/ Health

Are your deliveries, parcels and post safe?

We all want to limit our potential exposure to COVID-19 as much as possible, but do we really need to be disinfecting our deliveries and post?

The question of disinfecting deliveries has understandably come up a number of times this past month.

To get the facts and advice on how to handle deliveries as safely as possible, I spoke with Public Health England and Royal Mail.

Read all the latest COVID-19 news and advice on our dedicated hub

Here’s what the risk is, what you should do if you’re receiving a delivery and what additional measures have been put in place.

How do contactless deliveries work?

All couriers are limiting contact with customers during the outbreak. This means you’ll no longer be asked to sign for parcels. 

Most courier services ask that you agree a safe place with them in advance. If there’s no safe place available, most couriers will follow these steps:

📦 The driver will leave the parcel on your doorstep

📦 They will then knock on your door and retreat two metres away.

📦 The driver will wait for you to retrieve the parcel and ask for your name as proof of delivery

If the courier hasn’t followed these steps you can ask them to do so through the door before opening. 

Some couriers, such as DPD and Hermes, might also take a photo of the parcel (not of the recipient) as evidence of delivery.

What does Public Health England recommend?

First and foremost, Public Health England (PHE) says it’s best for people to practise good hand hygiene.

That means you need to regularly wash your hands with soap and water.

If soap or water isn’t available and your hands are visibly clean then sanitizer gel can be used – but proper hand washing is the most effective method and this should be your first choice as soon as you’ve handled anything from outside your home – including parcels, post or other deliveries.

Is there a risk of catching coronavirus from a delivery?

PHE told us that while not a lot is known about COVID-19, it is likely to behave in a similar way to other coronaviruses.

How long any respiratory virus survives will depend on a number of factors, such as the surface the virus is on, whether it’s exposed to sunlight, different temperatures/humidity and exposure to cleaning products.

In most circumstances, the amount of infectious virus on any contaminated surfaces is likely to have decreased significantly by 24 hours, and even more so after a further 48 hours.

Because COVID-19 is a new illness, PHE says it isn’t yet known exactly how it spreads from person to person, but similar viruses are mainly spread by cough and sneeze droplets, and ‘indirect contact with infected respiratory secretions’.

PHE said that appropriate infection and prevention control measures are being implemented to reduce the risk to the public.

You can read PHE’s guidance in full here

We reached out to the biggest delivery firm in the UK – Royal Mail – to find out more.

What’s Royal Mail doing to reduce the risk?

Royal mail told us that it’s committed to keeping the mail moving – delivering letters and parcels across the UK, including to those who find it difficult to leave their homes.

Royal Mail has committed around £15 million on buying equipment such as hand sanitiser, gloves and other additional protective measures designed to keep its people safe and the vast majority of mail can be posted safely through the letterbox without any interaction needed at all.

It has implemented a raft of changes designed to implement social distancing measures, including a new rule that means there can only be one person in a Royal Mail delivery vehicle at any one time.

You can expect your Royal Mail deliveries to work like this:

If you’re self isolating: If the item does not require a signature, it is asking you to safely advise your postie that you’re self-isolating (for example, talking through the door). They should then place the item at the door and step aside to a safe distance while you retrieve it.

Signing for items: Your postie will not hand over a hand-held device to you to capture a signature but instead log they will the name of the person accepting the item.  

Receiving a large delivery: If your delivery won’t fit through your letterbox, it will be left at your door. Having knocked on your door, you postie will then step back to a safe distance while you retrieve your item. This will ensure your item is delivered securely rather than being left outside. 

Care home deliveries: To keep the mail moving but prevent the spread of Coronavirus, Royal Mail has made arrangements to deliver to a central point, such as reception, instead of individual addresses within care homes.

Along with these measures, Royal Mail has been promoting regular hand washing with soap and water, enhanced disinfectant cleaning of its communal areas on a daily basis, as well as providing latex gloves to any staff who request them.

Are you worried about potentially being exposed to illness by your post or deliveries?
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How have you been approaching deliveries at home? Are you being extra cautious or carrying on as before? Let us know in the comments.


