5 Ways to Stop Colds From Spreading in Your Family

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 22, 2013
3 min read

When you've got a family, even a run-of-the-mill cold can be a lot of trouble. As it spreads from one person to the next in your family, that one crummy cold virus can disrupt your lives for weeks -- causing missed school, missed work, sleepless nights, and frayed tempers.

So when your child -- or your spouse -- comes home sniffling and coughing, how can you stop those cold germs from dragging the whole household down? Don't panic -- here are five tips that can help stop a cold from spreading.

You've heard it many times before, but washing your hands is the single most important way to stop the spread of colds. According to the CDC, about 80% of infectious diseases are spread by touch -- the cold germs get on the hands and from there into the eyes and mouth. Look at it this way: you can't keep cold germs out of your house. But if you keep everybody's hands clean, they'll be much less likely to get sick.

When you wash your hands, do it thoroughly. Use soap and water and scrub for a minimum of 20 seconds. When you're not near a sink, a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol is a good substitute.

Most of us were raised to cover our mouths and noses with our hands when we sneezed or coughed. Instead, use the crook of your elbow -- or a tissue. That way, the cold germs won't get onto your hands and spread.

Cold germs can live on surfaces for hours. Consider disinfecting areas like tabletops, doorknobs, remote controls, and toys. Use a disinfecting spray or wipe. Or make your own by mixing 1/4 cup bleach with 1 gallon of warm water. Don't make yourself crazy wiping down everything your sick preschooler touches -- there's no way to keep a household sterile.

Colds can be spread by shared towels and cups in the bathroom. When someone in the house is sick, consider switching to paper products for a week.

Can eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress help prevent colds? We don't really know. There is some evidence that they might help keep your immune system strong -- and potentially more capable of fighting off a cold virus.

Practicing these tips can help break the cycle of infection. But you still need to know your limits. Colds can be hard to stop. By the time your kid starts coughing, it might already be too late -- people can be contagious before they show any symptoms.

If your best attempts to prevent a cold from spreading fail, don't feel like you did anything wrong. Short of keeping a sick family member in quarantine -- or everyone else in biohazard suits -- there's just no surefire way to stop the common cold.