How to Disinfect Your Home When Someone Is Sick
7 tips for banishing germs so the whole family doesn’t fall ill
When you, your kid or your spouse comes down with something, there’s a decent chance the rest of the family will get it — unless you take steps to de-germ doorknobs and other cold-and-flu-spreading surfaces and quarantine the bug carrier. Families may share everything else, but there’s no need to share a nasty virus.
Here are seven tips for sanitizing your house to keep the troops on their feet.
Related: Is It the Flu or a Cold?
1. Create a sick room. The flu most commonly spreads by tiny droplets that fly into the air when a sick person coughs, sneezes or talks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So it’s best to create a comfy area for the sick person away from the rest of the family. People with the flu can get others sick starting one day before they start showing symptoms, and a week after — or longer, if the person has a weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.
2. Keep hands squeaky clean. The flu also can be passed around by hands, as can the common cold. Touch any surface that’s teeming with virus particles, then touch your eyes, nose or mouth — and the virus is now inside you. The sick person and everyone else should wash their hands regularly with soap and water. After washing, dry your hands on a paper towel (then throw it away) or on a hand towel that’s only used by you (and that you wash regularly). Alcohol-based hand sanitizer works in a pinch, so be sure to keep several bottles around the house. Look for a sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, says Ronald Peterson, senior technical consultant for UL. “The whole family needs to be diligent about the hands,” Peterson says.
3. Toss tissues in the trash. When you feel too cruddy to lift your head up, it can be tempting to throw a used tissue on the bed or nightstand, but that can spread germs. Place a trash can right next to the bed or chair for easy access. (Oh, and reusable hankies are a big no-no when someone has the flu.) If you’re picking up dirty tissues or other contaminated items, wear disposable gloves and, after you take them off, wash your hands. “You don’t want to let tissues linger around the house,” Peterson says.
4. Use a dishwasher. Wash the sick person’s water glass, soup bowl and the rest of the family’s dishes in the dishwasher — and use the sanitize cycle, Peterson recommends. “That boosts the water temperature a little bit,” he says. And heat kills germs.
5. Wipe down germy surfaces. Grab disinfecting wipes or a household disinfectant to sanitize hard surfaces around the home, Peterson says. But don’t use just any wipes: Read the label to make sure the product kills influenza viruses. And look for an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration number on the label, Peterson recommends. The EPA has stringent standards, so you can be pretty sure the claims are accurate on a product vetted by the agency, he says. If you don’t have the right product handy, make a solution of ¼ cup chlorine bleach and a gallon of hot water. Wipe countertops, tabletops, doorknobs, refrigerator door handles, faucets and other surfaces likely to have been touched by germy hands, Peterson recommends. (Don’t overlook the not-as-obvious items like light switches, phones and TV remotes, he says.)
Related: Germ-Proof Your Commute
6. Don’t forget the toothbrush. It’s normally not necessary to disinfect a toothbrush, but you might want to when someone in your family is sick. Don’t use a microwave or dishwasher because it could damage the brush, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). You could soak the brush in a sanitizing mouthwash or use a commercial toothbrush sanitizing machine. If you do that, buy one that’s been approved by the Food & Drug Administration because that means the manufacturer has submitted data to back up its sanitizing claims, according to the ADA.
7. Load up the laundry. Don’t let your sick loved one languish in the same jammies or robe day after day, Peterson says. Throw his or her clothing, bedding and towels in the washer and launder with hot water, he says. After handling dirty laundry, wash your hands. Dry the laundry on hot to kill remaining germs. Dryers generally get up to 160 degrees or so, Peterson says. “The warmer, the better,” he adds.