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 house is suffering from a cold, flu, or any type of contagious illness, a key responsibility right after getting them healthy is to prevent the illness from spreading to others in the home. Beyond frequent hand washing, proper cleaning is the first line of defense because some viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to two weeks. Take a look at the five areas that need extra attention and how to clean everything correctly to kill germs and bacteria.

Supplies Needed

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

If you don't have a commercial disinfectant product such as Method's Antibac all-purpose cleaner on hand, you can make your own by using chlorine bleach.

  • Add 2 tablespoons of 5.25 to 6 percent chlorine bleach to 4 cups of water (read the bottle label to be sure that your product is strong enough to provide disinfecting properties).
  • The solution should be mixed fresh every day because chlorine bleach can lose its cleaning properties when exposed to air for long periods.
bucket of cleaning products
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

How to Use Disinfectant Cleaners at Home

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

Use a paper towel that can be tossed away or a cotton cloth that can be washed after each use. Sponges should not be used for cleaning because they can harbor bacteria in the crevices.

For items such as remotes and computer keyboards, use a cotton swab dipped in the disinfectant to get into tight areas.


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


When you feel terrible, your bed can bring a bit of comfort and much-needed rest. But spending time in bed with the flu or a bad cold leaves germs and bacteria in the fabric. To prevent spreading the illness and reinfecting yourself, it's important to disinfect the bed linens after using.

Sheets and pillowcases need the most attention since they are in the closest contact with the body. Don't forget pajamas! If a child is holding onto a favorite stuffed animal, it should be cleaned as well.

One of the best things you can do to protect yourself from catching something is to wear rubber gloves when handling soiled laundry. At the very least, keep the sheets away from your face and body. Always wash the items as soon as possible, and wipe down the hamper to prevent cross-contamination with other clothes.

Don't forget to clean often-handled items such as phones, car door handles, remote controls, computers, light switches, doorknobs, and bedside table items with a disinfectant. This should be done at least once a day while someone is sick and definitely when the worst is past.

person putting on new bed sheets
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 


Bathrooms harbor plenty of problem areas that only amplify when someone is ill. Vomiting and diarrhea can leave tiny particles everywhere that must be cleaned away.

Use a disinfectant cleaner frequently on:

  • Toilet flushing handles, seats, and lids
  • Sink and shower handles
  • Light switches
  • Doorknobs
  • Trash cans
  • Floors near the toilet
  • Toothpaste tubes and toiletries handled during the illness

Designate a hand towel to be used only by the sick person, and change the hand towel at least daily or switch to paper towels during the illness. Bath and hand towels and bath rugs should be washed in hot water and dried at high heat to kill bacteria.

When the worst is past, throw away the sick person's toothbrush and wash the toothbrush holder with disinfectant.

person disinfecting a bathroom
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell

Living Areas

It's hard to confine a sick person—especially a child—to their bedroom. They want to still be part of the family.

To prevent contamination of upholstery and accessories, cover the furniture with washable sheets or blankets and change frequently. Remove decorative pillows or cover with washable pillowcases.

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

person wiping down a remote control
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell 


To prevent spreading the bacteria and germs to others, the sick person should not be in charge of preparing food for the rest of the family. Even careful handwashing may not be enough to protect others, especially from easily spread illnesses such as norovirus.

All utensils and dishes used by the infected family member should be washed at high heat in an automatic dishwasher or dipped in a disinfectant solution (1/2 cup of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water) if handwashing.

Hard surfaces—don't forget tables, chair backs, refrigerator handles, and drawer and cabinet hardware—should be wiped down frequently with disinfectant wipes and sprays. Remember to skip the sponges and use paper towels that can be tossed or cotton cloths that can be washed in hot water.

dishes loaded into a dishwasher
The Spruce / Fiona Campbell


Whether you are a passenger or driving, trips to the doctor or pharmacy can leave viruses in the car.

After a trip, take a few minutes to wipe down the steering wheel, inside and outside door handles, dashboard controls, garage door openers, and your keys or key fobs.

If you have a child in a car seat, it is particularly important to wash the 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
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  1. Household Cleaning & Sanitizing. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Apr. 2020