How long do flu germs stay contagious on household surfaces?

I read on the Mayo Clinic website that a person with the flu is probably contagious from a day or so before symptoms appear until 5-10 days after symptoms appear.


Has anyone read research on how long the flu virus stays contagious on household surfaces like doorknobs, kitchen cabinets, etc.?  Years ago it was said that the cold virus was contagious for up to 72 hours on things like doorknobs.  Don't know if that was an old wives tale or fact! 




Comments 16

  • K8sMom2002

    I double-checked with the CDC's website on this … their resource for had this to say:

    It is important to match your cleaning and disinfecting activities to the types of germs you want to remove or kill. Most studies have shown that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person for up to 48 hours after being deposited on a surface.

    Different bacteria and viruses have different survival rates, and sometimes different settings that can help them survive longer. 

    For instance, this is what the CDC says about the  (not the flu, but another seasonal viral infection)

    HPIVs may remain infectious in airborne droplets for over an hour and on surfaces for a few hours depending on environmental conditions.

    But it is shipped to labs for study on ice — so I'm assuming that cold will make it last longer? That's one reason that we have a "no touching the ice/no going in the fridge" at our house if anyone is sick.

    Happy cleaning!

  • LK

    Thank you!!  Me, too!  

    So far, so good!    He's been very compliant with all my requests to not come into the kitchen, not touch much of anything and wash his hands a lot.  I even took the unusual steps of sleeping in the guest bedroom and using that bathroom and shower.  Today I've been coughing a bit more but am attributing it to the sudden change in temps air weather. 


  • Katie D

    Great to hear you're still well @LK, I hope it stays that way!

    A friend of mine asked us to go to a play place this afternoon and after some thought we decided that it would be best not to go because of all the germs and with so many people sick with the flu.  A few weeks back I probably wouldn't have given it thought not to go!

  • LK

    @Katie D,  Thank you!

    Sounds like a wise decision about the play place!  Was reading about the different strains of flu.  Interesting theory about how the first flu virus strain a person is exposed to affects a person's immunity to future flu strains in Scientific American:

    There’s long been a theory—and it appears to be gaining ground—that a person’s ability to fight off flu infections is based on their previous experiences with influenza. More specifically, their earliest experiences with flu. It’s thought that the first flu viruses that infect you leave an imprint on your immune system’s memory; if correct, the notion is that you’ll always be able to fight off viruses similar to your first flu foes better than you will other types of flu viruses.


  • Katie D

    That is very interesting Lisa, thank you for sharing.  I think the link is looping back to the page for some reason.  Here is the article linked correctly that is referred to above:

  • LK

    @Katie D,  Oops!  Thanks for fixing the link to that page!  Still don't have the hang of those things yet.  You'd think a Computer Science degree from 1987 would be of some use!!   

  • K8sMom2002

    That's an interesting article, Lisa! We've had reports of widespread flu activity around our state, and of course, everyone is rushing now to get their flu shots … that's good — better late than never!

    I don't usually wipe down grocery cart handles, but the last few times I've gone grocery shopping, I've helped myself to the wipes they offer for that purpose. 

    And I went through the house again this weekend and wiped down all the door knobs, light switches, remotes … 

  • K8sMom2002

    Yikes — my sister told me that one of the largest medical practices in her town has run out of the swabs they use to test for the flu — and there's a shortage of Tamiflu in her town as well. Hopefully it's just a supply chain hiccup, and they'll get more in shortly. 

    But it shows how this flu season is far worse than folks were planning on. Wash those hands, folks! And if you haven't gotten the flu or pneumonia shots yet, it's not too late! 

  • Pljohns

    LK-that is an interesting article-and explains a lot.  I got the original H1N1 when it came around 7 years ago-and have this mess as a partial result of it-I knew this years strain was only about 10% covered with the vaccine but hey, every little bit helps!

  • Elena Meluso

    at least 24 hours but thats hearsay.  at the end of the day who knows.  scientists dont know it all.  Wash ur surfaces daily with bleach water

  • LK

    Finally remembered to put hand lotion by the sinks where we wash hands to put on after washing.  My hands are really getting chapped this winter. 

    Another question:  Seems like everything I read says to sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hands.  I understand the reasoning to be that you are therefore not sneezing/coughing into your hands and then touching something that others may touch.  Which would of course expose them to whatever you may have. 

    My concern is that, and please forgive me for not finding a delicate way of saying this, when I cough or sneeze and mucus or even saliva or moisture that therefore exits from my nose and mouth are then my shirt sleeve are there to stay.  So if I am then carrying anything like a folder or something over my arm, it is now in touch with it.

    Am I missing something or just not understanding it correctly as to why we should use our elbow instead of our hands.  At least people can wash their hands if they remember to do so.

  • Elena Meluso



    Yeah I see what you mean here. I think they mean well with this, hoping the fabric catches and contains the germs and the guess would be most people aren't elbowing things all day long but ultimately not that helpful unless you are spraying your clothes with sanitizer.


    I recommend keeping a bottle of ODOBAN sanitizer – its fabric safe! you could spray your clothes every now and again