Winter is coming, and with that, comes colder weather. During the cold weather season, it’s common to see many runny noses, coughs, sore throats and respiratory infections or virus such as the flu.

“Be honest—have you ever used your scarf or gloves to wipe your nose or cover a sneeze/cough when a tissue wasn’t available? Then, with your runny nose-contaminated glove, you touch a steering wheel, doorknob, public transit railing, or seat—all the time spreading the germs to others,” said Annetta Payne, RN, infection preventionist at UHC.

“Then, with your contaminated scarf that you used to cover a cough or a sneeze, you offer it to your child because he/she is colder than you are or hang it up in the office next to co-workers belongings. This is how germs are spread, which is called cross-contamination,” said Payne.

“Do you take your gloves off with your teeth? If you do, the germs from your gloves are going into your mouth. Avoid your “T zone” (eyes, nose and mouth) with dirty hands, gloves and/or scarves,” said Payne. “Think about this—if you don’t wash your hands when appropriate, like after using the bathroom, then put your gloves on, the INSIDE of the glove is now contaminated.”

“Remember to wash your gloves and scarves on a regular basis, preferably once per week and when soiled,” said Payne. “It stands to reason that gloves and scarves are just as germy as other fabrics that haven’t been cleaned—maybe more so because they are less likely to be cleaned on a routine basis.”

Leather and suede gloves would most likely need to be dry cleaned, and knit gloves would probably not fare too well in the washing machine. Think about how germy they are after people cough, sneeze and wipe their noses with their gloves and scarves.

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“Most germs will survive for two or three days on inanimate objects—some longer,” said Payne. “They don’t have to look soiled or smell bad to be loaded with germs either.”

Here are some additional steps from Payne to stay healthy when wearing winter wear:

  1. Take your gloves off when using or touching objects that other people use or touch. This includes the ATM, shopping carts and crosswalk buttons. Wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer) immediately after use. It’s easier to clean your hands than the gloves.
  2. When taking your gloves off, carefully loosen them at the fingertips and pull them off with your opposite hand. Don’t use your teeth or mouth.
  3. Don’t stuff your dirty or wet gloves and scarves in your pocket. They need to dry thoroughly to kill the germs.
  4. Wash your gloves and scarves often—preferably once per week and when soiled.
  5. Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not into your gloves or scarf.