- Monkeypox is mostly spread through intimate skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.
- Few cases of monkeypox have been traced back to contact with contaminated surfaces.
- The monkeypox virus can spread to soft surfaces (like bed linens) and may survive on other surfaces that are in cool, dark environments.
- Commercial cleaning products like bleach are effective at killing the monkeypox virus.
As the number of monkeypox cases in the United States hit—and passed—10,000, some people are remembering the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic when they were wiping down their groceries with disinfectant.
Eventually, we were reassured that we didn’t have to worry too much about surface transmission with COVID—but that’s not necessarily the case with monkeypox.
Since the monkeypox virus is spread mainly through close skin-to-skin contact, people are worried that they could also catch it if they touch something an infected person touched.
Before you reach for the Lysol, know that experts say that mass monkeypox contamination through commonly touched surfaces is not a concern right now.
How Long Can Monkeypox Stay on Surfaces?
Experts aren’t sure how long the monkeypox virus can stay on a surface and be in a form where it’s still able to spread.
One investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the live monkeypox virus hung around for about 15 days after a patient’s home had been vacated.
It’s important to know that orthopoxviruses—including monkeypox—have a particular foe: They are very sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) light. The virus can thrive in a dark, dry, cool environment but not in one that’s exposed to a lot of sunlight.
Plus, available data doesn’t prove that surface transmission is much of a thing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 23% of the over 30,000 cases of monkeypox worldwide have reported the mode of transmission. Of the cases where transmission was noted, only nine people were thought to have caught the virus from an infected surface.
Monkeypox on Home Surfaces
Andrew Noymer, PhD, an associate professor of Population Health and Disease Prevention at the University of California, Irvine, told Verywell that while surface transmission of monkeypox is possible, it’s unlikely, especially in public settings.
If monkeypox is going to be found on a surface, it’s probably going to be a soft surface.
According to Noymer, live monkeypox virus “has been recovered from surfaces like bed linens,” and those soft surfaces in your home could be an area of concern.
“Bed linens absorb not only the virus but also a little bit of moisture that will allow the virus to persist for longer in a viable state,” said Noymer. “Desiccation is the enemy of all viruses, so porous surfaces will help sustain the virus longer.”
If someone in your home gets monkeypox, the surfaces that would be most vulnerable to the virus would be things like their sheets and towels. And the infected individual can pass the virus to a surface as soon as they start having visible symptoms.
Monkeypox on Public Surfaces
Noymer said that hard surfaces like countertops, seats, and handholds in public places are not likely to harbor the monkeypox virus for very long—at least not in a viable form. However, he cautions that we don’t yet have enough data to completely rule it out.
You are unlikely to catch monkeypox from touching a handle while riding the subway, for example.
How to Kill Monkeypox
Robert Amler, MD, MBA, Dean and Professor of Public Health at New York Medical College, told Verywell that the monkeypox virus is considered a Tier 1 virus, which means it can easily be killed with common household disinfectants like bleach or hydrogen peroxide.
The CDC has a complete disinfection guide for surfaces, but there’s one key point you should keep in mind in case someone in your home gets monkeypox: If possible, have them take care of their own cleaning—especially washing their own bed linens.
“The name of the game is still primarily skin-to-skin contact,” said Noymer. “I won’t rule out surface transmission, but personally, I’m not doing anything extreme.” His advice? “Keep up good hand hygiene.”
Amler said that you don’t need to start quarantining your mail, wiping down groceries, or sanitizing everyday objects around your house. If someone you live with does get monkeypox, the cleaning steps you’d take to prevent another infectious illness from spreading through your household will help reduce your risk of catching it.
What This Means For You
Monkeypox is mostly spread through close skin-to-skin contact, but the virus can survive on some surfaces.
If you live with someone who contracts monkeypox, commercial disinfectants are good enough to clean the surfaces in your home that you share with them. People with monkeypox should isolate and, if possible, wash their own bed linens or any other potentially contaminated soft surfaces.