How to Ensure Your House is Safety Proofed From Coronavirus, Flu, and Other Illnesses
The coronavirus pandemic has brought with it many outcomes, not the least of which is the need for a plan to protect our families — as much as possible — from contracting illnesses.
While the COVID-19 virus is not the first to wreak havoc in American lives and communities, it is one of the most recent and risky diseases to contract. As of July 2022, more than 1 million people in the United States have lost their lives due to coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC also estimates that the flu has resulted in 12,000 to 52,000 deaths annually between 2010 and 2020. Other communicable diseases, like the common cold, may seem more mild in their scope. Yet the CDC reports that the common cold is the most-cited reason in the U.S. for children missing school and adults missing work.
These numbers are bleak, but, fortunately, there are many things you can do to increase safety in your home and protect your family from contracting these diseases.
Here you will learn:
- Why to Safeguard Your Home Against Illness
- A List of Objects You Often Touch and How to Clean Them
- The Difference Between Sanitizing and Disinfecting
- Why Air Filtration in Your Home Is Important
- The Proper Handwashing Techniques
- The Difference Between Handwashing and Using Sanitizer
- How to Handle Coughing and Sneezing at Home
- Suggested Frequency for Sanitizing/Disinfecting Your Home
- Top Household Disinfectants
- How to Care for Sick People in Your Household
- When You Are Safe to Stop Isolating Sick People
- Tips for Developing a Home Decontamination Routine
- How to Keep Your House Safe While Guests Visit
- Common Illnesses and How Long They Remain Contagious
- Household Items to Stock to Avoid Illness Exposure
- Non-Perishable Items to Keep in the House
- Why Home Safeguarding Against Illness Works
- Home Contagion Safety Resources List
Why It’s Important to Safeguard Your Home Against Communicable Diseases
The reason it’s important to implement home practices to protect your household against illness is very simple — germs, dirt, bacteria, and other ‘impurities’ can cause illness.
Yet regularly cleaning and disinfecting and practicing proper handwashing can decrease your risk for contracting common germs, such as norovirus, and becoming ill, according to the CDC.
You don’t necessarily need to disinfect or sanitize your home unless sick people are in it. However, cleaning regularly helps remove germs that may come into the home due to exposure of family members and household members to the outside world via school, work, or other activities.
Cleaning regularly, disinfecting after an exposure, sanitizing during illness, and practicing regular and proper handwashing are just a few steps you can take to lessen your household’s risk of contracting illness.
List of Home Objects You Frequently Touch and How to Properly Clean Them
Especially during sick season, it’s important to clean frequently touched surfaces more often. The CDC recommends cleaning household and personal objects that you touch ‘regularly’. This can have different meanings for different people.
Cleaning objects that you handle all the time once per day is a good start, but if an illness is going around your community, it may be a good idea to increase the frequency of cleaning.
Regularly cleaning — i.e. wiping down surfaces — should remove airborne particles brought into the home as well as germs. Here are commonly touched objects and the best ways to clean them:
• Cell phones: To clean your phone, be sure it is not plugged into a charging device or USB cable. Use a lint-free cloth that is only slightly damp with soap and water. Never use bleach, aerosol cleaning sprays, or other abrasive cleaning solutions. Wipe dry.
•Computer and laptop keyboards: For your keyboard, use a dust vac or similar to suck out dust particles, crumbs, etc. Then use computer screen wipes to wipe the surfaces clean and clean q-tips to get between keys.
• Computer mice: Use a lint-free cloth or cotton swab dampened with soap and water and clean the entire mouse. Use isopropyl alcohol for light-colored mice, such as Mac products.
• Remote control: Remove the batteries, then use a lint-free cloth only slightly damp with soap and water. Wipe dry with a lint-free cloth. Use a toothpick in between button casings.
• Light switches:: For regular cleaning, use a damp cloth with soap and water each time you clean. Disinfect during times of illness.
• Door knobs/handles: Clean with a soapy cloth and wipe dry. Disinfect or sanitize during times of illness.
