How to Disinfect Herpes or Shingles Virus

The viruses that cause herpes and shingles belong to the same family, known as herpesviridae. People contract herpesviridae mainly from skin to skin contact. Less often, says Columbia University pediatrician Anne A. Gershon in the May 2010 edition of the Journal of Clinical Virology, the viruses are transferred through contact with objects such as towels, telephones and eating utensils. You can counteract this indirect spread, which doctors refer to as "fomite transmission," by using basic household cleaning products.

Someone is using a sponge to clean a counter. Credit: Jupiterimages/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Wash Fabrics

Step 1

Collect linens and clothing used by an infected person. Avoid hugging them to your body because this transfers the virus to your clean clothes.

Step 2

Place them in the washing machine.

Step 3

Add detergent and and chlorine bleach, if possible. Wash, using the hot water setting.

Step 4

Transfer to the dryer. Dry on high heat setting.

Clean Surfaces

Step 1

Prepare disinfectant solution. Good choices include a 1:1 dilution of rubbing alcohol and water; 1 tsp. chlorine bleach in 1 quart water; or any commercial sanitizer solution diluted according to the manufacturer's directions.

Step 2

Apply disinfectant to surfaces with clean sponge or cloth. Wait five to ten minutes or as directed by product instructions.

Step 3

Rinse under running water, if possible. Alternatively, wipe clean using fresh water and clean cloth or sponge.

Step 4

Air dry or dry with clean, disposable paper towels.

Things You'll Need

  • Laundry detergent

  • Chlorine bleach (optional)

  • Sanitizer solution, such as rubbing alcohol or chlorine bleach

  • Bucket or bowl

  • Clean sponge or cloth

  • Paper towels


For delicate surfaces, use disinfectants that work quickly. A 1988 study in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology found that rubbing alcohol inactivated herpesviridae immediately, compared to five minutes for solutions of Listerine or Lysol, compared to 10 minutes for chlorine bleach.

If you're not confident that you've disinfected a surface, avoid using it for a few days. Most viruses become inactive after a few days.


Test sanitizer solution on a small area of the surface you intend to sanitize, before cleaning the entire area. Sanitizer solutions can cause discoloration on some surfaces. If your surface is not compatible with sanitizer solution, consider using water or water and detergent instead. In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS, researchers reported that cleaning with water alone produced a three-fold decrease in virus counts.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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