One graphic shows how long the coronavirus lives on surfaces like cardboard, plastic, and steel

mask respirator coronavirus new york city subway

Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A woman rides the New York City subway with a mask on, February 2020.

  • The new coronavirus is a respiratory illness, and it typically spreads via airborne droplets from an infected person's coughs or sneezes.
  • Live coronavirus particles can survive for a time on surfaces. It lives longest on polypropylene plastic.
  • New research suggests the virus' lifespan is anywhere between three hours and three days on surfaces, depending on the material.
  • A graphic shows how long the coronavirus can live on surfaces.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The new coronavirus is a respiratory illness, which means it typically spreads via airborne droplets. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, droplets carrying viral particles can land on someone else's nose or mouth or get inhaled.

But a person can sometimes get the coronavirus if they touch a surface or object that has viral particles on it and then touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. The lifespan of the virus on a surface depends on myriad factors, including the surrounding temperature, humidity, and type of surface.

A study published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests the virus can live up to four hours on copper, up to a day on cardboard, and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

The coronavirus can also live in the air for up to three hours, the study authors found.

How long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces

The researchers compared the new coronavirus' lifespan on surfaces to that of the SARS coronavirus in a 70-degree Fahrenheit room at 40% relative humidity. They found that both coronaviruses lived the longest on stainless steel and polypropylene, a type of plastic used in everything from tupperware to toys. Both viruses lasted up to three days on plastic, and the new coronavirus lasted up to three days on steel.

On cardboard, however, the new coronavirus lasted three times longer than SARS did: 24 hours, compared to eight hours.

how long covid 19 can live on common surfaces

Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Temperature and humidity play a big role in how long the virus can survive.

A recent study found that an 18-degree Fahrenheit jump, from 68 degrees to 86 degrees, decreased how long SARS lasted on steel surfaces by at least half. New research also found that increases in relative humidity reduces how readily the virus can spread between between.

Basically, humidity is how much moisture is in the air, or how clammy your skin feels outside. As relative humidity approaches 100%, sweat less readily evaporates into the air. That mugginess makes it challenging for viral droplets to survive in the air and spread between people.

You're unlikely to get the coronavirus from your Amazon package

Despite that day-long lifespan on cardboard, it's unlikely that anyone could contract the new coronavirus from a cardboard box, like those that get delivered from Amazon.

That's because shipping conditions make it difficult for the coronavirus to survive.

"We know that viruses are likely to only live a few hours to a few days under the sort of conditions we expose packages to, including shifts in temperature and humidity," Rachel Graham, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina, previously told Business Insider.

Some coronaviruses, including this new one, have a viral envelope: a fat layer that protects viral particles when traveling from person to person in the air. That sheath can dry out, however, killing the virus.

According to the CDC, "there is likely very low risk of spread from products or packaging that are shipped over a period of days or weeks at ambient temperatures."

US Coronavirus  6

Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Adrienne Marchetti, Executive Director of the Pawtucket Rhode Island Soup Kitchen, wipes down the tables inside the dining room where meals are served on March 2, 2020.

If you're still concerned about your packages, Graham suggests using surface disinfectants like Lysol or bleach.

These disinfectants could work within 15 seconds, but if you want to be extra-careful, you can wait between five and six minutes, she said.

This precaution is likely unnecessary.

"If we had transmission via packages we would have seen immediate global spread out of China early in the outbreak," Elizabeth McGraw, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Pennsylvania State University, previously told Business Insider.

"We did not see that and therefore I think the risk is incredibly low," she added.

Read more:

The coronavirus lives on copper for 4 hours, on cardboard for 1 day, and on plastic for 3 days, new research says. Here's how to disinfect these surfaces properly.

What to know about the coronavirus outbreak in 17 charts and maps

High temperatures and muggy weather might make the new coronavirus less contagious, a group of experts says

The average coronavirus patient infects at least 2 others, suggesting the virus is far more contagious than flu

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