Cleaning our schools: How long does Covid-19 last on different surfaces?

Written by: Dorothy Lepkowska | Published:
X-Mist is contained in a canister which, when activated, disperses the biocide over an area of up to 25 square metres
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How long does Covid-19 last on different surfaces? How should we approach the cleaning of our schools and classroom resources to tackle the virus threat? What does the latest research say? And how can the innovative X-Mist sanitising product help? Dorothy Lepkowska finds out

Schools striving to return to a semblance of normality and welcoming back a full complement of staff and pupils will have to make many changes in how they organise their work – not least with a new hygiene and cleaning regime.

Our knowledge about exactly how and in what environment Covid-19 spreads and is most infectious continues to grow, as scientists are learning constantly from this pandemic. But a stringent and thorough cleaning regime in schools can play a big role in minimising those risks.

What do we know about the coronavirus and how it is transmitted?

When we cough, sneeze, and even speak and laugh, we produce droplets – known as aerosol – which can be inhaled. Some of the larger, heavier droplets fall to the ground within seconds or land on surfaces which then become contaminated. But we are also at risk of being directly exposed to droplets when standing close to the person who has just coughed or sneezed. This is why physical distancing is so important in controlling the pandemic.

But scientists currently believe that smaller droplets can be inhaled because they are present in the air around us for longer.

Once they land, the coronavirus droplets can live on surfaces for days – but their survival depends on the material they land on. According to the current research (see Gray, 2020) – and the picture is developing all the time – the surfaces schools will need to consider include:

  • Metal, such as doorknobs: The virus can last up to five days.
  • Wood, including furniture: Up to four days.
  • Plastics, such as whiteboards, learning equipment, rucksacks: Two to three days.
  • Stainless steel, such as some water bottles, cutlery, sinks: Two to three days.
  • Cardboard, such as packing boxes: One day.
  • Copper, including coins, kettles and cookware: Four hours.
  • Aluminium, such as drink cans and kitchen foil: Two to eight hours.
  • Glass, including mirrors and windows: Up to five days.
  • Paper: Opinions vary from a few hours to up to five days.
  • Fabrics: So far inconclusive, but it is not thought to be for as long as on hard surfaces.

A study from researchers at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and published in brief in the New England Journal of Medicine (van Doremalen et al, 2020) found that the novel coronavirus was detected on plastic after 72 hours – but could not be found on cardboard after 24 hours.

Scientists are still undecided how long coronavirus can live on shoes, or on skin or hair, but encouraging parents to wash their child’s uniform frequently, and pupils and staff to bathe often, will help the school’s efforts in keeping everyone safe.


X-Mist is currently offering a special rate to schools at a discounted price of
£5.95 per canister (plus VAT and shipping). See below for further details.

How often do schools need to clean classrooms and spaces?

According to Covid-19 guidance from the Department for Education (DfE, 2020a), schools must implement “enhanced cleaning” that goes over and above previous arrangements – especially when it comes to surfaces that are frequently touched by pupils and staff. These include door handles, handrails, table-tops, play and learning equipment, toys, and electronic devices.

The guidance advises that household products such as detergents and bleach are adequate and effective in getting rid of the virus on surfaces.

In recent weeks, scientists have also stressed the importance of good ventilation, as they believe poorly ventilated spaces can help to harbour the virus (see McCabe, 2020).

Lawrence Young, a virologist and a professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, told the Tes: “Any indoor environment where there is poor ventilation is a risk for transmission. This would be exacerbated by having many individuals walking through an area – like a corridor or communal area. Social distancing in these areas is essential.” (See Morgan, 2020)

What about the cleaning of classroom resources and equipment?

The same rules that apply to classroom space should also apply to resources, according to DfE guidance. Household detergents and cleaners, including wipes, are sufficient to wipe down equipment. Many suppliers now sell wipes that contain anti-virus properties that help to kill coronaviruses, including Covid-19.

In primaries, where equipment and resources tend to be provided by the school, it is advised that schools limit the sharing of pens, pencils, rulers and other equipment and introduce individual pencil cases for pupils. Sharing should be discouraged whenever possible.

Bins, emptied regularly, should have a lid on them to ensure that the virus is not spread by stray tissues or other contaminants.

Case study

Schools belonging to the River Tees Academy Trust, which comprises four schools in the North East of England, have introduced new arrangements relating to safety around Covid-19.

Chief executive Christina Jones said: “Some of the biggest changes are in signposting and directions around the buildings, to ensure that social distancing is maintained.

“We have installed hand sanitisers at key points around the building, and our cleaning team is on additional hours during the day, so there is always a cleaner on site to wipe down door handles and other frequently touched surfaces. Toilets are also checked regularly to ensure they are clean, and pupils are reminded about handwashing. Bins are emptied regularly.

