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How to Naturally Clean a House after Illness Strikes

Written by contributor Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship.

For a while when my son was a toddler, every time my parents were going to visit for a big holiday, he got sick right before they were scheduled to come. And not just any sick – throw-up sick.

Even doting grandparents aren’t usually willing to expose themselves to throw-up sicknesses just to see their grandchild, so I felt it was pretty important to sanitize the house before they came. I used to use bleach water to do the job, but as I’ve transformed into a more “green and crunchy” girl, I’ve learned non-toxic ways to fight the germs.

After I committed to writing on this topic and was thinking about how to organize my thoughts, guess what happened? My son woke up with a throw-up bug. I kid you not. With a 2-month-old infant in the house, you better believe I just practiced what I preach!

Some folks might feel they should sanitize their houses all the time…and maybe that’s why they use bleach-based cleaners…but most of us have probably heard that some exposure to germs is good for you.

So unless you have an immune-compromised person in your house, don’t overdo it. Embrace the dirt at times. But if you’ve got a known stomach virus floating around…unless you really enjoy nasty laundry and carpet stains, it’s time to bring out the big guns!

Choose Your Weapon

Photo by Katie Kimball

You don’t have to go out and buy special natural cleaners just to rid your house of a nasty bug. And you really don’t need to rely on bleach. The following all have antibacterial properties:

  • vinegar (straight is great, or use about 5:1 ratio with water for daily cleaning)
  • hydrogen peroxide (50/50 with water in an opaque spray bottle)
  • boiling water
  • rubbing alcohol

I always have a bottle of vinegar and water solution and another of hydrogen peroxide and water (50/50 ratio) under my kitchen sink for daily cleaning. If you spray one, then the other, onto a hard surface, together they kill a good percentage of the germs.

Of course, if you want to buy something new, some other great options include:

  • tea tree oil (mix a splash in a spray bottle of water)
  • grapefruit seed extract (a few drops in a bottle of water)
  • oil of oregano (diffuse into the air with a vaporizer or diffuser)
  • Biokleen’s Bac-Out (mix 1:3 with water in a spray bottle)

Seek the Target

Photo by Sarah Reid

To really have success in ousting the bad guys, you need to make sure your cleaning job is thorough. Hit some places that you wouldn’t normally clean on a daily basis:

  • handrails
  • light switches
  • doorknobs
  • backs of chairs
  • cupboard handles, especially to the garbage

And of course, take some time on the obvious places:

  • faucets and sinks, especially handles
  • countertops
  • kitchen table
  • kitchen counters
  • toilets
  • bathroom floors

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Here’s your battle plan for making a sick house into a welcoming house:

  • Run the dishwasher on “sanitize” or the hottest setting you have, with heated dry (I usually use the basics without heated dry to save energy); run the dishwasher on super hot the whole time folks are sick.
  • Switch out all your hand towels regularly
  • Give everyone’s toothbrush a bath in hydrogen peroxide
  • Grab your spray bottles – either of vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (two bottles, not mixed), tea tree oil, Bac-Out or grapefruit seed extract – and a towel and spray/wipe all the lightswitch plates, doorknobs and railings. Best to let the solution dry on the surface, but bring the rag for drips.
  • Use your spray of choice on bathroom counters, especially faucets, toilets, and floors. I sanitize the bathtub, too, since that’s the staging ground for our sick clothes.
  • Embrace the opportunity to really clean your kitchen counters – you know, take everything off for a rare moment, spray down the whole place, and allow to air dry. Not that I like people beings sick, but it’s good to have inspiration to deep clean my kitchen when it probably needs it anyway.
  • Wipe your computer keyboard down with a paper towel and a little rubbing alcohol.
  • Run the washing machine with sick clothes/clean-up rags on hot, and toss in a splash of vinegar for good measure, either right away or in the rinse cycle.
  • Depending on how sick the victim was and if they share a room with other kiddos, this might be a good opportunity to wash not only their sheets, but blankets too.
  • Cloth or disposables? As an eco-friendly person, you probably don’t use as many paper towels as the average Joe or Jane. Vomit is one place I often draw the line – being able to throw away the sick bugs, at least from the actual spill site and the toilet – is a good thing. Then sanitize your wastebasket!
    • Tip: I use holey socks to clean my toilet regularly, then toss them.

Although no visitors have caught our bugs after I implement this battle plan, we’re no strangers to illness. Here are a few tips for the sick people in your house:

This will probably be one of those posts where I learn as much in the comments as I shared in the article:

What do you use to naturally fight germs?

