washing hands close up
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Wash Up

The CDC says hand-washing is like a do-it-yourself vaccine. It’s one of the best ways to stop germs in their tracks so you (and others) don’t get sick. Wash often and well. Follow these five steps: Wet your hands with running water, lather with soap, then scrub, rinse, and dry. Spend at least 20 seconds at the sink for each session. That’s about as long as it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song all the way through two times.

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hand sanitizer close up
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Keep Sanitizer Close By

When soap and water aren’t an option, hand sanitizer is the next best thing. Keep bottles around the house for a quick fix after you tend to a sick family member or change a diaper. Choose one that’s at least 60% alcohol. Those with less won’t kill as many types of germs. They may only stop some of them from growing.

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cleaning door handle
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Wipe It All Down

Clean any surface in your house that can take a scrub, like counters, door and cabinet handles, tables, and light switches. The goal isn’t just to remove germs, but to destroy them. To do that, choose a cleaner that says “disinfectant” and has an EPA registration number on the label.

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toys in dishwasher
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Make Time for the Toys

When sickness hits your little ones, it’s time to round up of all their favorite playthings and get them clean. Put hard, battery- and electronics-free toys in the dishwasher to get sanitized. Toss plush playthings into the washing machine and run them through a cycle.

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baby on changing table
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Change Diapers With Care

It’s never a good idea to do it near where you eat, play, or hang out. That’s especially true when there’s sickness in the house. Give the changing table extra time when you clean, and disinfect it often. Wear latex gloves during changing sessions, and don’t leave dirty diapers hanging around. Toss them into the trash as soon as you get the clean one on. It's also a good idea to wash your hands after every diaper change.

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breakfast in bed
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Keep Your Food Germ-Free

If you’re under the weather, let someone else cook. In fact, you shouldn’t prep meals for others for 48 hours after your symptoms stop, just to be safe. Don’t let others grab your grub, either -- sharing snacks and sips is a quick way to pick up other people’s germs.

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scrubbing bathroom sink
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Scour Your Bathroom

If there’s one room that needs extra disinfection when a family member is down for the count, it’s the loo. Step up your cleaning efforts on all surfaces, like the sink, toilet, and floor, if you’re dealing with stomach illness, cold, or flu.

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disinfectant wipe
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Get Germs Off Cleaning Cloths

After you wipe germs off, they can still hang around on the sponge or cloth you used. Wash your cleaning cloths with hot water often. Or use disposable disinfecting cloths or paper towels, and toss them when you’re done.

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tossing toothbrushes
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Toss Your Toothbrush

Most germs die pretty quickly as your toothbrush dries, but switching out for a new one once you get well is a quick and easy way to start fresh. Take stock of where you store your toothbrush, too. Don’t keep family brushes in one container where they could touch.

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closing bedroom door
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Keep Your Distance

Shut yourself or a sick family member away in a separate part of the house. It gives them space to rest and recover. And it helps keep what ails you in one spot instead of spreading it around the house. Since time of being contagious varies from illness to illness, ask your doctor about when the illness isn't likely to be passed on. 

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woman sneezing into tissue
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Trash Tissues and Cover Coughs

Germs like to hitch a ride on hands. Be sure anyone who hacks or sneezes does it into a tissue or (if one isn’t around) their sleeve. Don’t just toss used tissues into a pile, either. Throw them into the trash or flush them down the toilet so bacteria and viruses don’t linger.

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sleeping girl wearing medical mask
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Wear a Mask

For a highly contagious illness like the flu, it’s OK to go the extra mile. Put a facemask over the infected person’s mouth as soon as they start to show symptoms. That’ll keep their coughs, sneezes, wheezes -- and germs -- contained.

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blowing a kiss
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Air Kiss

Germs are more likely to get into your body after you touch a contaminated surface and then your nose than via a kiss. But it won’t hurt to skip the smooches for a while when you or someone you love is sick.

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mother breastfeeding baby
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Boost Breastfeeding

You don’t have to stop nursing when you or your baby gets sick. In fact, your milk has antibodies that will help protect them against whatever has you down. It’ll build up their fluids if they are the one battling germs.

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vaccination injection
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Get Your Shots

Vaccines are the best way to prevent certain diseases. Keep your family’s immunizations up to date. Take everyone to get a flu shot as soon as it’s available each fall.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 06/01/2020 Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD, FAAP on June 01, 2020


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2) WebMD

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5) Ondrooo / Getty Images

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8) WebMD

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CDC: “An Ounce of Prevention Keeps the Germs Away,” “Everyday Preventive Actions That Can Help Fight Germs, Like Flu,” “Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives,” “Norovirus,” “Show Me the Science - When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer,” “When and How to Wash Your Hands.”

American Family Physician: “AAP Issues Recommendations on Infection Control in Physicians' Offices.”

Healthychildren.org: “Germ Prevention Strategies.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Does Saliva Have Health Risks? 3 Ways Germs Can Spread,” “Should You Throw Away Your Toothbrush After Being Sick?”

Annals of Internal Medicine: “Facemasks and Hand Hygiene to Prevent Influenza Transmission in Households: A Cluster Randomized Trial.”

National Women's Health Resource Center: “Breastfeeding While Sick.”

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD, FAAP on June 01, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.