“Pupils will be sitting at the same tables and desks all day and have allocated seats to minimise movement. Each pupil will also have their own pencil cases and other resources so there is no sharing.

Ms Jones continued: “Many parents were understandably concerned about the return to school, and we have tried to allay their fears by recording little videos about the measures we are taking to ensure that the school is safe and clean.

“These were disseminated by social media or sent directly. It was important to keep them informed what we were doing so that everyone felt happy and confident about returning to school after such a long break.”

Supporting staff and pupils with personal hygiene

Messaging around a collective responsibility for hygiene and cleanliness is important, especially among young children, and can make everyone in the school feel they are doing their bit in caring for one another.

Hand sanitisers should be installed or available at all entrances and exits, and children should be reminded to wash their hands before they leave home and when they arrive in school. Handwashing should also be a regular feature of the classroom routine throughout the day.

The Key for School Leaders has a number of child-friendly posters (2020) on health and hygiene in school, to support messaging on reducing the risk of the virus spreading.


A new sanitising product that could transform our response to Covid-19, and is now being used in schools, started out as a means of making stinky hotel rooms habitable.

X-Mist was developed jointly by a carpet cleaner and an industrial chemist last year to address a need by the hospitality industry to shift difficult smells. A few tweaks and adaptations later and it has emerged as a leading sanitiser in the fight against Covid-19.

Shaun Mulhall, a director at X-Mist, explained: “X-Mist has a germicidal log reduction number of between 5.3 and 6.4. We discovered that coronavirus could be killed with a log reduction rate of 3 to 4.”

The log reduction rate shows how efficient a product is at reducing pathogens. It is measured as the number of pathogens (out of one million) expected to survive the sanitisation process. Log 5 is 99.999% efficient (10 out of one million pathogens may survive). Log 6 is 99.9998% efficient (one out of one million pathogens may survive).

Mr Mulhall continued: “A consortium was set up to accelerate the development of the product to make it more effective. We have tweaked the formulae to improve the dispersal mechanism. Independent testing showed that once we had added some further ingredients to the biocide, one spray could sanitise surfaces for up to a week.

“We needed to have the product tested for its ability to specifically kill enveloped viruses like coronaviruses, and it passed with flying colours. Customers then asked us to prove how long the biocide could actively kill germs, so we had the product tested daily in a laboratory and after a week it was still more than 99 per cent effective.”

X-Mist is contained in a canister which, when activated, disperses the biocide over an area of up to 25 square metres. The droplets disperse easily because they are ionised and so repel against each other.

Among the clients currently using X-Mist is the HQ of a major high street pharmacy and schools are finding the product convenient and easy-to-use. Mr Mulhall continued: “Schools need to be kept open but potential Covid-19 cases can be identified at any time. Staff need to be able to disinfect areas quickly and we know that the virus can lurk for long periods on surfaces. The basic principles behind the X-Mist range are effectiveness with ease of use.

“It can be used by the cleaning team as part of a weekly disinfecting routine, or by school staff if a classroom or isolation area needs to be quickly disinfected after a possible Covid-19 case has been identified.”

Keith Bowen, site manager at Ladypool Primary School in Birmingham, has been using the product: “X-Mist is helping us to go the extra mile, improving the effectiveness of our cleaning regime with little additional effort or cost. Having this next generation of sanitising products available undoubtedly helps with staff and pupil wellbeing and improves confidence in the cleaning team.”

Mr Mulhall added: “It was complete coincidence that the pandemic came when it did, because X-Mist was developed to meet a completely different need. But it has turned out to be timely and has the potential to solve some of the big challenges that schools face.

“If a teacher or pupil has symptoms and needs to isolate, a classroom or space can be quickly sanitised within an hour and be ready for use again. Equally, the entire school can be easily sanitised once a week as part of the cleaning regime.”

X-Mist is currently offering a special rate to schools at a discounted price of £5.95 per canister (plus VAT and shipping) using the code HCV19. Further information about X-Mist can be found here and this short video explains how it can be used in schools.

Further information & resources


  • DfE: Guidance: Safe working in education, childcare and children’s social care settings, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), July 2020a:
  • DfE: Guidance: Coronavirus: Implementing protective measures in education and childcare settings, June 2020b:
  • Gray: Covid-19: How long does the coronavirus last on surfaces? BBC, March 2020:
  • Key for School Leaders: School reopening: pupil hygiene and wellbeing posters, August 2020:
  • McCabe: Key to preventing Covid-19 indoors: ventilation, Wall Street Journal, September 2020:
  • Morgan: Coronavirus: The infection hotspots in schools revealed, Tes, August 2020:
  • van Doremalen et al: Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1, New England Journal of Medicine, April 2020:

Headteacher Update Knowledge Bank

This article has been published by Headteacher Update with sponsorship from X-Mist. It has been written and produced to a brief agreed in advance with X-Mist. The article has been written by Dorothy Lepkowska, a freelance education writer.

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