• Toilet handles/toilets: Wipe clean at least once a day, and sanitize multiple times per day during illnesses.
• Floors: Clean on a regular schedule as needed according to your family’s foot traffic. Sanitize or disinfect during times of illness or exposure..
• Desks and countertops: Clean at least once per day with a wet, soapy washcloth or household cleaner and more often when someone in the household is sick.
• Sink handles and faucets: Wipe clean at least once a day, increasing this frequency to several times a day during household illness.
• Eyeglasses:: Use a lint-free cloth and eye doctor-approved lens spray on the lenses, and a dry cloth on the arms. Clean your glasses more often during times of illness.
• Children’s toys: Wash stuffed toys at least once per week or daily during times of illness. Toys with hard surfaces should be cleaned regularly and sanitized during illness.
• Kitchen cloths and cleaning cloths: Typically, you should never reuse a cloth for more than one day, according to the Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. This is especially true during times of illness.
Sanitizing Vs. Disinfecting: What’s The Difference?
Per the CDC, the major difference between sanitizing and disinfecting is that sanitizing reduces germs to safe levels while disinfecting kills most germs.
Sanitizing is completed with weaker bleach-based sprays and sanitizers, while disinfecting is done with stronger bleach-based sprays and abrasive, chemical-based solutions.
For both sanitizing and disinfecting, you need to clean the area first. Sanitizing and disinfecting are not necessary unless there are people sick in your home or you believe you have had an in-home direct exposure (such as a guest visiting who later becomes ill).
Debunking the myth: Sanitizing and disinfecting will not reduce the strength of your immune system, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
While it is not a good practice to sanitize or disinfect your home when it isn’t necessary, taking these measures in times of illness, alongside washing your hands properly, can safeguard against getting sick.
The Importance of Quality Air Filtration
Unfortunately, many germs, including those that carry common viruses, are airborne. These tend to fall on surfaces that we touch, but can also be breathed in. Since we don’t always know we have been exposed to an illness right away, cleaning surfaces may not occur in time to reduce your risk of getting sick.
This is where air filtration and air cleaning comes in handy. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air cleaners and HVAC filters can help reduce the instance of airborne contaminants — including those that carry common viruses.
Quality air filtration is not enough to protect against viruses such as COVID-19, but is one step that can help in this front.
Proper Handwashing Techniques to Teach to Your Family
It’s true — most of us didn’t know we weren’t properly washing our hands until the coronavirus hit, and this hygiene step became crucial. Here are the proper handwashing techniques backed by scientific studies to share with the whole family.
Know When to Wash Your Hands
You may already know it’s important to wash your hands after using the bathroom, or touching the garbage, but there are many more times when it’s important to clean your hands. Here is a complete list of instances when you should clean your hands:
• Before, during, and after preparing food.
• Before and after eating food
• After using the bathroom
• After changing a diaper
• After sneezing or coughing
• Before and after caring for a sick person, especially if they are vomiting or have diarrhea
• After touching or feeding animals
• After touching waste of any kind, such as animal waste, human waste, or hazardous waste materials
During times of illness, the list of times to wash your hands increases, especially for COVID-19:
• Before touching your face or eyes
• After touching your face mask
• After leaving any public place
• After touching objects touched by others
Know What Types of Soap to Use
If you are out and about during times of illness, you can use sanitizer if soap and water is not available.
A lot of misconceptions have been spread in recent years about the type of soap to use, but there have been no added health benefits found to using antibacterial soaps versus others.
Use either liquid or bar soap to wash — as long as you are employing proper handwashing techniques, both types of soap should be effective.
Know How to Wash Your Hands
Debunking the myth: It is no longer recommended to use hot to scalding hot water to wash your hands. This is not effective in killing germs. Instead, use warm to cold water.
Steps for proper hand washing:
- Get the water running and wet your hands.
- Then apply soap.
- Lather hands together with soap.
- Scrub your hands: Be sure to get all fingers, in between fingers, under nails as much as possible, and up your arms to at least your wrists.
