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Cleaning to prevent the spread of germs

Germs from a person may be found on any object the person touched or on equipment that was used during the person's care. Some germs can live up to 5 months on a dry surface.

Germs on any surface can pass to you or another person. Cleaning helps prevent the spread of germs.

Your workplace has policies about how to clean:

Cleaning a Patient's Room

Start by wearing the right personal protective equipment (PPE). Your workplace has a policy or guidelines on what to wear. These policies may differ depending on where in the hospital you are cleaning and the type of illness a patient may have had. PPE includes gloves and, when needed, a gown, shoe covers, and a mask. Always wash your hands before putting gloves on and after taking gloves off.

When you remove bed sheets and towels:

  • Hold them away from your body and DO NOT shake them.
  • Watch for needles and other sharps.
  • DO NOT put the sheets and towels down on another surface in the room. Place them in the correct container.
  • Items that are wet or moist should go into a container that will not leak.

Clean the bed rails, furniture, telephone, call light, door knobs, light switches, bathroom, and all other objects and surfaces in the room. Also clean the floor, including under the furniture. Use the disinfectant or cleaning solution your workplace provides for these purposes.

Carefully put any sharps or needles in the sharps container.

When you clean the floors, change the cleaning liquid every hour. Use a fresh mop every day.

Cleaning Spills After Contamination

If your workplace does not have a spill response team for cleaning up blood or other bodily fluids, you will need these supplies to clean up spills:

  • Paper towels.
  • Diluted bleach solution (be sure you know how to make this solution).
  • Biohazard bag.
  • Rubber gloves.
  • Forceps to pick up sharps or broken glass. Never use your hands, even though you will be wearing gloves.

Make sure you are wearing the correct gloves, gown, mask, or shoe coverings for the kind of spill you are cleaning up.

Before you start cleaning, mark the area of the spill with tape or barriers so that no one enters the area or slips. Then:

  • Cover the spill with paper towels.
  • Spray the towels with the bleach solution and wait for 20 minutes.
  • Pick up the towels and put them in the biohazard bag.
  • Carefully put broken glass or sharps in a sharps container.
  • Use fresh paper towels to wipe the area with the bleach solution. Put them in the biohazard bag when done.
  • Throw your gloves, gown, and shoe covers into the biohazard bag.
  • Thoroughly wash your hands.

When cleaning up large blood spills, use an approved solution to kill any viruses such as hepatitis.

Always wash your hands after you take off your gloves.

Alternative Names

Disinfection procedures


Calfee DP. Prevention and control of health care-associated infections. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 282.

Huskins WC, Sammons JS, Coffin SE. Health care-associated infections. In: Cherry JD, Harrison GJ, Kaplan SL, et al., eds. Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 243.

Rutala WA, Weber DJ, and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. Guideline for disinfection and sterilization in healthcare facilities, 2008. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated December 2009. Available at: www.cdc.gov/hicpac/pdf/guidelines/Disinfection_Nov_2008.pdf. Accessed December 4, 2015.

Review Date 11/1/2015

Updated by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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