We’ve all been there. You or your family member contracts an illness and generously spreads the germs around, sometimes making everyone in the household sick.
You swear never to let it happen again by taking precautions, disinfecting your house and inhibiting contamination. But then life gets in the way, and you soon forget about it until the same situation repeats itself.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, infections are the major cause of illness and death the world over.
Microbes possess the ability to adapt to changing environments, populations and technologies. This presents a perpetual challenge to prevent infections and constantly threatens people’s health and well-being.
Viruses like influenza A and SARS coronavirus can survive on surfaces for several hours, according to a 2008 study published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.
Disinfecting your house after you or someone around you becomes ill is the first step toward banishing those germs to the ground.
Here are ways you can disinfect your house during and after an illness.
1. Disinfect Your Electronics
We use various electronics several times a day. We can’t live without our smartphones and our TV and air conditioner/heater remote controls when we are healthy, and it’s even worse when we are laying around sick.
Out of 110 nurses who carried mobile phones in a hospital ward, 79.1 percent had viable bacteria on their devices, according to a 2011 study by Japanese researchers.
With viruses like influenza, germs spread rapidly. As you sneeze into your hands and proceed to use these devices, or if you sneeze directly on or around said devices, the germs slather all over them and are easily picked up by others.
This allows the disease to persist.
According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Perinatology, out of 50 cell phones selected for inspection, 100 percent showed contaminable bacteria, and 90 percent reported the same bacteria on the users’ hands as found on the devices. Only 38 percent of the participants cleaned their devices weekly.
To disinfect them, spray a commercial spray disinfectant or a 50/50 solution of rubbing alcohol and water on a microfiber cloth and wipe the body of the devices. Also, use a cotton swab to clean between crevices. Remove the batteries and use a toothbrush to dislocate debris.
2. Disinfect Your Laundry
Household linens, towels and clothes can harbor infectious bacteria for weeks and perpetuate the cycle of disease in your home.
About 4 percent of the clothing worn by caregivers in children’s intensive care units had detectable respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – a leading cause of respiratory infections, according to a 2015 study published in American Society for Microbiology.
About 68 percent of hospital privacy curtains were contaminated with healthcare-related viruses, according to a 2008 study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.
For thorough cleansing, soak the soiled objects in an oxygen-bleach powder solution before putting them in the washing machine. Then, wash them using laundry detergent and the warmest water that you can as recommended on the item’s label.
Add a laundry sanitizer. Alternatively, you can use chlorine bleach, but only for white clothes.
Vary the quantity of the water, the pre-soak oxygen bleach, the detergent and the sanitizer or bleach according to the instructions on the box or bottle and the amount of clothes and linens you are cleaning.
3. Disinfect Your Bathroom
Bacteria thrive in damp, warm bathrooms. Bathroom viruses can cause gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin diseases as well as intensify allergies.
Bathroom sinks carry the highest risk of infection. Out of 92 hospital bath basins, 98 percent showed some kind of bacterial growth, according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Critical Care.
Bath mats soak in bacteria-laden shower water and constantly encounter feet that have collected bacteria from the bathroom floors.
Airborne bacteria found around jet-air dryers was 4.5 times greater than around warm dryers and 27 times greater than around paper towel machines, according to a 2014 study published in The Journal of Hospital Infection.
So, quit using jet-air dryers installed in your homes. Opt for disposable paper towels or cloth towels that you can wash frequently.
Wash or replace the bath mats used when sick. Also, avoid walking barefoot on them.
Use a high-quality disinfectant cleanser to clean your bathroom after an illness, paying special attention to the showerheads, sink and bathtub drains, and the exhaust air vent.
4. Disinfect Your Kitchen
Contaminated people contaminate kitchen items.
Multi-drug resistant bacteria spread through cutting boards used in household and hospital kitchens, according to a 2014 study published in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.
Sponges, towels, dish rags and scrubbers are some of the most severely contaminated items in a kitchen. Run the scrubber (which is usually metallic) through your dishwasher, or soak it in a bleach solution for 10 minutes, after each use.
Scrub your countertops, handles, refrigerator and microwave with spray bleach.