- Keep washing for at least 20 seconds. Sing or hum the “Happy Birthday” song at least twice to ensure you hit this time period..
- Dry with a freshly clean cloth or paper towels. If no paper towels are present, use a hand dryer.
It’s important to note that some studies have shown that hand dryers can actually spread bacteria, which is why using towels or clean cloths may be optimal for hand drying. However, research also shows that not properly drying your hands can increase the spread of germs, so drying in any manner is optimal to not drying.
Know What to Avoid During Handwashing
Don’t touch the sink, faucet, your clothes, your face, or anything else while washing your hands. If you do, simply start the handwashing process again.
Avoid getting water on your clothes, hair, or other parts of your skin outside of your hands and wrists. This is because that water could be contaminated and could in turn contaminate whatever it comes in contact with.
Take your time and reduce the level of contamination by being cautious while you practice good hygiene.
Hand Sanitizer Vs. Handwashing: What to Know
A lot of speculation exists about using hand sanitizer versus washing your hands. Here’s what to know.
Which Is More Effective?
Both hand sanitizer and hand washing serve their own purposes. Sanitizing your hands is good for instantly killing bacteria and many viruses, while hand washing is effective at removing all harmful germs, dirt, microbes, and chemicals from them, according to the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA).
The CDC states that handwashing is always the more preferable method. Hand sanitizing should only be used when soap and water are not available.
Proper Hand Sanitizer Use
Use a hand sanitizing solution or hand sanitizing wipes with at least 60% alcohol to quickly sanitize your hands (i.e. remove all bacteria). Note that baby wipes and household disinfectant wipes are not the same as sanitizing wipes meant for hands.
Tips for Handling Coughing and Sneezing at Home
Because many people spend so much time at home, coughing and sneezing are a big concern, particularly when a sick household member is the one coughing or sneezing. To protect your household as much as possible from illness, here are some safety tips:
• Train household members to sneeze or cough into a tissue.
• Keep tissues on hand at all times.
• Place boxes of tissue in all main rooms, i.e. living room, bathrooms, kitchen, etc.
• Train household members to sneeze or cough into their elbows if no tissue is available.
• Train family members to wash hands right away after disposing of soiled tissue.
How Often Should You Disinfect or Sanitize?
As a reminder, sanitizing keeps germ levels within the home (or other area) safe, and disinfecting is meant to kill nearly all germs.
Sanitizing is a practice meant mainly for an extra cleaning step for certain tasks where regular cleaning may not be enough to remove existing bacteria. For example, sanitizing should always be done after prepping certain foods, such as meat, poultry, or seafood. You should also sanitize after a natural disaster, like flooding, after changing a diaper on a surface, or after removing a recalled food item.
Disinfecting is meant for killing as many germs as possible from a certain area. This is helpful when people are ill, after a person has visited who you later discover was ill but didn’t know it yet, or if a household member has had an exposure to illness, especially COVID-19.
If someone has been exposed to COVID-19 and it has been less than 24 hours, disinfect all surfaces they may have come into contact with as soon as possible. If it’s been more than 24 hours, cleaning surfaces is sufficient. Should a guest have visited and later discovered they had COVID-19 at the time, but three days or more have passed, you do not need to disinfect.
In general, disinfect after illness is discovered at least once a day until symptoms have passed.
What Are the Best Household Disinfectants?
Some top disinfectant brands proven effective through research include Lysol and Clorox — wipes, sprays, and bleach cleaning solutions. However, you can create your own effective disinfectant solution using bleach and water that works just as well.
Perhaps the most important thing to understand when disinfecting is that you must allow enough time for the disinfectant to work on a surface. This could be as long as ten minutes.
Caring for Sick People at Home
It can be difficult to care for sick people when there are multiple household members, but there are steps you can take to protect healthy family members if they haven’t contracted the illness yet. Here are some tips for caring for family members who are ill:
• Have them isolate: The sick household member should use a separate bedroom and bathroom, if possible. This includes eating in their room.
