Here's Everything You Need to Clean After the Flu (and How to Disinfect Your Home)
Cold and flu season is upon us, and it’s almost inevitable that someone in your family will get sick. But even after they’ve bounced back to health, your work isn’t finished. Proper cleaning is essential to prevent the spread of germs to other members of the household. We asked experts from top cleaning-product companies to weigh in on which surfaces and household items are most important to disinfect after an illness—and how exactly to go about cleaning them.
Which rooms should I disinfect first?
A whole-house cleaning spree may not be necessary, according to Mary Gagliardi, also known as Dr. Laundry, a cleaning expert at The Clorox Company. "Most people who have the flu tend to lay low, so you can skip cleaning your home from top to bottom," she says. "Instead, focus on the bathroom and the kitchen, and any shared surfaces in the bedroom." Clean each space where the sick person has spent time and try to retrace his or her steps as you clean. If they ventured into the kitchen for some soup, for example, remember to disinfect the countertops, refrigerator handles, faucet, cabinet hardware, and any other areas they may have touched.
Which surfaces are most important to disinfect?
Commonly touched hard surfaces, such as TV remotes and door handles, can become breeding grounds for germs. While these areas should be regularly cleaned year-round, it’s especially important when someone in your household falls ill. In fact, the flu virus can live on these surfaces for up to 48 hours, says Joe Rubino, a microbiologist and the research and development director at Lysol. "Disinfecting frequently-touched, non-porous surfaces and items around the home like tabletops, remote controls, light switches, and doorknobs should become part of a daily routine during cold and flu season to help prevent the spread of illness," he says.
Is there anything else that needs to be cleaned after an illness?
Sick people tend to spend a lot of time in bed, so it’s essential to disinfect sheets, pillowcases, and other bedding after an illness. Cell phones and tablets can also harbor bacteria, so don’t forget to clean any electronic devices the person handled while sick. And, according to the CDC, washing your hands frequently with soap and warm water—or using an alcohol-based hand rub, if that's not an option—is another effective way to stop the spread of germs.
When should I start cleaning after being sick?
For hard surfaces that other family members frequently touch, don’t delay cleanup. "Start disinfecting those high-touch surfaces as soon as you know a family member or roommate has the flu—don’t wait for a regular cleaning day!" Gagliardi says. However, she suggests waiting until flu symptoms subside to wash sheets and blankets.
What cleaning products should I use to disinfect?
Choosing the right product for each cleaning job is key to effectively eliminating lingering germs. "Preventing the spread of the flu is serious business, and you absolutely need EPA-registered disinfectants that target flu germs," Gagliardi says. To sterilize the bathroom, bleach does the trick. Gagliardi suggests using a half-cup of bleach mixed with one gallon of water to wipe down all toilet surfaces (including the handles), as well as other bleach-safe spots like sinks, counters, and faucets.
To disinfect clothing and bedding after a family member has been sick, Rubino suggests washing them with laundry sanitizer, which kills bacteria that regular detergents could leave behind.
Gagliardi also suggests disinfecting wipes for a multitude of bacteria-harboring areas, including light switches, doorknobs, refrigerator handles, and more. "These are great for disinfecting surfaces that aren’t safe for bleach or are just more difficult to clean," she says. "Make sure surfaces stay wet after wiping for 15 seconds to kill influenza germs—that’s all it takes!"
Dealing with an illness under your roof is never fun, but these cleaning steps will help stop the flu from spreading any further. With proper disinfecting, you can get your household back to full health.