Dirty Facts About Winter Clothing (and Tips for Keeping It Clean)

Keep safe and healthy this winter by cleaning your cold-weather outerwear more often to stop the spread of germs and viruses.

In northern climates, winter serves up the viruses that cause colds and flu with the same predictability as snow. And those contagions can linger in the air, pass person to person or hitchhike on your winter outerwear, especially your gloves and mittens. Plus, COVID-19 has made us all extremely aware of the need to stop the spread of germs.

Here are eight ways to protect yourself and others from germs this winter, whether you’re grabbing a mocha from a coffee shop or chatting with neighbors at a local sledding hill.

Double Up on Face Coverings

Respiratory droplets are still considered the number one culprit for spreading COVID-19, notes Pete Raynor, professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. If you are wearing a winter scarf or fleece gaiter for warmth, add a washable or disposable face mask underneath it to keep your scarf cleaner — and safer.

Take Off Your Gloves

Bare hands are easier and faster to clean than gloves. “Take the gloves off on the way in [to a store or building],” Raynor says. Touch as few surfaces as possible when running errands. Use hand sanitizer as you exit a building, or find a rest room for a thorough washing with soap before putting gloves or mittens back on.

Keep Mittens Out of Mouths

Some people use their teeth to tug off the fingers of gloves or mittens. It’s time to break that habit.

“Not only is it unsanitary, but it also contradicts the best way to remove gloves, which is from back to front, similar to healthcare workers,” says Jolene Caufield, senior advisor from Healthy Howard, a non-profit health organization based in Maryland.

Of all winter-weather gear, gloves pick up the most germs. From there, germs are easily transferred to your face by brushing away snow, tucking back hair or adjusting a stocking cap. Keeping gloves and mittens clean is a must.

Wash Your Coat More Often

Carry your own sanitizer, along with facial tissues, in case you need to wipe your nose, cough or sneeze. If you can’t pull out a tissue fast enough for sneak-attack sneezes or coughing fits, cover your mouth with the crook of your elbow rather than your gloved hand, which more easily transfers germs to other surfaces. Use a cleaning wipe on the part of your coat where you sneezed. And make an effort to wash your coat (check the care label first) more than once or twice a year.

Keep Accessories Dry

Don’t shove damp gloves, dirty mittens or soggy scarves into coat pockets or sleeves. Besides giving germs a warm place to linger, you risk adding mold and odors to the mix. Let accessories air dry at home near a heat register, on an indoor clothesline, or on a drying rack or boot dryer.

If outerwear is soggy, you can also toss washable coats and accessories into a clothes dryer. Exposure to air and heat can lessen the potency of germs, according to Raynor.

Rotate Outerwear

Invest in at least two to three pair of gloves or mittens so that you can rotate to a fresh set each day. If you’re buying gloves, choose easy-care materials such as fleece, cotton or polyester that you can toss into the washer once a week.

Take Boots and Shoes Off Inside

University of Arizona microbiologist Charles Gerba found that footwear can pick up germs from fecal material, garbage and more in public restrooms, garages, parking lots, yards and parks. That’s a good enough reason to make sure everyone takes off boots and shoes by the door and not track that stuff through the house, especially if you have infants or toddlers who crawl around on the floor or carpet. Corral footwear (and their germs) nicely with a DIY boot tray.

Don’t Stay Trapped Indoors

Don’t let your fear of viruses keep you indoors, especially during a pandemic or long winter. Being cooped up too long can have a negative affect on your mental health. Layer up your clean gear and enjoy some fresh air, exercise and outdoor social distancing.

“It’s always healthy to be getting outside and enjoying nature,” Raynor says. “Now it’s extra important to be doing those things.”