Decontaminating a microfiber suede couch from the flu virus?
January 6, 2012 2:00 PM   Subscribe

How to decontaminate a microfiber suede couch from the flu virus?

I have been staying with a very sweet and generous friend while moving. However, I have been very ill since Monday with what I am 99% sure is the flu. I am feeling a little better today but the CDC website says that I can remain contagious for up to a week after recovery, and the virus can live on surfaces I've touched for several days as well.

Problem: My friend has NOT had the flu shot and needs to save all her sick days for her migraines. So I am leaving to stay elsewhere until I've fully recovered and am out of the contagious period.

Fortunately, I've pretty much been an unconcious lump on her couch all week so I haven't contaminated too much of her house. Bagging up my bedding is fairly straightforward.

But what of the couch I've been sleeping on? Is there an anti-viral cleaning product that is safe on microfiber suede, or do we have to cover it up for a week? If the latter, what sort of material would make an adequate cover? I don't want her and her guests to have to avoid her living room because of the "plague couch" for the next week.

Any advice appreciated.
posted by Jacqueline to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
This article suggests you can use Lysol spray. Test in an inconspicuous place first.

It seems unlikely that a virus would live for very long on an absorbent surface, but go for it if it makes you feel better. I'd put it at a lower priority than cleaning every doorknob, drawer handle, counter, and every inch of the bathroom, though.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:09 PM on January 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you're overreacting. The CDC website is, in many ways, a lousy resource for this kind of info because they err so far on the side of caution.

Here's the conventional wisdom I grew up with as the child of a doctor, and it's served me well:

- Things that make you sick don't survive very long outside the body. Your friend could probably lick the sofa end-to-end and not get sick. The only thing to be careful of is mucus/phlegm.

- You're almost always no longer contagious by the time you're symptomatic.
posted by mkultra at 2:27 PM on January 6, 2012

I'd go with Lysol too. Flu germs die pretty quickly on soft surfaces most of the time but studies indicate they can live up to 48 hours. I would spray the sofa with Lysol and let it dry and use a blanket or sheet on the sofa for the next couple of days.

Like Lyn Never says, clean all surfaces like doorknobs, faucets, handles - the bathroom and kitchen are the most commonly used rooms but it's probably too late to be that effective at this point. You're more contagious before you start having symptoms.
posted by shoesietart at 2:33 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

- You're almost always no longer contagious by the time you're symptomatic.

This is absolutely false regardless of who told it to you.
posted by Justinian at 2:36 PM on January 6, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm a doctor, not a microbiologist, but I would just do the doorknobs/faucets/handles/etc with a disinfectant wipe and ignore the couch.

If you've been reading the CDC website, I assume you saw this:
"Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. "

and to correct what you posted, the website doesn't say that you are contagious up to a week after recovery, it says:
"Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick"
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:40 PM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

as a p.s. if your friend wants to be most careful about avoiding sick days, she should get the flu shot ASAP! If she had gotten the flu shot the day you came down with symptoms, by now she could be about halfway to immunity...

(and you should get it too - vaccine protects against several of the most common strains, so if you are unlucky you could end up with another week in bed with a different flu later this season!)
posted by treehorn+bunny at 2:53 PM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you do - and I think you're overreacting understandably - Lysol the couch, do check for bleaching and dissolving on an inconspicuous spot first.
posted by cromagnon at 3:16 PM on January 6, 2012

When my partner had H1N1, but I hadn't yet, I asked the doctor all about this. They reassured me that the virus usually dies within 48 hours on a surfaces, and that the worst were the smooth solid surfaces that she probably touched a lot. I've since heard that the fastest way to kill a flu virus (outside the body) is to dry it on a cotton cloth - so my guess is that your couch is fine.
posted by lab.beetle at 4:27 PM on January 6, 2012

The proper way to clean a microfiber couch is using isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle. Of course, test it in an inconspicuous place. that will kill any germs there too. i honestly don't think you have to worry about it, but if you want to clean it anyway, alcohol is the way to go.
posted by sanka at 4:50 PM on January 6, 2012

I'm not sure this will be as reassuring to you as it was to me, but while idly reading the Internet recently (I had the flu, too!), I learned from Wikipedia that "sunlight is the best disinfectant" (see second paragraph) is not entirely metaphorical. (Now that I look into it further, I don't actually see the word "sunlight" in the linked sources, though high temperatures apparently help.)
posted by teditrix at 5:15 PM on January 6, 2012

The people saying it's probably fine are probably right, but you know what, if it were my friend, I'd take the extra pains to be as sure as possible.

After the Lysol, why not go ahead and cover the couch with a fresh quilt or pretty sheet? Better safe than sorry.

And, yes, wipe all the doorknobs, faucet handles, etc.

Thank you for being so thoughtful. As a singer and a friend of singers (who are super careful about viruses etc.), I know it can be awkward to be cautious, but it really does make a difference.
posted by amtho at 7:58 PM on January 6, 2012

Please don't Lysol the couch or use any other strong-smelling chemicals in her house without getting permission from your friend first. I'm not prone to migraines at all, but those kinds of strong fragrances knock me on my ass (I have allergies) and all of my friends who are prone to migraines absolutely avoid them because they can be a trigger. It would be a shame to inadvertently cause your friend to get ill when you're just trying to be thoughtful.

Disinfecting the doorknobs, light-switches, bathroom, etc is a great idea though; ask her which cleaning products she prefers you to use and do wear gloves. Get well soon! :)
posted by LuckySeven~ at 10:06 PM on January 6, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just drop a quilt on the couch and leave it there for a few days. Flu is a virus, not a bacterium; on a surface, it has no way to move. You'd have to wet the covering cloth pretty thoroughly to give flu-bearing goop on the couch side any chance of migrating through the cloth.
posted by flabdablet at 5:19 AM on January 7, 2012

Microbiologist here.

While using anti-viral agents on the couch is entertaining, you're better off just using traditional cleaning techniques on the couch. With alcohol or other agents, it's unlikely you're going to be able to achieve the concentrations necessary to correctly decontaminate without ruining the couch.

I wouldn't cover the couch either. Instead, I would air out the room thoroughly, and leave the couch in direct, unfiltered sunlight for as long as you can. This helps to remove aerosolized flu from the space, and exposes any surface contamination to the killing power of direct UV. Which isn't perfect, but it's what you got.

Also your friend and their guests should wash their hands.
posted by Mercaptan at 8:44 AM on January 7, 2012

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