Reading Time:

3 minutes





  1. Foxmom

    When one of my toddlers got pinkeye I lost my mind sanitizing every inch of the house with full strength vinegar and following people around making sure they washed their hands. LOL My husband said I went a little overboard, and I probably did. BUT! Noone else, including my toddler’s twin got pinkeye. Win!

  2. Christy

    I think you’re right about learning more in the comments. Whenever I read another article like this I always seem to pick up at least one new tip in the article and more in the comments! It’s amazing to me how many ways there are to fight germs w/o bleach, lysol and antibacterial soap.

    Instead of rubbing alcohol, a friend recently told me she had read to use (cheap) vodka. Then you don’t have to worry about the smell. I haven’t tried it yet–still need to buy some cheap vodka. But this way, my kids can help wipe things down–I’ve not allowed them to use rubbing alcohol due to the vapors.

    Also, I normally run our toothbrushes through the dishwasher on sanitize whenever any sickness strikes. I hadn’t heard of a peroxide soak. Do you just soak them straight in peroxide and then rinse with water? What about a vinegar soak? Do you think that would work too?

    • 'Becca

      I soak toothbrushes in peroxide. I’m sure vinegar would work for germs, too, but I like the bubbling action of peroxide which also removes old toothpaste gunk! I just place the bristle end of the brush in the bottom of a shot glass and pour in full-strength peroxide to cover it. I let it stand at least half an hour and then rinse in hot water.

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Yep, full strength – ‘Becca’s method is pretty similar to mine. I like the bubbles, too! 🙂 Katie

  3. linda

    i’ve got to mention my favorite off-the-shelf product— Method makes an all-natural kitchen cleaner that’s antibacterial and I absolutely adore it. I stockpile it– and spray it liberally on our kitchen surfaces. I bet it’d be good for computer keyboards+other non-porous items as well. Smells good, and i don’t have to fuss with making my own concoctions.

  4. Stephanie Pease

    WOW! This is EXACTLY what I’ve been needing and praying for. We’ve been playing musical chairs with strep throat in our family and I have sanitized the house, cleaned the sheets, and replaced our toothbrushes THREE times in as many weeks. Even my husband is tired of cleaning, and he’s the neat freak. It was a relief to see that I covered a lot of the areas you listed, and it’ll be a relief to have a list to refer to next time to speed the process. Blessings!!!

  5. Successful Woman's Resource Center

    Wow, some great ideas here! It has been such a long time since I had little kids at home, but I remember those days well. And I did use every anti-bacterial thing I could find, because I didn’t know any better. What a great post for giving more natural options! I will be sharing!

  6. Tara

    What a great post. I used to LOVE the smell of bleach and cleaners – couldn’t get enough. Now I am doing things similar to the way you described and it’s working! And, I can’t stand the smell of bleach and cleansers. Especially around my kids!

    • Leanne

      I know the feeling! I didn’t realize how much I’d become accustomed to natural cleaners, etc. until I began walking down the “cleaners” aisle w/ my toddler to look for a cheap broom. Ugh!! It was terrible! I couldn’t believe I used to like at least some of the smells — and I’d never noticed the overwhelming smell in the aisle before! But now, … ! 🙂

  7. Rebecca

    A great way to minimize germs in your kitchen is to throw away all your sponges and use cloth rags instead. Start each day with fresh dish rag and toss it in the hamper at the end of the day. Sponges are breeding grounds for nasty bugs.

    • Sarah

      You can also throw your sponge in the dishwasher whenever you run it. Dead germs!

  8. Brina

    Excellent article. I am pregnant with #6 and will probably give birth in one to two weeks. My husband got sick – fever, chills, aches, stuffy nose, etc. about a week ago. I was so afraid that we would all get sick right before this baby is born! I always clean with vinegar and water, but when we get sick, I just add a few drops of grapefruit seed extract to the spray bottle and wipe down everything she suggested. Thankfully, no one else got sick!

    A few extra things to remember to wipe down – the toilet handles, the remote controls, the telephones.

    One other thing we do is forget hand towels all together when someone is sick. I stick a roll of paper towels in each bathroom for the next couple of days. Yes, it isn’t as eco-friendly and it costs a couple of dollars. But it seems to have saved us from spreading a lot of germs and it isn’t that often.

    Also remember to boost EVERYONE’S immune system when one person comes down with something.

