How do I clean stored stuff?
July 10, 2022 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I have been using an outside storage unit for the past five years. Items have been undisturbed… by humans. As I start to clear out the unit, how should I clean off dust and possible rodent droppings from the outside surfaces of cardboard boxes and from unboxed items?

I have items, furniture and boxes that have been in storage for five years.
The garage sized unit is outside.

As I start to clear out the unit, how should I be cleaning off dust and possible rodent droppings from the outside surfaces?
Clorox cleaning wipes?
Cleaner (what kind?) and rags?
Do I need to vacuum with hand vac
And if so, do I need to wear a dust mask to clean the hand vac afterwards?

I have things like lamps, home decor, and furniture that I want to bring back home or donate out.
Also how should I clean pots or dishes?
posted by calgirl to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You mention rodent droppings so I will mention hantavirus
posted by falsedmitri at 9:42 AM on July 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Anything porous that has rodent poop sitting on it also has rodent pee soaked into it and possible hantavirus so I would discard paper items, cardboard, and anything with stuffing / upholstery that has any mouse droppings. Important fabric items can be washed or dry cleaned, I guess, if you really need to keep something. I would definitely wear a respirator and gloves, and something over your hair since hair catches a lot of dust.

For regular dust I’d maybe rent or buy a shop vac with a soft brush attachment and get as much dust as possible off dry. Then wipe with a dry cloth (generic brand replacement swiffer cloths pick up a ton of dust) and finally a damp textile. Baby wipes are my favourite for overwhelming tasks as they’re quick to discard. A microfibre dish cloth and water with a tiny dab of dish soap or hand soap for small tasks.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:52 AM on July 10, 2022

Response by poster: And if I think the droppings are from bugs instead?
posted by calgirl at 9:58 AM on July 10, 2022

Best answer: I would definitely wear an N95 or better mask and disposable gloves. Wipe down things with a bleach and water solution. Throw the rags away.

In the future, no cardboard boxes for long term outdoor or garage storage. They turn into nests for rodents and roaches. Everything goes into plastic totes.
posted by gnutron at 10:01 AM on July 10, 2022

Best answer: Also how should I clean pots or dishes?

I'd just run those through the dishwasher (or clean very thoroughly by hand, if you don't have a dishwasher). If you are more concerned, wash things on the sterilizing setting or pre-soak in a mild bleach solution.

Hantavirus is real, but according to the CDC there have been only 833 cases in the entire US between 1993 and 2020. So definitely take precautions but be realistic also. Use a vacuum with a good filter system, wear a respirator, and so on

Personally, I'd be cautious about what I brought into my house just because you don't want to accidentally bring in something with live rodents or bugs in it (thereby creating an infestation at home). I would unpack and examine the contents of boxes at the storage unit, with special attention to anything like clothes or papers that can be used for nests or food. Then I would put the things I am keeping into new boxes or totes and use those to bring things home. Anything being donated or thrown away can go direct to the donation center or trash from the storage unit, there is no need to bring those things to your house.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:22 AM on July 10, 2022

Best answer: Hantavirus dies after a few hours or days. Unless you have an active infestation of rats, you are fine. If you want to be super cautious, cleaning instructions are in that link. Avoid vacuuming.
posted by flimflam at 11:37 AM on July 10, 2022

Best answer: I would definitely wear a respirator and gloves, and something over your hair since hair catches a lot of dust.

Yes, please do this!!! I became violently ill, several times, after going through items in our barn when we closed down the family home. Put some booties on your shoes, too.
posted by jgirl at 11:47 AM on July 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have access to a shop-vac you can get hepa filters or filter bags for them--they'll clear up a large amount of dust and, er, unknown debris safely and quickly. Make sure the exhaust doesn't blow into the unit, though.
posted by radiogreentea at 5:15 PM on July 10, 2022

Best answer: N-thing respirator and disposable gloves - and I'd go further and get a full-face respirator or add tight fitting goggles.

If it's warm enough, strip and hose down outside before going inside for a shower.

Chlorox wipes are convenient, but don't do a whole lot (look for the asterisk next to the 99.99%, and follow where it goes).

If the items will stand up to it, 10% bleach (fresh - bleach goes bad/ weakens), then wipe down with water.
posted by porpoise at 11:39 AM on July 11, 2022

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