Infection Control in the Home

Awareness of the importance of infection control is growing, with pharmacies and even supermarkets now providing easy access to sanitizing hand gels. Nonetheless, most people still fall short when caring for an elder. Here we discuss specific techniques for preventing the spread of infection when providing care in the home.

Key Points

  • Frequent hand-washing is the single, best way to prevent the spread of infection in the home.
  • Make sure you wash common trouble spots, including wrists, between the fingers and under the nails.
  • Always presume that any bodily fluid is potentially infectious.
  • Always wear gloves when handling materials exposed to bodily fluids.
  • When removing gloves, turn them inside out to contain exposed surfaces.
  • Decontaminate environmental surfaces with a 10% solution of bleach (10% bleach, 90% tap water), freshly made every day.

Washing Hands

Clinical studies have shown that frequent washing of hands is essential for infection control. That’s why it’s critically important to use effective washing techniques when caring for someone who is infected or is especially vulnerable to infection, as many older people are.

When washing hands:

  • When using soap and water, set a comfortable water temperature that helps you work up a good lather.
  • Roll up any sleeves.
  • Place a small amount of soap in your hand and work up a good lather.
  • Rub hands together vigorously for at least 15-20 seconds, making sure to clean easy-to-miss areas sufficiently (including wrists, between the fingers and under the nails).
  • Dry your hands with a clean paper towel.
  • Turn off the water with the back of your hand or with a paper towel (the idea is not to touch anything that re-contaminates your hands).

washing hands

The same techniques apply when using an alcohol-based gel or foam-based sanitizer. Also, use soaps and sanitizers that have emollients to prevent drying of hands with frequent use.

Using Gloves

In health care, it’s standard procedure to presume that blood and other bodily fluids are hazardous. That’s why health-care workers are instructed to use gloves when handling any material exposed to bodily fluids. You should do the same, because doing so protects you, the person you’re attending and anyone else you may contact later from further risk of infection.

In particular, always use gloves when caring for a wound, cleaning up other discharges from the body or changing soiled bed linens. Here’s how to use gloves:

  • Use one-time-use gloves only, designed for health-care use.
  • Get gloves in the right size. They should fit snugly, but be comfortable.
  • Gloves don’t have to be sterilized for this purpose. Clean gloves will do. Vinyl gloves are an alternative if you’re allergic to latex.
  • Pull gloves all the way on to your hands, so that they’re secure and fit snugly. Pull them up over your wrists.
  • Check the gloves to make sure they have no rips or tears.
  • To remove the gloves, first grab the cuff of one glove and pull it all the way off the hand so that it comes off the hand inside-out. This encloses the contaminated side of the glove to the inside.
  • Place this glove in the opposite (gloved) hand and repeat the process for the other glove. Now the contaminated surfaces of both gloves are contained to the inside of the second glove and you can dispose of them safely.

removing the first gloveremoving the second glove

Cleaning Environmental Surfaces

Finally, clean environmental surfaces frequently, especially kitchen counters, food preparation areas, bathroom surfaces and any items that are handled frequently by people within the home.

A simple, but effective cleaner is a mix of 10% bleach in tap water. This should be made fresh each day, because bleach tends to lose its effectiveness over time when in a solution.  For convenience, you can place the solution in a spray bottle.

To clean a surface, simply spray it with the solution and use a clean paper towel to work it into every nook and cranny. Leave the surface slightly damp so that the bleach solution air-dries in place.

cleaning surfaces


To view the video this document summarizes, go to the Home Care area under Instruction at CaregiverHelpCenter.org.

This video and document was produced in association with Hope Health, Hyannis, MA. The instructor is John Williams, RN.

The content of this document is for information purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified eldercare or health professional to resolve questions and issues.

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