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How to Sterilize Your Home after an Illness

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Even days after our son, Thomas, stopped showing symptoms of a recent bout of stomach illness, people who came into contact with him started dropping like flies. First, Adam and me (I even landed myself in the emergency room!), then Thomas’ grandfather and both of his grandmothers, Thomas’ godmother, and three family friends. My best efforts to keep a clean home clearly weren’t up to the challenge of this persistent virus. So with a little research, I made a check list for how to get my family healthy and stop spreading our illnesses to the people we care about.


Prevent

  • Wash your hands thoroughly, especially before and after eating, after going to the bathroom, and after changing diapers.
  • If possible, separate sick family members from well family members. Ideally, leave yourself only one bathroom you need to sanitize frequently.
  • Don’t let anyone share food, drinks, or eating utensils with you or your family members for at least three days after everyone is symptom free.
  • Don’t let healthy people change a sick baby’s diaper if you can possibly help it, no matter how tired or sick you are. (Thomas’ generous grand and godmothers seem to have picked up their illnesses this way.) Keep a pair of rubber gloves around for diaper changes when a baby is sick. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water when you’re done.
  • Don’t prepare food for anyone for at least three days after you’re symptom-free.

Sanitize

  • Clean as often as possible until your family has completely recovered.
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands from both germs and cleaning chemicals.
  • Wipe down all the contaminated surfaces in the house. Think creatively about where germs may be hiding. Bathrooms (especially toilet handles!) and kitchen counters are obvious, but phones, computer keyboards, and door handles are just as likely to be contaminated.
    • For many common bacterial infections, stick with eco-friendly alternatives that won’t bring unnecessary toxins in your home. Check out Experimental Wifery’s homemade bathroom cleaners for a great antibacterial alternative. Also consider white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide. White vinegar kills more than 99% of bacteria and hydrogen peroxide is used to disinfect hospitals with lower risk of allergic reaction in patients.
    • For viruses and some other particularly nasty illnesses, there isn’t an organic solution. In these cases use bleach. Mix 1/4 cup of bleach with 2 1/4 cups of water to clean bathrooms and other areas that have come directly into contact with contagions like mucus or vomit. For the rest of the house, dilute the mixture further by taking 1 cup of the concentrated solution and adding 9 cups of water.
  • Empty every trashcan in the house. Be especially sure to remove tissues and soiled diapers where harmful germs may be lurking.
  • Wash clothes for the longest cycle-length and at the hottest temperature that won’t damage them. Machine dry clothes afterward.
  • Wash and replace linens and towels regularly while the patient is sick and then again immediately afterward.
  • Put everything dishwasher-safe through a hot cycle. In addition to dishes, include things like teethers and plastic toys on the top rack.
  • Boil all toothbrushes for at least ten minutes—or throw them away and purchase new ones.

Quarantine

  • Stay home for at least the first 24 hours after you’ve been ill. Make sure your family members do, too. The general rule is, patients aren’t contagious after they have been fever-, vomiting-, and diarrhea-free for 24 hours. In reality, some diseases stick around a lot longer. Severe gastrointestinal viruses, for example, are contagious for at least 3 days after you’ve stopped feeling symptoms.

How do you get rid of illnesses in your home?

13 responses »

  1. 1. How are vinegar and hydrogen peroxide organic? Also, those don’t disinfect surfaces. You need bleach, alcohol, or iodine, regardless of severity of the pathogen.

    2. GI infections can stick around for weeks after the cessation of symptoms. This is really only a concern for babies which have a tendency to get their drool on everything.

    Reply
  2. I came across your blog and am greatly enjoying the posts on learning wifery from literature — that’s right up my alley! Well done.
    I’ve noticed that many people seem to regard changing diapers with a certain insouciance brought on by the feeling that the wipes have kept the hands clean. Or that it’s fine to just wipe hands with a wipe! But handwashing is the key to preventing illness, and it’s essential to wash hands with soap and warm water after changing a dirty diaper! Gosh.
    New toothbrushes and clean towels… clean toilets.
    God bless!

    Reply
  3. I’ve updated the post to include your suggestions. Thanks for the help!

    Reply
  4. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    Thank you for the helpful suggestions!
    (We are currently going through a bout of strep-throat.)

    Reply
  5. Thanks for the tips!!

    Here is a GREAT and thorough website regarding the stomach flu, how to prevent it, and facts about how contagious it REALLY is (for longer than you would think!) http://www.stopthestomachflu.com/ .

    Here is the direct link to the ‘prevention’ page (very similar to what you have written here): http://www.stopthestomachflu.com/Home/how-can-i-avoid-getting-the-stomach-flu

    I think a lot of the problem lies in people thinking they are not contagious once symptoms subside (at least w/ the stomach virus, it may be true for other illnesses). So, they have visitors over, or let their child attend a potluck and touch the food and then it becomes a real widespread mess.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the links! We definitely got ourselves and our friends into trouble because we didn’t know how long the stomach flu could stick around. His sitter is very conscientious about germs and didn’t get sick, once again proving the importance of frequent hand-washing!

      Reply
  6. Oh, I looooove bleach. It’s my best friend during an illness. I agree wholeheartedly with your advice on dilution. And like you said, you need to be zealous about really considering where the germs are hiding! Door knobs, light switches, and hand towels! Oh my, the hand towels! They can’t be changed often enough (white ones, washed with MORE BLEACH!). ;D

    Thanks for a fantastic blog! I’ve found it this week, and am happily devouring your articles in my fleetingly free moments!

    Reply
    • Thanks for the encouragement. And great point about the hand towels!

      My family avoids bleach when we can, mostly because I hate the smell and my one-year-old has to taste everything. (I’ve already had to call poison control over his desire to use the toilet as a finger bowl. Thank goodness I was cleaning with vinegar and borax!)

      Reply
  7. Nowadays, your cell phone, land line phone, computer keyboards, mouse unless ofcourse you don’t use them during the period of your illness. 🙂 TV remotes…

    Reply
  8. I use alcohol swabs or cotton in alcohol to disinfect the above

    Reply
  9. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a friend who has been doing
    a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch simply
    because I found it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
    Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this matter here
    on your web page.

    Reply
  10. Washing your hands is essential! I am going to share your tips with my sister. She is so fond of hygiene. Thank you for paying attention to this issue. Best regards!

    Reply

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