• Be careful when handling the sick person’s items: Use gloves if possible when handling their dishes or laundry or removing trash from their room. Wash your hands after caring for them.
• Use a facemask while caring for them: This may not be necessary with every illness, but can be important for illnesses like COVID-19 or the flu.
• Do not care for the sick person if you are high-risk: Certain groups of people are more susceptible to contracting COVID-19 and other illnesses, and they should not be responsible for caring for those who are ill.
Post-Illness Recovery: When Is it Safe to Stop Isolating?
In general, it is good to stay home and away from others until 24 hours after a fever has stopped from an illness, such as the flu. For COVID-19, isolation is required for at least five days for people who tested positive and had symptoms, with the date of known exposure being day 0, according to the CDC.
However, isolation/quarantine guidelines are different for different people depending on how they respond to the illness. You are generally contagious with an illness as long as symptoms are present, so it’s a good idea to keep yourself or another sick family member home until symptoms have fully subsided.
Developing a Returning-Home Decontamination Routine
It may not be necessary to decontaminate your home or yourself and your personal items every time you return home.
But, it can help to develop a decontamination routine for sick season, if you work in a place with a known case of COVID-19 or flu, if your kids are experiencing illness exposures at school, or during other similar times.
Here’s how to decontaminate when returning home to safeguard against viruses:
• Take off your shoes outside or in the garage if possible.
• Wash your hands thoroughly before touching anything.
• Disinfect purses, backpacks, and other bags with a disinfectant wipe or disinfectant mist spray.
• Carefully clean your cell phone before setting it down.
• Open windows if possible to encourage air flow unless you have an air filtration system.
Avoiding Illness While Hosting Guests
First and foremost, be sure to cancel visits when you or another household member is sick — better safe than sorry. Yet sometimes we host guests when we aren’t yet aware that we’re sick or before they realize they’re sick. How can we safeguard against illness during the sick season when hosting guests? Follow these steps:
• Post handwashing signs in the kitchen and bathroom — There is no shame in a gentle reminder.
• Don’t touch your face during their visit — This could spread any germs you’re exposed to to your eyes, nose, or mouth.
• Avoid serving shared snacks/platters — Instead, serve individual portions to each person in their own dish. This is an added step and creates extra work, but helps you avoid passing germs back and forth..
• Ask guests to sneeze/cough into a tissue — Don’t be afraid to end the visit early if it appears a guest is ill.
• Skip hugs, handshakes, and kisses — Especially during sick season, it’s important to limit contact with others.
How Long Do Common Illnesses Remain Contagious?
Each common illness has a different period of contagiousness. Understanding these different periods can help you know how long family members should remain away from others.
The common cold is contagious for as long as symptoms are present, or about one to two weeks for most people. However, symptoms tend to be worse in the first two to three days, which is when you are most likely to spread the virus.
You are typically contagious with the flu for three to seven days, with symptoms being most contagious the day they start.
The norovirus is most contagious from the start of symptoms until 48 hours after all symptoms have stopped. However, you may be contagious before symptoms start and for a small period after symptoms cease as well.
The newest information from the CDC shows that coronavirus strains are typically no longer contagious 10 days after the initial onset of symptoms.
7 Household Items to Stock to Avoid an Unnecessary Exposure
One critical measure you can take to protect your family from unnecessary exposure — or the public from an illness your family has contracted — is by keeping your house stocked with what you need to avoid going out. Here are some critical items to keep on hand to avoid going out during times of illness:
- Your family’s medications: This includes both prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. Stock up on everyday medications that are useful to most illnesses, such as fever reducers (i.e. acetaminophen), pain-relievers (ibuprofen), and cough drops.
- Sick supplies: Stock your home with tissues, a working thermometer and backup batteries, drinks with electrolytes, anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal medications, etc.
- Sanitizing items: Keep a full supply of bleach spray solutions, mists, or wipes and specific sanitizing cloths so you are prepared to attack illness in your home.
