How to clean up and decontaminate after someone has vomited

Why is important to clean up and decontaminate if someone in my home or workplace has vomited?

If someone in your home, or workplace has vomited, it is quite likely that they have vomited as a result of an infection in their stomach or bowel (most commonly norovirus). Norovirus is a very infectious cause of viral gastroenteritis. The person’s vomit is then likely to be infectious (i.e. able to infect anyone who comes in contact with the person's vomit). It is for this reason that the person’s vomit should be cleaned up, and the surrounding areas decontaminated. In addition, when someone has an infection that makes them vomit, their bowel motions (stools or faeces) are also likely to be contaminated and therefore infectious, as well. As norovirus is so very infectious, when outbreaks occur, it can affect large numbers of people. Not uncommonly, outbreaks can be so extensive that they lead to closure of affected facilities (hospital wards/hotels/reception and residential centres/businesses etc). Therefore, a very rapid, effective response to episodes of vomiting is needed to avoid closure.

How likely is the person’s vomiting to be due to norovirus?

Norovirus is a common gastroenteric infection during the winter in Ireland, but it can be contracted at any time of year. Norovirus levels are higher in winter, mainly because people spend more time indoors and there is a greater chance that people, who are in closer contact during the winter, will catch norovirus. Every few years, the “shape” of the norovirus bug changes slightly, which leads to a greater proportion of people becoming susceptible to being infected with the virus. In these “upsurge seasons”, the levels of norovirus in the community are much higher than in other years. 

How can spread of norovirus be prevented?

  • Following any episode of vomiting (at home or in work), the vomit should be treated as potentially infectious.
  • In addition, the person's stools/faeces should also be considered to be infectious and any faecal soiling should be treated in the same way as vomit.
  • Cleaning up immediately after a vomiting (or faecal) accident, is important. If someone vomits, it is important to follow these steps:

I. Cover the area of vomit or diarrhoea (with paper towels – this soaks up excess liquid)
II. Clear other family members (especially small children and pets) away from the area and
III. Clean and decontaminate the area.

  • When cleaning up vomit or diarrhoea, protect yourself by wearing disposable rubber gloves (if available, wear a plastic disposable apron).
  • Carefully remove the material for safe disposal – a plastic dustpan is a useful scoop.
    The soiled material (vomit or stool) should be then flushed down the toilet.
  • When as much of the material as possible has been removed, thoroughly wash the area and any equipment used with detergent and HOT water. The area and equipment must then be disinfected with 0.1% hypochlorite (bleach) solution. (The concentration of supermarket domestic bleach solutions is variable and the dilution recommended by the manufacturer for disinfection of surfaces should be used.) Cloths should be thrown away afterwards.
  • Wash down food contact surfaces, if affected, with detergent and HOT water, using a disposable cloth, then disinfect the area by wiping down with 0.1% bleach solution.
  • Thoroughly clean soiled carpets and soft furnishings with hot water and detergent or carpet shampoo. Steam cleaning can be used on soft furnishings (if the material can withstand cleaning with steam) and this will thoroughly decontaminate them.
  • Afterwards, ensure you decontaminate the rubber gloves using the bleach solution.  Then wash the gloves with soap and hot water whilst still wearing them. Finally remove and dry the gloves and wash your hands using warm water and soap. Do not use these gloves for any other purpose.

There is specific guidance for managing cleaning and decontamination following vomiting in the workplace.

Hand washing is crucial in preventing the spread of norovirus.
Thoroughly wash your hands with soap under warm running water, for at least 20 seconds (this is the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself, twice).

  • After using or cleaning the toilet
  • After attending to anyone with diarrhoea or vomiting
  • After touching anything contaminated by diarrhoea or vomiting
  • After handling contaminated clothing or bedding (including nappies)
  • Before handling, preparing, serving, or consuming food or drink

Cleaning toilet areas
If the toilet has been used by someone who is sick:

  • When cleaning the toilet, always wear household rubber gloves and a plastic apron, if available
  • Disinfect the toilet seat with HOT water,  
  • Disinfect by wiping down the toilet door handlewash hand basin taps and toilet flush handle with a disposable cloth dampened with 0.1% bleach solution 
  • Make sure you use the with 0.1% bleach solution to wipe down all areas touched by hands as there are the areas most likely to be contaminated by vomit or feces
  • Clean the toilet bowl using a toilet brush and 0.1% bleach. Rinse the brush by flushing the toilet.
  • Do not use these rubber gloves for any other purpose
  • And finally, always flush the toilet with the seat and lid down.

 Updated 25th April 2022