Before Christmas one year, my family and I were shopping at a local big box store. Near the dressing rooms, my daughter spotted a young man passed out on the carpeted aisle, with a pile of vomit nearby. Since that’s not a normal thing, we immediately alerted a clerk. Being the Survival Mom, I was curious to see this store’s protocol when dealing with a biological mess like this. Therefore, I hovered in the distance to watch.
Once the young man was on his way to an emergency room, the clean-up protocol consisted of paper towels, a plastic trash bag, and some sort of spray in a bottle. Thankfully, the two employees charged with the clean-up used plastic gloves.
However, it surprised me that the carpeted section was immediately open to customers, complete with a large wet spot, hopefully, sanitized.
The whole experience made me consider how I clean up biohazards in my home and I wanted to share what I’ve learned.
Use this information to think through and prepare for how you would handle situations like this at home and to establish a cleanup protocol where you work if one isn’t already in place.
Table of contents
Overview of Recommended Protocol
I don’t know exactly what type of liquid was in the spray bottle, but the CDC recommends a sanitizing agent specific to vomit and fecal accidents. More potent than a typical sanitizer, it should be a combination of 1/2 cup bleach to a liter of water.
For businesses, the protocol used by this store’s employees wasn’t too far off the mark. Official recommendations can vary from county to county and state to state. However, most recommend the following:
- Segregating the area so customers don’t track through. This helps limit the spread of germs.
- Using disposable face masks and some sort of cover. This provides additional protection against viruses that can become airborne.
- Sanitizing the area far beyond the original mess. Some germs, such as Norovirus, can spread by air and infect persons dozens of feet away. In addition, depending on the individual’s health condition, blood could be present as well. Ugh.
Keep in mind, that businesses have no idea whatsoever what type of biological mess they’re dealing with, even if they know the sick person. Therefore, going above and beyond recommended protocol isn’t out of line.
After all, every epidemic has a “patient zero.”
Cleaning a Biological Mess Around the House
When I read Noah’s article, “How to Prep For a Quarantine,” I was reminded of the importance of having the right supplies to deal with biological messes that occur around the house.
Years ago, when my young daughter had the Norovirus, it was a horrible mess, and I ended up throwing away her favorite pair of pajamas — the diarrhea mess was that bad. Looking back, we were very fortunate that the entire family wasn’t infected with this highly contagious virus.
Over the years, I’ve had to clean up after my kids as well as their friends whenever unpleasant accidents happened in the house, the car, or anywhere else where I happened to be the responsible adult.
Most of the time, these incidents happen and are cleaned up with no further repercussions. Still, it’s still a good idea to err on the side of caution.
So what should you have on hand to deal with diarrhea or vomiting episodes that look to become something more than just a “one and done” event?
What should your biohazard clean-up kit contain?
If you spend a lot of time outside the house or often have a house full of people, you might want to buy a complete clean-up kit. This provides everything you need and in one place. A kit like this one contains gloves, absorbent powder, a biohazard waste bag, and a few more items. I’d also add a few extras of the consumable items, like the nitrile gloves.
As an extra precaution, I’d also add a simple face mask. A simple vomit or bleeding event isn’t Ebola. Still, you may remember that that particular virus was transmittable through any body opening, including nostrils and eyes. This is why Ebola care workers wore goggles along with their face masks. Face masks are inexpensive and multi-purpose, so adding one or two to your clean-up kit is simple.
These same items will come in handy at home and not just for biological messes, which is a plus. (If you’re going to buy supplies and gear for any emergency, it’s a very good thing when they are multipurpose.)
What does the cleanup process look like?
First, you must isolate any potentially contaminated material as quickly as possible. That could mean keeping everyone out of the sick room or barricading a room until you can clean and sanitize the area.
Next, be sure to very gently soak up the blood, vomit, or other mess. Scrubbing at this point will push the material deeper into the carpet if that’s where the incident happened.
One of the easiest strategies for the actual clean-up is to absorb the mess with paper towels. Even if you’ve sworn off paper towels forever, keep a couple of rolls with your first aid supplies. It’s easy to grab handful after handful, if necessary.
In addition, if the particular biological mess contains a virus, it’s easy to put everything in a trash bag, seal it, and dispose of it. If you decide to burn the contaminated paper towels, it will be a quick and easy task.
I’ve been collecting old, white towels for things like this. I keep them in my laundry room, and everyone in the family knows where they are. Whenever there’s some sort of emergency, like a flooded toilet or vomit, those are the towels we use. Since they’re already white, I can bleach them when laundering in the hottest water possible without fear of them being ruined. It’s also no problem if I trash or burn the contaminated towels.
Using absorbent material to clean up the mess is a vital first step. You don’t want a pool of blood or other liquid at the bottom of a plastic bag. Therefore, make sure everything is first absorbed by paper or cloth towels.
Then, dispose of the used towels in a heavy-duty trash bag.
Personally, I like having trash bags that let everyone around me know that it contains a potential health hazard. A box of 50 bright red biohazard bags is less than $12, and I hope to never have to use them all!
Before you toss that bag, spray down the outside with an antiseptic spray or water/bleach solution, just in case the bag was accidentally contaminated.
In an ordinary case of kid vomit or cleaning up after a typical injury with a bit of blood, it’s safe to throw out anything you’ve used in the cleanup. However, it will be a different story in a public health emergency.
Finally, finish your clean-up by wiping the area clean one last time with a disinfectant spray. When this is nearly or completely, dry, spritz it generously with a good dose of Stain & Odor Remover. I’ve used this product for years and swear by it.
At this point, the questions is, what to do with the bag now?
How do I dispose of a household biological mess?
Most likely, government public health agencies advise you on the disposal of anything that might be contaminated and contagious. In a genuine emergency, however, proper disposal may not be immediately available. In this event, it’s okay to store the trash bags in an out-of-the-way location until that service resumes. Be sure to keep them away from the sun. However, putting them in a trash can out in the garage or on the patio would be okay.
Those plastic bags can rip or be punctured. Therefore, if temporarily storing them in a safe place, place them in a heavy-duty cardboard box, a plastic bin, or something similar.
If the scenario is one of those “end of the world” situations, then burning or burying the waste will be best. Make sure the burial pit is at least 3 feet deep to protect from animals and away from any source of groundwater.
Additional Helpful Products for Cleaning Biohazards
Here are a few other items to have on hand to clean up biological messes:
- Red hazardous waste bags
- Spray bottle with disinfecting bleach spray — be sure to label the bottle with a Sharpie.
- A bottle of hospital grade disinfecting spray (non-bleach)
- Nitrile gloves — In a particularly nasty epidemic or clean-up, wear two pairs at a time.
- Barrier tape
- Kids ‘n Pets Stain and Odor Remover (I swear by this product.)
In the typical household, these items are probably used occasionally and not returned to their proper place. Then when it’s time to clean up a big mess, you’re left scrambling to find things. Because of that, I recommend putting these supplies in a small plastic bin with a lid and labeling it, “Emergencies Only.” After all, running around and yelling at the kids is not the way to go when there really is an emergency!
Do you remember the Ebola scare I mentioned earlier? The CDC and our government responded in a cavalier manner to that situation.
You must not.
Hygiene is a critical factor in remaining healthy in an emergency. Biological messes may not be a frequent occurrence but they do happen. Prepare for them ahead of time to better protect the health of your family.
After you’ve done this, add another layer of health and hygiene preparedness by making sure you’re ready for another pandemic.
Are you prepared to clean up a biological mess?