I read a scientific report recently that found Covid 19 can survive on cardboard for up to 24 hours. There was no information about survival time on paper. (Also plastic and steel 3 days, copper 4 hours). As a result, we keep a pair of Marigolds by the front door to accept any parcels left outside and to open packages and letters inside. Wearing the Marigolds we use a pair of scisors to open the package / letter and shake out the contents, or my partner pulls out the contents. The cardboard and plain paper is put into the recycling bags. Window envelopes are put in the rubbuish bin as I’m not going to mess about cutting the window out while wearing marigolds.Then I wash my hands and scissors with liquid soap while wearing the marigolds. If the contents are paper or card we assume they are OK to handle but if plastic, glossy paper or a laminate we set them aside for a suitable period before handling them. Does anyone have authoritative information on Covid 19 survival times for glass (bottles / jars)?

Lynne Taylor says:
1 May 2020

I have not seen any advice for jars/bottles but i stand them in the sink and wash with soap and water then dry them with kitchen roll which is then thrown in the bin

Suzie Sea says:
1 May 2020

We do more or less the same, Rusty. We leave the letters etc until the next day, then I put on the rubber gloves and cut open the envelopes and my husband pulls out the content, which I assume will be ok as it’s some days since they were last handled. I leave cardboard and paper in the utility room for a couple of days before cutting it up to light the fire (won’t need to do this soon though so it will go for recycling). Any plastic covers on magazines etc (thankfully these are fewer now as more companies are using recyclable or compostable packaging) are washed in soapy water before opening.

The article doesn’t still answer the question so we will go on being very cautious.

Rusty – The number of active coronavirus particles that causes the disease Convid-19 will decline in number with time on surfaces and how fast that happens will depend on various factors such as temperature and humidity as well as whether the surface is plastic, cardboard, or glass. We don’t yet know approximately how many active particles of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus responsible for the current pandemic) are needed to cause an infection – the infective dose. It would be good to give simple clear advice but at the present time it’s not possible.

Incidentally, many councils now accept windows with envelopes in their recycling bins, but the council can advise if it’s not in the information provided or on the website.

Surrey CC advises that window envelopes CAN be safely recycled in the paper and cardboard mix. The window forms an insignificant proportion of the overall envelope weight. Manufacturers use as little material as they can while still producing a workable product. In my 30-year working life we reduced plastic magazine wrapper thickness from 40 microns to 5 microns. We bought it by the kilo and the thinner film covers more magazines for the same weight and cost.

I cannot find any information on newspapers which we get delivered daily. How would you sterilise a newspaper?

mike says:
5 May 2020

We have a daily paper (delivered into a bucket outside our front door), I always remove the outside page -front & back, bin that in the recycling then take the remainder of the paper into the house, as I understand it the virus is diffused into the paper fibres so hopefully if its on the paper it dose not make it past the ‘outer wrap’

I agree that this article doesn’t address the headline question at all. he question is about what happens with mail that comes through the letterbox. We leave it on the doormat for a while then pickup, open, throw away enclosure and then leave the contents to just sit, depending on what it is, and then wash hands. It is not as thorough as some. Milkbottles we wash down before putting in the fridge. Other shopping gets left alone as long as possible

Kathy KInder says:
1 May 2020

Goodness me – it hadn’t even occurred to me to do any of this! Thank you for the advice

Someone asked about daily newspapers. When we have a ‘paper’ newspaper I iron the outside front and back page (on an old sheet on the floor) with a hot iron. Butlers used to do it years ago but for different reasons – to remove creases and set the ink. It makes me feel better anyway!

David says:
1 May 2020

There are some drastic measures described in these comments! I take a simpler approach: When the mail comes, I remove the envelope or wrapper, put it in recycling or waste, then wash my hands before touching anything else. After that I treat the post as normal. I hope this routine reduces an already small risk (compared with sharing a crowded space with an infected person) to an even smaller one. I doubt if it is possible to remove it altogether. Incidentally, respect to our postie and to the delivery people who have visited us since lockdown. All have respected the rules and stayed courteous despite the pressure they must be under.

K Minogue says:
1 May 2020

I agree with David. The key is to wash your hands after touching foreign objects, before handling food, and before touching your face. In the unlikely event that virus is on a surface, it will have been weakening over time and can’t crawl off to come and get you.

