How to Properly Clean After a Household Illness

medicine, tissues, and a face mask on a bed

The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

If someone in your household has a cold, the flu, or any other type of contagious illness, a key responsibility is to prevent the illness from spreading to others. Beyond frequent hand washing, proper cleaning is the first line of defense, as viruses can live on surfaces, sometimes for several days to weeks. Here's how to correctly clean various household areas to kill germs.

Cleaning Supplies

Plain water and mild cleaners often won't do the trick when killing viruses, bacteria, and other germs. You must use a disinfectant, follow the product's directions, and allow it time to work. A quick swipe might not be enough.

For a homemade bleach cleaner that disinfects, do the following:

  • Using a bleach that contains 5% to 9% sodium hypochlorite, mix 1/3 cup bleach per 1 gallon of room temperature water (or 4 teaspoons bleach per 1 quart of room temperature water).
  • Mix new solution every day because chlorine bleach can lose its cleaning properties when exposed to air for long periods.

When using a commercial cleaner, follow the label directions. For the homemade bleach-water solution, dip a clean white cloth or paper towel into the solution, and apply it to the surface that needs cleaning. Let it stand for at least three minutes, and then rinse the surface with plain water. The bleach solution can also be used via a spray bottle.

Toss a paper towel after you're done wiping with it, and wash a cloth after each use. Sponges should not be used for cleaning because they can harbor bacteria in the crevices. For items with small crevices, such as remotes and computer keyboards, you can use a cotton swab dipped in disinfectant to get into tight areas.

Warning

Never mix disinfectant cleaners with other cleaning products, such as ammonia, because toxic fumes can cause injury or death.

bucket of cleaning products
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Bedrooms

Spending time in bed when you're sick leaves germs in the bedding fabric. To prevent spreading the illness and even reinfecting yourself, it's important to disinfect the bed linens.

Sheets and pillowcases need the most attention because they are in the closest contact with the sick person. Don't forget pajamas as well. If a sick child sleeps with a stuffed animal, it should be cleaned too. One of the best things you can do to protect yourself from catching another person's illness is to wear rubber gloves when handling soiled laundry. At the very least, keep the bedding away from your face and body. Always wash the items as soon as possible once the sick person is feeling a little better and can be out of bed. And disinfect the hamper or laundry basket to prevent cross-contamination with other clothes.

Also, don't forget to disinfect often-touched items, such as light switches, door knobs, and remote controls. Do this at least once a day when someone is sick.

person putting on new bed sheets
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 

Bathrooms

Bathrooms can harbor plenty of germs that will only multiply when someone is ill. Use a disinfectant cleaner, at least daily, in a sick person's bathroom on the following objects and surfaces:

  • Toilet handle, seat, and lid
  • Sink and shower handles
  • Light switches
  • Doorknobs
  • Trash can
  • Floor, especially around the toilet
  • Toiletries handled during the illness

If possible, use a different bathroom from the one the sick person is using. If that's not an option, designate hand and bath towels that only the sick person uses, and change out all hand and bath towels daily. You also can switch to paper towels to dry hands for the duration of the illness. Wash towels and bath rugs in hot water, and dry them at high heat to kill germs.

Once the sick person is feeling better, throw away their toothbrush and wash the toothbrush holder.

person disinfecting a bathroom
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Living Areas

It's sometimes hard to confine a sick person—especially a child—to their bedroom. So to prevent contamination of upholstery in common living spaces, cover the furniture with washable sheets or blankets. Change and wash them frequently. Also, remove decorative pillows that can't easily be washed, or cover them with washable pillowcases.

Frequently wipe down hard surfaces, such as phones, computers, remote controls, light switches, and doorknobs. If a toy has been used to keep the sick person entertained, it needs to be cleaned with a disinfectant. And don't forget to wipe down the coffee tables or side tables that the sick person might have touched.

person wiping down a remote control
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 

Kitchens

To prevent the spread of germs, a sick person should not be in charge of preparing food for others. Even careful hand washing might not be enough to protect others, especially from easily spread illnesses such as norovirus. Because a kitchen has so many common items and surfaces onto which germs can spread, it's best to keep the sick person out of the kitchen entirely.

Wash all utensils and dishes the sick person has used at high heat in a dishwasher, or dip them in a disinfectant solution if you are hand washing dishes. You can use 1/2 cup of chlorine bleach to 1 gallon of water as a homemade solution. Frequently wipe down hard surfaces—including tables, chair backs, refrigerator handles, and drawer and cabinet hardware—with disinfectant.

dishes loaded into a dishwasher
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Cars

If a sick person has taken a ride in a car, that means the car will require some cleaning to kill any germs left behind.

After the trip, take a few minutes to wipe down the steering wheel, inside and outside door handles, dashboard controls, garage door opener, and keys or key fob. If you have a child in a car seat, it is particularly important to wash the car seat cover and wipe down every nook and cranny with a disinfectant spray or wipe.

basket of cleaning supplies in a car
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. OSHA-NIOSH Infosheet. Occupational Safety And Health Administration.