6 Cleaning Tips for Avoiding Infections During Chemo

  • washing hands
    Understand the chemo/infection connection.
    Chemotherapy can increase the risk of infection because it kills white blood cells along with cancer cells. We need white blood cells, also called neutrophils, to fight off infection from bacteria and viruses. When we don’t have enough of them, it’s easier for infections to take hold. If you receive chemotherapy, you’ll likely have regular blood tests for low levels of white blood cells (neutropenia). You can also take several steps to avoid infection on your own, from washing your hands with hot, soapy water to making careful choices during food prep.

  • overhead closeup view of hands using disposable disinfectant wipe
    1. Disinfect high-touch items.
    A quick wipe can do wonders for common “germ magnets” in your home. Think of the many things that everyone touches often, such as remote controls, phones, light switches, doorknobs, computer keyboards, house keys—even saltshakers. Wipe them down with moist, disposable sanitizing cloths every day. When you go out, bring along sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer to help you disinfect high-touch items in public areas such as door handles, stair railings, elevator buttons, and ATM keys.

  • single roll of paper towel on counter
    2. Clean differently in the kitchen.
    Sponges and dish towels can absorb and spread many types of bacteria and virus. Some hygiene experts recommend washing them on the hottest cycle in the dishwasher to fully clean them. To be on the safe side, however, consider switching to single-use paper towels or disinfecting wipes while your immune system is weakened from chemotherapy. You may be concerned about the environmental impact, but it’s a reasonable time to put your health first.

  • Cutting Board with Meat
    3. Take precautions with food prep.
    Raw meat, poultry, and seafood contain bacteria that can transfer to other foods and surfaces they touch. Use one cutting board for meats and another for vegetables and bread; the same goes for knives and other utensils you use during food prep. Wash cutting boards and knives in the dishwasher or use hot, soapy water to wash them by hand. Before you put them away, give them time to dry completely. Clean your counter, sink, faucets, and stove top with a disinfectant wipe right after use.

  • generic toothpaste and toothbrush white background
    4. Stay on top of bathroom trouble spots.
    Believe it or not, the toilet isn’t usually the main source of bacteria in a bathroom. According to one study, the most bathroom bacteria was found on toothbrush holders and faucet handles. Make it a habit to clean these items with disinfectant as you go. Closing your toilet lid before you flush can also help prevent more germs from traveling through the air and landing around the bathroom. If flushing twice is in order, go for it.

  • portrait of laundry basket full of clothes on bed
    5. Wash with care.
    Clothing, sheets, pillows, and towels can all carry bacteria and viruses from person to person. These germs can come from people’s bodies, food they handled, and pets they touched. Avoid sharing them when you can. Germs can also spread when clothes and linens get mixed together in the hamper and washing machine. Consider wearing protective rubber gloves to handle dirty laundry and transfer it from washer to dryer. Wash everything at the highest temperature and don’t let laundry sit damp.

  • hand holding trash bag
    6. Get help with household waste.
    Human, pet, and food waste all have germs that can cause infection. Ask for help with changing diapers, cleaning litter boxes, scooping dog poop, and taking out the trash. If you do need to perform any of these tasks, wash your hands well afterward. Consider hiring temporary help with household waste, as well as with vacuuming, dusting, laundry, and dishwashing. Low-cost or no-cost options may be available in your area for people undergoing cancer treatment.

Cleaning Tips for Chemotherapy | Avoiding Infection During Chemotherapy

About The Author

Evelyn Creekmore has more than 15 years of experience writing online educational health content, including nearly 10 years full-time at WebMD, where she was the director of brand content. She holds an MPH in Applied Public Health Informatics from Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and an MA from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Sep 30
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