Even if you're not at home right now, horizontal and headache-y and guzzling water while binge-watching Man in the High Castle, you know it's flu season. It is, literally, in the air. Which means that even if you adopt a scrupulous hand-washing regimen and get The Shot (and you should do both these things), it's likely that someone you know—maybe even someone who you live with, maybe you—will get it.
When my cohabitant came down with the flu last weekend, I transformed overnight into a one-woman cleaning service. I couldn't reverse time and
force ask him to get a flu shot, but I could wage war on the flu germs in our apartment. While he snoozed, I spent some time on the CDC and EPA websites and formed a plan of attack: Here's how to disinfect your house when someone who lives with you has the flu.
Washing your hands and covering your mouth when you cough and sneeze prevent flu germs from escaping onto surfaces, but inevitably some will if you're lounging around home, sick. According to the CDC, flu germs can linger on surfaces for anywhere from 2 to 8 hours—longer on harder surfaces, like stainless steel, than something porous like the fabric of your couch. The path to destroying them is bifold: First, you'll want to clean, then you'll want to sanitize or disinfect.
Here's the difference, and how to best launch your attack:
Cleaning is the use of soap or detergent and water to remove germs from a surface—cleaning doesn't kill germs, but it will lessen their ranks and put you in a better position to kill them off soundly, so it's Step 1. Your preferred general household cleaner will work just fine for this task: Clean the house the way you normally would, taking care to swap in a new rag when one gets mucky.
To actually kill residual germs, you'll need to take a Step 2—either sanitize or disinfect.
According to the EPA, sanitizing is a process by which you can "reduce to a safe level, but not totally eliminate, microorganisms on a treated surface." It's sufficient, in many cases, for beating down flu viruses to the point where they can't getcha. Devices that reach high heats, and certain chemicals, will help you sanitize things like small home goods, porous surfaces like fabrics, and floors. (Temperatures between 167-212° F, according to the CDC, are required to kill the flu virus—so be careful!)
Many high-risk surfaces (more on what those are, here) need to be disinfected, which is defined by the killing of 99.999% of microscopic organisms on them. Disinfecting is achieved by wiping them EPA-approved, antimicrobial chemicals. Here, it's important to read the labels to be sure that a) the product actually disinfects, b) the EPA approves it as a disinfectant, and c) you're leaving the particular chemical on for long enough to kill the germs.
All this said, you do not need to take drastic measures to kill flu germs! No fumigating. To quote the CDC, "flu viruses are relatively fragile, so standard cleaning and disinfecting practices are sufficient to remove or kill them."
Short answer: Anything that's frequently touched. A list I compiled by obsessively considering the surfaces we touch all the time in our apartment:
If you need a place to concentrate your efforts, tackle food prep areas (i.e., the kitchen) and the bathroom with all your might. Since flu germs can be transmitted by any and all bodily fluids, these rooms require special attention (it's a good idea to have any infected persons just use one bathroom if your house has several, for this reason).
Any other tips for cleaning up after the flu? Share your tips in the comments.