Do You Know How to Clean Up a Biological Mess?

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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.

image: man in hazmat suit to clean up biological mess

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:

  • Bleach
  • 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!

Conclusion

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?

Updated 5/23/22.

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I'm the original Survival Mom and for more than 11 years, I've been helping moms worry less and enjoy their homes and families more with my commonsense prepping advice.

12 thoughts on “Do You Know How to Clean Up a Biological Mess?”

  1. Godzilla the Pun

    Might be prudent to store those bags in a trash can or other rodent proof container. You wouldn’t want to have them accessible to animals which might potentially act as vectors for further spread of the disease.

      1. Lance Victor Allison

        Non-Food Grade Lowes Five Gal. Paint buckets are good for that to store unwanted Bio-hazard the orange one is the bad stuff the Blue one for food and/or Drink …
        If you may remember my Father served as Airman 1950 to 1976
        NCOIC of Combat wounded Transport from Korea and Viet-nam and
        Burn ward Chief enlisted health care
        In times of Mess Care Disaster He would took care of die / dying

  2. Lisa, You made a comment about old towels and a “flooded toilet”. Thought I would pass this on if you haven’t heard of it.
    Toilets that are not flushing will respond within minutes of a 1/4 cup of liquid dish detergent. Pour it in, wait until it starts draining on its own or if the level has slowly gone down to normal, just reflush.
    It has worked for us 100% of the time.
    To be safe, if the water level has not gone down at all pour a little more detergent in until it begins to drain itself. I like to take the top off of the tank and I can manually close the flapper if it looks like it might overflow – but it really has to be bad to go that far.

  3. I used to be in a Durable Medical Supply business , I got in the habit of keeping boxes of gloves around and years later I realize how convenient they are anyway, I use them to clean the grill , dog accidents, just about anything that might be hard to get off your hand or don’t want to touch. Even my mechanic wears them! Good stuff that !

  4. This is a great article, Lisa. We don’t have kids at home anymore, but I think it is a good idea to have a kit just in case the grandkids get sick while visiting.

    I went on a cruise with my husband on what we laughingly call the Plague Ship. There were so many people with the Norovirus that there were dirty dishes in the theater when we went in for the second show; the 2nd Executive Chef was serving up food on the cafeteria line; and the maintenance people were washing down the elevators with brushes and buckets of soapy water.

    My husband and I did spend a lot of time in our room, but when we went out we made sure to use hand sanitizer around the ship and wash our hands when we got back to our room. We and the remaining woman at our table in the dining room all have autoimmune diseases, so I think that was a big reason we didn’t get sick.

    Thanks so much for sharing this information.

  5. A nurse taught me that hydrogen peroxide is extremely helpful for removing blood stains and cleaning up blood. Soak up what you can and then apply the peroxide generously. It bubbles up, lifting the blood with it so you can remove more with cleaning products and stain removers. Repeat as necessary.

  6. I worked in the industry for a good 15 years and was the safety resource on some pretty nasty clean ups including a massive train derailment in Louisiana. Here is my recommendation. Go to HomeDepot and get a couple of those orange buckets with lids. Get some of the clumping cat litter and put it into quart or gallon sized bags. Get yourself a tyvek suit, some sort of respirator to keep particles out (aka dust mask) and a face shield. For gloves use nitrile then put latex on top of that then a pair of kitchen gloves (yep 3 pair, gloves will tear). Mix up your sanitizing agent into a spray bottle and have 2-3 of them. Immediately cloth and glove yourself, then spray your agent on the area to be cleaned. Dump the clumping cat litter on it to absorb as much as possible. Bag it in a trash back then bag that in another bag then put it in your final bag (preferably one designed for disposing hazardous waste). Tape up the bag top several times with duct tape and dispose of properly. In a SHTF situation disposal could be burying it away from your home or trying to incinerate it in a disposal fire. Dispose of your gloves, mask, shield and tyvek suit as well. Have several of each available to repack your bucket. A good whisk broom and dust pan will help in the clean up after the cat litter has absorbed the liquids. Retreat the area with your disinfectant and clean with paper towels disposing of them too. Treat all liquids like the plague because in reality you don’t know what is in them.

  7. This old Mom is retired military.

    When I first read that your daughter spotted an unconscious person lying in vomit in the floor, I expected the next sentence to be that you immediately left the store in case there was a biological or chemical attack.

    When I read that you all hung out and watched the cleanup, I started laughing. Sorry, couldn’t help it. It’s probably not often that you get to tell someone else to “lighten up”.

    It is a good article. Thank for the info!

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