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The Ultimate Guide To Cleaning Your Home For Cold And Flu Season

 

by Johna Burdeos, R.D., Contributor, and Michael Bass, M.D. Gastroenterology / Hepatology, Forbes Health

As cold and flu season begins, it’s important to take proactive measures to safeguard your household and health.

Both the common cold and flu are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by viruses. While colds are generally mild, they can lead to severe complications in individuals with weakened immune systems, asthma or underlying medical conditions. The flu can also have serious consequences—an estimated 100,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized during the 2021-2022 flu season due to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Keeping your home clean and disinfected can prevent the spread of germs by removing harmful viruses and bacteria from surfaces.

Read on to learn how to best care for your home during this particularly vulnerable time of year.

9 Cleaning Tips for Cold and Flu Season

To minimize the risk of viral transmission during cold and flu season, consider these cleaning tips from health and hygiene experts.

Stock Your Cleaning Cabinet

Combat the spread of the cold and flu virus with a comprehensive cleaning kit, including bleach, advises Erica Susky, a certified infection control practitioner at Unity Health Toronto in Canada. Bleach effectively eliminates most types of viruses, bacteria and molds, making it a versatile cleaning and disinfecting agent.

Products registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, such as disinfectant sprays and wipes, can serve as a solid alternative to bleach for those who need or prefer it, such as pregnant people or those with asthma, says Sanjiv Shah, M.D., attending critical care physician and chief medical officer at MetroPlusHealth in New York City.

Keep hand soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, tissues, masks and trash bags readily available, adds Clifford W. Bassett, M.D., founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York.

Clean Frequent Contact Points and High-Touch Surfaces Often

To maintain a clean home, prioritize regular cleaning of surfaces touched most frequently, recommends Dr. Bassett, emphasizing the importance of cleaning them even more often during cold and flu season. Furthermore, it’s ideal to clean these areas after having guests over, adds Dr. Shah.

Add the following surfaces to your “clean often” list:

  • Countertops
  • Tables
  • Door knobs or handles
  • Cabinet and drawer handles
  • Faucet handles and knobs
  • Light switches
  • Toilet seats and toilet flush handles
  • Remote controls
  • Phones and other electronic devices
  • Computer keyboards

Learn the Difference Between Cleaning and Disinfecting

Cleaning removes dirt, which is essential before disinfecting, as dirt can hinder the efficacy of disinfectants, says Susky. Meanwhile, disinfection specifically kills microbes like viruses, she explains, adding that a disinfectant product must be allowed to work for the contact time specified on the product label.

“Disinfection is particularly important when someone in your household is sick or has a weakened immune system, increasing their susceptibility to illness,” notes Dr. Shah.

To prevent cleaning mistakes, carefully follow instructions on cleaning product labels and ensure the product is suitable for the surface you’re cleaning or disinfecting. Additionally, wear gloves and/or goggles if the product label requires them for safe use.

Wash and Throw Away Cleaning Supplies When Appropriate

While disposable cleaning wipes may offer convenience, reusable rags used with cleaning solutions are an eco-friendly and effective alternative, according to experts. In fact, cleaning rags are no better or worse than disposable options as long as they’re cleaned appropriately after use, notes Lori A. Weir Solomon, M.D., chair and clinical associate professor of Family and Community Medicine at New York Medical College.

Rags should be laundered in hot water when visibly soiled or after a single cleaning use, says Susky. When cleaning with rags, follow a progression from cleanest to dirtiest surfaces, she advises. For example, in the bathroom, start with the doorknob, then move to the sink and conclude with the toilet before laundering the rag.

Practice Good Hygiene

Hands can easily transfer germs (especially viruses) to the nasal passages, making frequent hand washing crucial to staving off the cold and flu, highlights Dr. Shah. Wash your hands frequently, especially before and after preparing food or eating, after using the restroom, after sneezing or coughing and before and after caring for someone who’s sick.

Proper hand washing entails washing the hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 to 30 seconds to remove dirt and kill viruses, says Susky. Visibly dirty hands should be cleaned with soap and warm water instead of using hand sanitizer. However, alcohol-based sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol may be used if soap and water aren’t available, according to the CDC.

Practicing proper respiratory etiquette is also essential to preventing the spread of germs. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing, advises Dr. Solomon, and if you must go out in public while sick, consider wearing a mask to further minimize the risk of transmitting germs.

Clean Carefully Following an Illness

After an illness, it’s crucial to thoroughly clean the areas you touched to prevent others from getting sick. The flu virus, for example, can survive on surfaces for up to 48 hours.

Focus on all high-touch areas, especially in rooms at high risk for virus transmission like the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen, note Dr. Solomon and Susky. In addition to cleaning hard surfaces like countertops, doorknobs and bed frames, launder drapes and vacuum carpets. Furthermore, waste baskets often contain tissues, disposable food wares and other items that have made contact with viruses, making it important to empty them regularly, adds Dr. Solomon.

If illness or time constraints prevent you from cleaning your home thoroughly, consider enlisting the assistance of a professional house cleaner.

Don’t Forget Laundry

To eliminate any lingering viruses, it’s important to launder linens, clothes and towels used during the time of illness. Additionally, clean hampers and laundry baskets regularly to prevent germ buildup. And always wash your hands properly after handling dirty laundry.

Increase the frequency of laundering gloves or mittens and long-sleeved tops during cold and flu season, as they’re more likely to come into contact with contaminated surfaces, says Susky. Coats, scarves and hats should also be washed more frequently, adds Michael Rubino, an indoor air quality expert and president of HomeCleanse, a mold remediation company.

Dispose of Household Items as Necessary

Experts recommend regularly replacing toothbrushes and sponges regardless of the season. These items should be discarded at least every three months due to their environments that foster bacterial growth, notes Susky.

In the meantime, clean sponges by placing them in boiling water or running them through a dishwasher cycle. A toothbrush head may be placed in a small amount of liquid mouthwash for 30 minutes to reduce germs, notes Dr. Bassett. Additionally, to prevent cross contamination, dedicate a separate toothpaste tube to household members when they’re sick, adds Susky.

Keep the Air Clean

Clean air is paramount for optimal health, especially for people with conditions like asthma and allergies, highlights Dr. Bassett. Rubino agrees, noting that the accumulation of airborne particles like mold, bacteria and viruses in the air can lead to an increase in illness. Investing in air purifiers, upgrading to the highest-rated minimum efficiency reporting values (MERV) filters your heating, ventilation and air condition (HVAC) system can handle, maintaining proper ventilation in your home and dusting regularly can help reduce particles and contaminants in the air, says Rubino.

Finally, to prevent the further spread of cold and flu germs to others, Dr. Solomon advises staying home when you’re sick. Additionally, Susky emphasizes the importance of getting the annual flu vaccine as a crucial preventative measure.

last updated: November 29, 2023

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