Kitchen cleaning cloths spread salmonella infection that causes typhoid and food poisoning. This risk can be almost 100 times reduced by soaking cleaning cloths in sodium hypochlorite (bleach) solutions for longer periods of time or with a higher bleach concentration, according to a 2014 study published in Letters of Applied Microbiology.
Use a high-angled brush and chlorinated powder scrub to wash the walls of your garbage disposal and under the rubber splash guard. Do this once every month.
5. Disinfect Points of Contact
Points of contact are the areas around your home that your family uses and touches several times a day. Therefore, these points are high-risk zones for communicable and perpetual infections.
These include the doorknobs, light switches, stair railings, toilet flush handles, faucets, refrigerator handles and other such points of contact.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology notes that door handles play a major role in spreading bacteria in community facilities and domestic homes.
Use an alcohol pad, a disinfecting wipe or spray bleach (most effective) to scrub these surfaces clean.
Also, make sure you wash your hands regularly. Alternatively, you can carry around an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in your pocket and use it whenever you touch points of contact until the illness bout in your house vanishes.
6. Disinfect the Thermometer
When you’re sick, you constantly adjust the thermometer to stay warm when you have the chills and cool off when you are burning with fever. This covers it with bacteria, making thermometers the ultimate infection-reservoirs.
Even those who take special care to disinfect their homes after an illness often neglect the thermometers. The crucial role they may play in disease transmission and recurrence probably doesn’t even cross your mind.
When you’re constantly around a sick person, simultaneously using the thermometer, you tend to slather the probe cover with bacteria.
Furthermore, washing the metallic probe after each time you touch it is important to keep it sterilized.
Use rubbing alcohol to clean the probe and the cover.
7. Disinfect Your Pets
Your pet might be the one snuggly thing that lifts your mood while you’re sick, but they also harbor bacteria.
Cats, dogs and reptiles are likely to harbor bacteria called salmonella (causes typhoid, food poisoning and diarrhea), E. coli (causes urinary tract infections, anemia and kidney disorders) and staphylococcus aureus (causes boils, cellulitis and pneumonia as well as bone, joint and blood infections).
Pets frequently transmit staphylococcus aureus to humans, according to a 2006 study published in Veterinary Biology.
Get your pet checked by a vet for bacterial infection and give them a thorough clean up regularly. Frequently empty their litter box and keep them vaccinated. Make sure you frequently wash your hands after dealing with your pets.
Cut their nails and prevent them from drinking from the toilet. Permethrin-treat your pets’ bedding to reduce the risk of flea infections.
8. Disinfect Your Kids’ Stuffed Toys
If your child is recovering from an infection, make sure to toss their stuffed animals in the washing machine as soon as you can.
Kids cling to their stuffed toys, especially more so when they are sick and feeling down. This exposes them to a horde of bacteria.
Kids also tend to throw them around in filthy places and pick them right back up. This further perpetuates the disease.
Wash your kid’s stuffed toys in hot water in the washing machine after an illness. As a preventive measure, wash them every week.
Some stuffed toys can’t be washed in the washing machine. Hand wash those wearing gloves with a detergent and scrubber.
9. Open Your Windows
The World Health Organization recommends opening windows and allowing airflow to prevent infections.
When your windows are closed, the pathogens that cause specific infections swarm around in communities. Since they have no competition from other kinds of bacteria for nutrients and energy, they thrive.
Opening the windows allows the “good bacteria” to come in from outside and dilute the activity of these pathogens. This is why infections often recur in over-sterilized hospitals where the balancing bacteria, too, is killed off.
The quantity of bacteria associated with human pathogens is greater indoors, and greater in rooms with less airflow and less relative humidity, according to a 2012 study published in The ISME Journal.
Hence, opening the windows from time to time is encouraged.
10. Empty Your Garbage Cans
Your garbage cans are likely to be teeming with germs and bacteria due to all the tissues tossed in there during an illness.
Furthermore, the food and other waste that sits in garbage cans is full of filthy bacteria, contaminating the air in your home.
Garbage cans that are not emptied regularly, and especially right after an illness, can cause a recurrence of infection and disease.
It is also important to scrub your garbage cans thoroughly after an illness to make sure no bacteria remain. You can use gloves, a long-handled scrubbing brush and a disinfectant spray to scrub the can from the inside out.