contact with other surfaces in shared spaces (i.e. a table at a restaurant, a chair in an office) and public places (i.e. a bench at the park).


Glossary Terms

Source of the question

Partner Organization

Country question was sourced from


viability humidity heat survive surface

Does this answer vary depending on where you live?

Yes; places with more humidity and higher temperatures may lead to the virus surviving a shorter amount of time

Does this answer vary depending on your race, ethnicity, age, sex or other demographic factors?



  1. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1 (NEJM)
  2. Stability of SARS-CoV-2 in different environmental conditions (The Lancet)
  3. How Long Will Coronavirus Survive on Surfaces? (Cleveland Clinic)
  4. How long does coronavirus live on surfaces? (NASEM)
  5. How long can the virus that causes COVID-19 live on surfaces?? (Johns Hopkins)
  6. How long does coronavirus last on surfaces? Stay in the air? (SF Chronicle)
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