Coronavirus Questions Answered: Will Steam Kill It?

Steam could help clean COVID-19, if it's hot enough. [New Africa / Shutterstock]
Steam could help clean COVID-19, if it's hot enough. [New Africa / Shutterstock]

Updated on May 5, 2020 at 4:30 p.m.

What are your questions about the coronavirus?

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Many of you want to know if steam kills the virus, including Susan from Willowick and Gloria, who asked on Facebook.

There’s a lot we don’t know about the new strain of coronavirus. But University Hospitals’ Dr. Keith Armitage said he believes steam can kill the virus, if it’s a high temperature.

“Coronavirus does not do well in extreme environmental conditions," he said.

That means a steam cleaner may work, if the temperature is hot enough, but steam from a humidifier would not.

A study from Case Western Reserve University and Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center doctors found steam from rice cookers is an effective way to decontaminate some face masks. 

However, when cleaning materials at home, it's best to use soap and water, said Case Western Reserve University’s Dr. Scott Frank. He said the temperature of the water doesn’t matter — it’s the soap that’s important.

“The virus is constituted by a lining that is essentially fatty in nature and easily dissolved by soap,” said Frank.

In addition to this, he said any other method of cleaning masks could destroy the material, or worse, start a fire.

Linda from Broadview Heights wants to know how hot the steam needs to be

Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center Dr. Curtis Donskey is the author of a study that examined the effectiveness of rice cooker steam on decontaminating cloth face masks. He says the temperature needs to be 212 degrees Farenheit. 

But just because extreme heat from steam could potentially kill viruses, doesn't mean you should try it at home, says Dr. Nikita Desai from the Cleveland Clinic. 

"It's very difficult to achieve the standards of humidity, temperature, length of time, and sterility that you need to completely sterilize something at home," Desai said. 

She's concerned that people might hurt themselves trying to achieve steam sterilization at home. 

The CDC has no guidelines on using steam to clean or disinfect. The organization recommends cleaning with soap and water to reduce the number of germs in your home, and disinfecting with diluted bleach, alcohol solutions with at least 70 percent alcohol, or a household disinfectant.

 

Laura from St. Louis wants to know if saunas can help sick people fight infection.

Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Nikita Desai said there’s no scientific evidence that saunas can help sick people fight infections, and she doesn’t recommend using them if you have an illness that can cause a fever, like the coronavirus.

“If you have a fever and then go sit in a really hot place, that’s not going to be good for you," she said. "You’re going to have insensible losses and get very dehydrated and you could pass out, and that’s even worse.”

She says using a steam inhaler — which another listener asked about — also won’t do much to fight the infection, but breathing in steam might help alleviate some symptoms of respiratory illnesses.  

Frank asks: If a person breaths in steam after being exposed to the virus, would it stop the virus from attaching to cells and causing an infection?

University Hospitals infectious disease specialist Dr. Keith Armitage said this wouldn’t be effective. Steam hot enough to kill the virus would likely kill the person inhaling it as well. Steam needs to be 212 degrees Farenheit in order to kill the virus.

Doctors say breathing in steam from a bath or pot of hot water can be soothing for people experiencing a stuffy nose or other common symptoms from respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, but it’s not going to kill the virus outright.

Many listeners have questions about steam though, and a recent study did find steam from a typical household rice cooker may be an effective way to decontaminate cloth face masks. 

 

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