We do the sameasDavid but as an extra precaution if my wife and I are available, depending on where we arein the house, we share the job – one opening the envelope and dropping contents on floor, wash hands and then read post. My wife doesn’t actually bring shopping directly into the house. I lay plastic sheets on the floor of the garage near the door, which has an electronic opening, she takes the zapper with her and opens the door when she returns home. She then unloads her shopping onto the bags and deals with it from there. This means that no bacteria etc goes on the surfaces or carpets in the house for onward transmission. Any bacteria disapates from the plastic sheets over time.

Before touching any letters , etc which come through the letter box, I spray them briefly with a made-up mild solution of disinfectant and bleach, flick them over with an old spatula then spray the other side. I then leave them to dry off before picking them up.

We try and operate around the 72 hours isolation principle for all non-perishable goods such as Supermarket items, courier and mail deliveries etc.
In the case of Mail we use rubber gloves to bring the mail in from outside, then it sits in daily piles for 3 days in isolation. After that, we treat it as normal.

KIm says:
1 May 2020

We do a similar thing, everything except perishables gets quarantined for 72 hours. We don’t worry about rubber gloves, but we wash our hands well with soap and water after handling anything. Perishable items we wipe over with antibacterial spray.

I am impressed by the hygiene measures being taken by correspondents and have to confess to being a bit delinquent in comparison. We do act cautiously and wash our hands more frequently and whenever necessary, but I don’t follow all the protective procedures that many are carrying out although I am sure we shall be more careful in future.

At one point this Conversation seemed to be getting a bit competitive with the scale of the protective action ramping up to the point that I thought it wouldn’t be long before somebody said they got dressed in full NBC [nuclear, biological, chemical] protection suits before opening their post! This reminded me of the Monty Python sketch of four Yorkshiremen outbidding each other’s deprived childhoods and appalling living conditions. But those were fleeting thoughts.

So, seriously, we cannot be too careful and this is a good discipline, because I don’t expect the coronavirus to go away overnight, many are infected but don’t know it yet, and the Covid-19 disease could carry on striking for some time.

Not too long ago we had the novichok contamination incident in Salisbury when Russian agents put a nerve agent on the door furniture of the Skripals’ home. Now, coronavirus might not be so powerful as novichok but the disease it causes, Covid-19, is certainly extremely virulent and, as we have seen throughout this tragedy, exceedingly deadly. Overall the country has been very conscientious during the lockdown, and I hope for everyon’es sake that that continues for as long as necessary, so it would be terrible if a relapse in social distancing and protective measures were to allow another outbreak to develop.

I also hope that improved hygiene procedures will carry on after this episode among the population at large. This crisis has brought home to us all how poorly and vulnerable many of the people around and amongst us are and how we must be mutually protective to prevent further harm.

David Knowles says:
1 May 2020

I paid a large sum to ensure delivery of my Self Build VAT claim and the signature was a simple Covid19 printed and no name which IS NOT PROOF OF DELIVERY???? And not what I paid for????
I just hope it’s in the system or I am stuffed for a large sum of money ROYAL MAIL????
David in Hereford

Eric says:
1 May 2020

When the sun is shining (and the wind allows) we place our post on a table outside and leave it for about 6 hours. The UV is supposed to kill the virus. If that is not possible we leave it in the conservatory for any heat to kill any contamination and leave it until the next day. We then hold the envelope down with a pair of scissors, slit it open with a letter opener and remove the contents using the letter opener. We believe that the contents should be safe. The envelope is then put into the bin for recycling. As the collection is fortnightly it should be safe by the time it is collected.

Vikki says:
1 May 2020

We quarantine all post for 3 days, unless it is deemed urgent then we take off the outer layer and wash hands immediately

We put all shopping that does not need to go in the fridge upstairs for at least four day.
We wipe each individual item either with disinfectant wash or soapy water. I wash all milk containers in soapy water.
All fresh veg gets washed straight away. Any parcel post is not opened for at least three days but removed from cardboard if it is in a box, plastic ones we leave for a week. Letters are left in the postbox for at least a day then put on a table for another and wiped.Always washing our hands after. We also wash the post box, and door knocker plus gate handle if a parcel has been put there.

Jamyhampshire says:
1 May 2020

I handle all post and deliveries wearing rubber gloves and put them in the garage for 72 hrs before opening. All food delivered is handled the same way with packaging being wiped with an antibacterial cleaning agent and fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly washed under running water from the outside tap.

