BY JIM HOWE
Experts who oversee cleaning operations at Upstate University Hospital — Environmental Services Director Susan V. Murphy and Assistant Director John Kolh — provide this advice for caring for a sick loved one at home:
Hand washing: Clean hands are one of the most important ways to check the spread of infection, so be sure there is access to a sink and soap or that hand sanitizer is available.
Removing clutter: All areas should be clean and clutter free. Clear clutter first, then clean, then, if needed, disinfect. The less clutter you have around, the less there is to clean and worry about regarding any transfer of germs from sneezes and coughs. Less clutter also means fewer places for dust to settle or get kicked up into the air and irritate a sick person.
Ensure a supply of tissues within easy reach.
Keep “touch points” clean: These include frequently handled items like door and refrigerator handles; knobs on faucets, showers and drawers; buttons on microwave ovens and other appliances; and wall switches.
Make sure the materials you are using to clean are clean. Change your cleaning cloth or flip it over each time you clean a new surface. Disposable cloths might be easier and preferable during an illness. Also, clean your vacuum cleaner’s filter to keep the dirt level down.
Don’t “double dip,” or reuse a cleaning solution for another task, even one containing bleach, because it weakens the product. Also, don’t mix soap or bleach with some other cleanser, thinking it will create some sort of super cleanser, because it won’t. Allow whatever cleanser you use the time recommended to do its job.
Bathroom: Wipe down the fixtures – toilet, sink and their handles – daily, and change out the hand towels regularly. Mix one part bleach to nine parts water for bathroom cleaning and be careful not to splash it in your eyes. Bleach solutions will lose strength over time, so use it that day, then dump it down the toilet.
Another method, especially when dealing with heavy-duty infections: Bathroom surfaces can be cleaned with a soap product, rinsed off, then wiped with a bleach wipe and left to air dry. Bleach wipes, preferably hospital grade, can be found in many stores, and their short-term use is fine.
Kitchen: Keep the sink and counters free of dirty dishes. A dishwasher is a great way to sanitize dishes, but if one is not available, use water as hot as you can stand, agitate the soapy water and put friction on whatever you’re cleaning, then adequately rinse, preferably with hot water, and dry, using a clean, dry towel. Air drying is OK, but not if sitting in a dish rack will expose the dishes to coughs and sneezes. Change the sponge or cloth frequently to avoid contaminating dishes you are cleaning. Wash the brushes for dishes in the dishwasher, if available.
Bedroom: Keep the nightstand clean, have ample tissues and a trash can available and empty the trash can regularly. Wipe down surfaces like bed rails, if any, and anything else the sick person might touch. If the sick person has a personal item like a blanket or shawl that he or she uses regularly, launder that as needed, maybe weekly, during the illness.
Family room or living room: Keep any touch points clean, such as the TV remote control. Use a bleach wipe on the device’s buttons and exterior, then let it air dry.
Computers and electronics: Clean the touch points with a specifically recommended wipe or other product that won’t damage the equipment.
Floors: Mop or vacuum on a regular basis and keep them free of debris.
The elderly: Touch points might include eyeglasses, pens or pencils or an emergency button worn around the neck.
Children: If possible, have them play with toys that can be cleaned, such as hard plastic toys.
People with disabilities: Touch points might include the surfaces of a wheelchair, walker, cane or crutches.
The last task of cleaning is to inspect the whole area and be sure you haven’t missed anything.
Murphy adds that, in addition to its anti-infection benefits, a well-cleaned environment offers an emotional or psychological boost: “Clean, neat and organized gives that feeling of peace and calm. You’re not struggling to walk through a house when there’s no clutter.
“There’s something to be said about that.”
This article appears in the winter 2019 issue of Upstate Health magazine.