- Everyday household cleaners: Add an extra bottle of your everyday household cleaners to make sure you have enough on hand to last a couple weeks if illness hits.;
- Toiletries and paper products: Store extra toilet paper, feminine products, paper towels, napkins, and disposable kitchen items if you can to ensure daily needs are met.;
- Baby and child items: Even if your baby or young child doesn't get sick, they may have to stay home with you until you are better. Try to keep a supply of diapers, baby wipes, rash cream, and their other needs so you don’t have to go out.
- Pet supplies: Don’t forget about your pets! Stock pet food, treats, cat litter, tank filters, etc. to have on hand so you or someone else can more easily care for your pets in times of illness.
How to Stock Non-Perishable Goods
Reducing exposure to outside illness also means going out for groceries less. With so many online options, you can easily order online and have groceries shipped right to your door, or pick up in store. If that is not an option for you, consider buying in bulk. Here is how to stock your pantry to limit the amount of times you have to grocery shop:
• Stock up on canned and frozen foods: This is a tried-and-true method that has stood the test of time, since these items have a long shelf/freezer life.
• Pack your pantry with bottled drinks, coffee, and tea: Water is the most important form of hydration, especially while ill, but it’s not the only thing most people drink. Stock up on these items when they are on sale and keep the extras for times of illness.
• Buy on-sale or clearance staples in bulk: Many stores discontinue brands which aren’t selling well, and it’s a great idea to stock up on any non-perishable items this way. Check the expiration dates to ensure this is worth your while.
• Add in a variety of snacks: Help ensure you don’t make unnecessary trips to the store by stocking your family’s favorite snacks. That way, people who aren’t sick can still access their favorite foods even when you can’t make it to the store.
Does Home Illness Safeguarding Really Work?
It’s true, there’s no way to guarantee you or your household members won’t get sick after a direct exposure or even from indirect contact with someone who is ill. But having a plan to keep your home clean, care for people who become sick, and avoid additional exposure is one small way to limit your risk.
Use this guide to help you make informed choices about the best steps for keeping your family safe and protecting against illness as much as possible. View additional resources below.
Home Contagion Safety Resources
Check out the following resources to stay up-to-date on current illnesses, learn how to properly disinfect your home, and more.
• Complete list of the best disinfectants — the EPA lists all disinfectants effective at killing the COVID-19 virus and other common viruses, filtered by the surface type you want to clean, uses, active ingredients, and more.
• Coronavirus quarantine and isolation guidelines — Learn when to isolate, for how long, who needs isolation, when you are no longer contagious after COVID-19, and more.
• Guide to high-risk groups for COVID-19 — Find out if you have a medical condition that could put you at a higher risk for contracting coronavirus.
• How to make a household disinfectant spray — You simply mix ? cup of unexpired household bleach with 1 gallon of water and fill a clean, unused spray bottle.
• Step-by-step guide for cleaning and disinfecting your home — Learn how and when to clean and disinfect your home, including how to clean and disinfect different items and surfaces.
• Watch list for current illness outbreaks — View the most common illnesses, updated regularly by the CDC.
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Caring for Someone Sick at Home
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Common Cold
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — COVID Data Tracker Weekly Review
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical Visits, and Hospitalizations Averted by Vaccination
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Frequent Questions About Hand Hygiene
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — Handwashing at Home, at Play, and Out and About
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — When and How to Clean and Disinfect Your Home
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — When and How to Wash Your Hands
• Cleveland Clinic — Can Being Too Clean Weaken Your Immune System?
• Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — Air Cleaners, HVAC Filters, and Coronavirus (COVID-19)
• Federal Communications Commission — How to Sanitize Your Phone and Other Devices
• Intel Newsroom — How to Clean Gunk off Your PC Keyboard
• Mayo Clinic — Hand drying reduces spread of germs
• National Library of Medicine: Mayo Clinic Proceedings — The Hygienic Efficacy of Different Hand-Drying Methods: A Review of the Evidence
• Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources — How Often Should You Change Your Kitchen Towels?
• University of California - Los Angeles — Handwashing vs. Hand Sanitizer - What’s the Difference?