I’ve been wiping all plastic and covered food and stuff for many years before it goes anywhere near my fridge who wouldn’t? ( just think how far your bagged fruit ,veg and salad have come across the globe and where they’ve stopped off ,in what circumstances ie; Dusty climate,container ships ( list is endless) I’ve also been wiping parcels that have been who knows where! before they get to me!! I’ve always used bleach diluted on a cloth and left it to dry or wiped dry, its a 100%germ killa 🙂
I frequently wash my bunch of Key’s with car key ,my car door handle’s steering wheel, house door knobs ,I have a washable thick cotton plush front door mat inside my porch which gets washed weekly. So these things have not changed for me .oh I have an old antibacterial spray bottle filled with a mixture of surgical spirit, dettol, and Water that I spray all letters and parcels with and I leave them in porch for a day.and I have that in the car and take it with me when I go out in a smaller bottle and spray my hands at regular intervals!!!!

I assume that the folk who are taking these elaborate precautions are fully isolating and not venturing out of the house at all. I understand people are scared but it does seem to me that these measures reflect a level of worry that is somewhat misplaced and which may well be having an adverse effect on their mental health. There may be a theoretical risk but people should be reassured it is without doubt a tiny risk. Since the lockdown measures have been introduced the R number (the number of people each infected person then goes onto to infect) has dropped to below 1. The risk is mainly to people who continue to work and to a lesser extent those who continue to do their own shopping or go out for other reasons – particularly if they use public transport. The viral load that may have settled on items of mail and other packages is absolutely minuscule compared to what is in the air and on surfaces close to where any infected person is – and then, on average, they are infecting less than one other person which suggests you need quite a significant viral load to get infected yourself. Take delivery, open it up, deal with it, dispose of the packaging and wash your hands. That’s all you need to do to stay safe. There’s no harm putting it into quarantine for a while if it makes you feel safer and if you are sure it is nothing urgent, but using sharp knives and disinfectants as some have suggested is simply creating a different and greater risk.

The R number is relevant to the government, which wants to ensure that the number of cases does not overwhelm the NHS and other resources. Individuals on the other hand want to maximise their own chance of avoiding infection and surviving the pandemic, particularly the elderly and those with certain health conditions that could increase the severity of a Covid-19 infection.

At present we don’t know if any cases of infection have been as a result of contact with materials contaminated by infected people, but simple precautions like opening mail etc. outside, disposing of the packaging and waiting before handling delivered items and hand washing represents something positive that people can do to minimise risk.

I’m a retired doctor. i’m living with and shielding my mother for the duration of this. We take the simple chemical free approach of quarantine – open yesterday’s post today. If it’s plastic we cut it open, drop the contents out and then wash hands before handling the contents – with some knowledge that they have been in transit for another 24 hours or more and in many cases are letters printed and enveloped by machine anyway… The difficult bit is shopping. We try to set aside a shelf for the new delivery in the fridge and not touch the new food for 2-3 days but some of it is too perishable as morrissons online shoppers don’t seem to be thinking the issue of online slots being weeks apart through when they choose perishables with 2-4 days left to run. We don’t worry about the dates but some stuff has been shoddy by the time we come to eat it – resulting in loss through peeling, and cutting out rot etc. Cans etc get quarantined in their bags as they have come.

David morgan says:
1 May 2020

Leave letters on floor by door for 3 days.on 4th day wipe letters with antiseptic wipes open mail dispose of envelopes wash hands deal with contents of mail.clean desk top letter opener pens etc with wipes wash hands.i am now retired so I have all time to do this and maybe cut risk of contact.I treat everything outside of house as wet paint leave nothing to chance stay safe everybody.

Norman Naylor says:
1 May 2020

In the absence of reliable information we wipe down everything that comes into our house, including packaged food, using a cloth dampened with a disinfectant solution. We do this also for any surfaces handled during the process of accepting deliveries and, of course we wash our hands as necessary. It may well be OTT and it certainly is laborious but best safe than sorry.

Doxy says:
2 May 2020

I keep a recycled spray bottle of diluted bleach by the sink.(used as per directed on the product for disinfecting work surfaces it is much cheaper than antibactial sprays). I give the letter box a good spray inside and out when we get letters and also use this to clean the locks and door knobs also keys. I spray it on all sides of parcels and leave to dry and I spray all my shopping bags and hang them on the line in the sunshine. I am only using them on e every ten days so assume the will be safe by the next time.