    About 2 years ago, I incorporated all of these ideas when someone would get sick. Sickness now comes and goes within a few days through everyone it is going to hit. It used to take us 2-3 weeks to get over sicknesses and we didn’t even have as many people in the house back then. 🙂

  9. Shelley C

    Great info here and even though I don’t have kids at home any more these are all great tips. One thing that popped in my mind while reading was when you are ‘wiping up’ the mess with paper towels….my mom always used newspaper for the first swipes…didn’t feel the chunky mess as much, then would switch to papertowels for the final swipe with disinfectant.

  10. Jacqueline B

    Great and timely article (2 boys healing, me in the thick of it).
    Wonderful help in the comments, too.
    I have a question about the grapefruit seed extract – I don’t have oil, but I have the dried extract in capsules. Can I empty those into water and shake, or won’t it have the same effect?
    Thanks again for the help!

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I am still learning about GSE myself, so I wish I knew how to answer your question! If you click “reply” on the commenter above who mentioned GSE, it will send her an email and she might be able to help you. ???

      🙂 Katie

  11. Julia Morgan

    This is exactly the type of user-friendly list of ingredients and tips I have been searching the internet for! Our family has stopped using paper towels since our son uses disposable diapers (I couldn’t fathom using both :)) and for vomit and poo pickups (we have pets, too…) I save and re-use veggie bags from the grocery. To clean, we bought a giant pack of washcloths for $4 at the Dollar store, and just wash them every couple of days. I also use the Method spray on countertops, bathroom tops and highchair trays between deep cleans, and I love it as well. Method also makes a floor cleaner that works great with swiffers, and we use a microfiber swiffer so we can just wash it instead of throwing it out.

    It is so great to hear other logical, practical, green tips!! Thank you all!

  12. Kristen

    When I was pregnant and if I was sick and my midwife still needed to see me. She told me to simmer vinegar to disinfect the air. That’s another good thing to clean. 🙂

  13. Mandy Bopp

    I used to use all of these cleaners until I found Shaklee….it’s AMAZING and is seriously cheaper than vinegar. Their Basic H cleaner is diluted into different strengths for a window, everyday, degreaser…it’s all natural, ph balanced to be safe for you, your skin, and the water supply….I use the Basic G (germicide) also in various concentrations of water to make a household spray. Here again, it’s all natural and safe for the family. Both the Basic H and G clean better than anything I’ve ever used and I’m saving a TON of $$. I’m a little surprised the Simple Mom network hasn’t talked about the products before.

    I’d be happy to send anyone who’s curious a sample. Simply hop over to my website and send me an email.


  14. Shirley

    I use a fibre glove and water from Enjo to clean and sanitize my whole home using no other chemicals or products and get surfaces 6 times cleaner than traditional methods

  15. Jeanette

    I clean with either vinegar/water, or a spraybottle with water and some essential oil in it (lavender, at the moment). But if we get the cold going, I usually get out the oil burner and put some eucalyptus and mint in it, to clean the air and to open up stuffed noses etc. I like to think that it kills the virus and bacterias in our lungs as well as we inhale it, as a healing remedy for the sick one, and a preventive action for the rest of us. 🙂

  16. Jill

    Has anyone heard of Melaleuca? I love the products. There area all natural and anti-bacterial.

    • Amy

      Love Melaleuca! Sick ones at home now and have sprayed Sol-u-Guard like crazy.

  17. Nell

    Wonderful post! The hands-on-ness of it make it possible for all of us to do. Thanks, Katie!

  18. Cindy T

    I love using On Guard this time of year. I diffuse it to kill airborne pathogens, put 3 drops in a spray bottle with water for cleaning, put two drops on the bottoms of our feet, and gargle with it. It’s a blend of Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade essential oils that even kills MRSA! And it smells like Christmas. : ) There is a clinical study about it on Pub Med if anyone is interested. Just two weeks ago my 3 yr old at white spots covering the back of her throat and after applying On Gaurd on her feet every few hours the spots and pain were gone in less than 12 hours.

  19. SarahMay

    Based on the research I’ve done, these methods might be helpful for most viruses. But stomach flu (norovirus and rotavirus) is notoriously difficult to kill and requires bleach or Lysol spray (not Lysol wipes).

  20. Erin

    Does anyone know the ratio of hydrogen peroxide to water that I can use to disinfect toys? I need to be able to spray it on surfaces that my 3 year old plays with, but also want to use it on toys my 5 month old puts into her mouth. Also, do I have to rinse the toys after, or can I just spray on and let air dry?

  21. christine watsky

    hi, I heard that it’s important to Not spray anything on light switches, electrical outlets, or anything electrical. instead spray the cleaner onto a rag, or holey sock, then wipe the light switch. same as how you wipe the computer keyboard or tv screen. thanks for the great info!

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