Is Knitting Contagious?

Well, not quite. But I have seen some discussion lately on Twitter about the potential of re-infecting oneself through your knitting. As someone who has been infected with practically everything (thanks, retail), has a weakened immune system, and has dealt with everything from parasites to viruses to bedbugs, here are some things I have learned about cross-contamination through yarn and textiles.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a doctor and this should not be taken as medical advice.

We all know that diseases, like colds, flu, or Covid spread through contact. However, this is not the main way to spread illness. Bacteria and viruses would much rather be inside the human body, where they are protected and have something to feed on. They don’t survive very long outside the body. Studies vary, but most agree it only remains infectious on surfaces like plastic, steel and cardboard for between 24-72 hours. As far as I can tell, there haven’t been any studies about the survival of the virus on soft surfaces, but studies indicate that the more porous the surface, the less time similar viruses are infections (ex. 24 hours on cardboard vs. up to 72 hours on steel). This is why it’s important to wash your hands often and avoid touching your face.

Now, let’s look at the fabric items most likely to carry the virus–masks, clothing, bedding, pillows, maybe upholstery if you’ve been laying on the couch while sick. When in doubt, wash everything. If it can’t be thrown in the wash, try steam cleaning or spraying it down with a disinfectant (test it first to make sure it doesn’t damage any dyes or materials). A mixture of alcohol and water will do in a pinch, and watered down vodka is commonly used to clean items like corsets that absorb sweat but can’t be washed. You can also put items out in bright sunlight for a few hours, which will kill most bacteria and some viruses. Scientists are still unsure if Covid is one of the viruses sensitive to UV light. Either way, it will freshen things up.

But, what about that stash? What about that WIP that kept you sane through 14 days of isolation?

Don’t panic. Spritz it with a little of that alcohol and water solution. Wash or disinfect the needles, and avoid touching your face during or after knitting on it, and wash your hands well afterward. That’s it’s. That’s all you have to do.

If you’re still concerned, however, there are a few options. Finish off your project as directed above. Wash and block it as usual. One thing a lot of people forget is that soap washes away bacteria and viruses that might be on a surface. That’s what the bubbles are for! You don’t necessarily have to kill everything if it’s going down the drain anyway.

Rinse it really well, and let it dry completely. For an extra step, you can pop it in the dryer for ten minutes on the highest heat the fabric will tolerate. Or, you can steam block using a steamer or household iron.

What if your problem isn’t something like Covid, but a household pest of some kind? Bed bugs, moths, lice, fleas, or even intestinal parasites?

It depends on the specific critter you’re dealing with, but there are a lot of options.

  • If you live in a warm/hot climate, put anything that can’t go in the wash in your car with a thermometer in full sun. Make sure the thermometer itself is not in direct sun. When it hits 120 degrees Fahrenheit, it is hot enough to kill any critters that might be living in the yarn. Leave it there for a couple of days. When you bring it inside, store it in sealed plastic containers.
  • If you live somewhere cold, bag up the items and put them in a secure place outside or in the garage on a night when it will be below 20 degrees (below 0 is even better). Leave them there for 2-3 days, bring inside and store in sealed plastic containers.
  • If neither of those is an option, start with your WIPs. Remove and wash the needles. Put the projects into a plastic zipper bag and put it in the freezer for three days. Repeat with any stash yarns.
  • You can also steam hanks/balls of yarn. You will have to remove any tags and put them back on, so organization is key. Use a steamer basket, double boiler, or similar, and leave the yarn for about 15-30 minutes. Make sure the yarn is something that can tolerate high heat (no acrylic), and hang it up to dry in a place where it won’t be recontaminated. Hand wound balls are too tight for this method and will have to be re-skeined or treated in a different method. They should be left in an arid place to dry quickly so mold doesn’t grow inside the skeins.
  • Finished objects should be steam blocked or washed and dried in the dryer if they can handle it.

The key with pests is to either raise or lower the temperature to something the pests can’t tolerate, because things like eggs tend to be sticky and won’t wash off with soap and water the way Covid will. Unlike viruses, these critters LOVE soft surfaces because it gives them something to burrow into.

Note that this is JUST for the treatment of soft surfaces. You may also need to contact an exterminator or use a bug bomb (use that first, then wash the stash!). And of course, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention if you need it.

Further reading:
How long can Coronavirus survive on clothes?
How long does the Covid virus lives on surfaces?

Like what you see? Check out Would this Kill me in the 1800s: Influenza