Tuesday Travel Tip: How to properly disinfect your travel gear after a trip

Jun 23, 2020

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A previous version of this story was originally published on March 15, 2020.   

Many parts of the world and U.S. states are beginning to reopen after months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. While travel is still a fraction of what it was before the crisis, some airlines are ramping up service, heralding the beginning of a possible return to normalcy —although many uncertainties persist.

Even when the crisis will have passed, though, travelers will still be asking how they can minimize the risk of exposure to the coronavirus and other pathogens. TPG has tips on cleaning your airplane seat, warding off germs in your hotel room and staying healthy when you’re on the road anytime.

But what about when you get home?

disinfecting after travel

TPG asked medical experts for advice on what you should clean when you get home from a trip.

“That’s an easy one,” says Paul Pottinger, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Washington in Seattle. “The most important thing to clean after a trip is your hands.”

Even if you’re religiously following the current advice to wipe down your airplane seat, your tray table, the overhead vent and the seat belt with a disinfectant cloth, Pottinger says it’s a good idea to wash your hands when you get off the plane and to do it again when you walk in the door of your home.

Germs that have been on anything you’ve touched during the journey from the airport to your home – the handles on the suitcase you pick up off the baggage claim carousel, the door on the taxi or the Uber that takes you home, and the door handles you grab as you enter your house or apartment – “may for some time be a potential threat to your health,” said Pottinger.

What travel items should you clean when you get home?

When it comes to gear you’ve taken on your trip, “cleaning frequently touched gear is a good idea, always,” especially with the new focus on COVID-19, said Dr. Amy Faith Ho, an Associate Medical Director and emergency physician in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.

“The virus is currently thought to be viable, from droplets, for hours to days on various surfaces,” said Ho. “Guidance is changing constantly as new data arises, so the CDC website can be a helpful and accurate resource.”

“Consider cleaning things like your passport case and the outside cover, your cellphone and the handles and the outside of your suitcase,” said Ho. Also clean any personal items you take on the plane and the outside of any product you use inflight, such as lotion bottles or your glasses case.

You can clean those items using soap and water, said Ho, or disinfect them with any of the widely available wipes, sprays or solutions.

When you get home, it’s also a good idea to clean all the clothes you had in your suitcase, said retired nurse practitioner and frequent traveler Diane DeGraff, “not just the ones you wore.”

And, because you’ve likely rolled your wheeled suitcase through dirty streets and over dirty carpets, it is important to use cleaning solution to wipe down the wheels of your suitcase before rolling it into your house.

If you’re not going to use your carry-on bag, your suitcase, your garment bag or any type of travel bag for a while, “consider giving the gear a swipe” to clean it off, said Pottinger. “Then, when it’s empty, put it in the closet or under the bed until you travel again. After a period of days, most germs will be gone.”

What about that jacket you wore on the plane?

“If you didn’t clean your seat on the plane before you sat down, you might want to get the coat cleaned,” said Pottinger, especially if you sat near someone who seemed sick.

The same goes for anything you put on the floor underneath the seat in front of you. “No matter what they say, the floors on the planes are certainly not clean,” said Pottinger. “So it’s reasonable to clean those items.”

And will it be OK to stand down on this heightened attention to cleaning when the danger from the coronavirus pandemic subsides?

“It’s good practice always,” said Ho. “Even if a specific virus is not named – i.e. flu, SARS, MERS, H1N1 – there are a long list of viruses that can get you sick at any time. And good hygiene is important, always.“

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