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How quickly should I wash my hands after touching a surface infected with COVID-19?

Last Updated Jun 4, 2020 at 2:16 pm PDT

A person washes their hands in this stock photo. (Courtesy Pexels: Ketut Subiyanto)

The novel coronavirus cannot be transmitted directly through the hands

Handwashing is important to prevent virus infecting you or anything you touch

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Gregory asked: “What is the limit of time to go home and wash your hands after you have touched an [infected] surface. So, if I touch a debit card machine or a fuel pump nozzle that had an [infected] person there before me and I wash my hands an hour later, am I safe or not? What is the time limit on that?”


The novel coronavirus cannot be transmitted directly into a person’s system via their hands.

But if Gregory did get the virus on his hands, he could catch it if he subsequently touched his mouth, nose or eyes, UBC medical geographer Ken Denike said.

“Problem not quite solved yet. Anything he touches would be contagious,” Denike added in an email.

Tom Koch, another UBC medical geographer and author of Cartographies of Disease and Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground, said the reason some people are wearing gloves and using hand sanitizer in public is to prevent the virus from inadvertently transferring from their hands to their face.

How long a door handle, gas station nozzle or debit machine might pose a risk of infection can vary, Koch said.

“The length of time the virus may remain active on a surface depends in part on the nature of the surface. An iron railing will hold the virus longer than, say, a cloth or wooden surface. That’s why in Toronto the [Toronto Transit Commission] is cleaning its cars, with all their metal rails, every night.”

Koch says wearing a mask while running errands can protect the wearer as well as everyone else.

“If you will be out and about in situations where you’ll be touching lots of things, wear light cloth gloves or carry a small vile of sanitizing spread if you’re concerned,” he said.

“And then washing your hands upon returning home is a final step.”

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