5 things to clean everyday when your kids get home from school

An infectious disease expert and cleaning expert weigh in on how to clean the dirtiest items your kids bring home.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
4 min read

If your kids are going back to school they could be bringing germs home with them -- here's what to clean.

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It's hard to forget the cleaning frenzy sparked by early reports that COVID-19 was spreading in the U.S. in the spring. Cleaning supplies like Clorox wipes, Lysol sprays and disinfectants flew off the shelves and were next to impossible to find in a store, let alone on Amazon . Since then we've learned a lot more from the CDC and other health authorities about how coronavirus spreads

While you could contract the virus from touching an infected surface, it's not very likely you will contract it that way. Even then, cleaning surfaces that others touch and high-touch areas in your home is still a good idea right now -- especially as we enter back-to-school and eventually, flu season. 

As kids across the country head back to school this fall (some virtually, some IRL and some both) one of the big concerns parents have (besides their kids getting sick) is that they will be bringing germs from school back into the home. 

"The priority is to keep a decontaminated home environment because that's where we worry about the spread to older individuals who are definitely going to be at risk for more severe disease than kids," Dr. Sandra Kesh, Deputy Medical Director and Infectious Disease Specialist at Westmed Medical Group, tells CNET.

A good rule of thumb is if your kid is at school, then anything they bring with them (including backpacks, school supplies and clothes/shoes) is potentially contaminated. With that in mind, Dr. Kesh says taking extra steps to sanitize this fall is smart. 

"At this point we don't think that surface contamination is really a major driver of spread, so doing this is being super cautious. But I think if it's doable, it's not a bad idea to do it. Just consider that every time your child takes the backpack to school, everything the backpack contains is dirty. Because at school they're touching everything -- they're touching friends, shared surfaces and so it's very hard to keep things clean," she says.

Keep reading for advice on the top items to clean everyday when your kids get home from Dr. Kesh and cleaning expert Betty Regalbuto, owner of Betty Likes to Clean. 

Read more: Best back to school gear under $250  


It's important to keep cell phones and other high-touch devices clean.

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Electronic devices

Electronic devices like phones , iPads , tablets , computers and other devices are some of the filthiest things we have around. And the suggestions below don't just apply to kids -- adults should keep in mind that their phones and devices need regular cleanings too. 

Kesh recommends placing devices in protective cases so they can be easily cleaned, and wipe them down each day -- especially when everyone gets home. "Be careful to read the directions on the cleaning supplies so you're careful that you're not using anything to harm the device," Dr. Kesh says. 

Read more: Apple says it's OK to clean your iPhone with disinfectant wipes

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Backpacks can get pretty dirty since kids tote them around all day, throw them on floors, and tend to be around a lot of other kids when they have them. For that reason, Dr. Kesh suggests leaving the backpacks in the car or at the door when they get home. 

"What I generally recommend is to assume that anything they are bringing home from school is probably dirty in some respect. So what I recommend to parents is to leave the backpack at the front door or side door, or even in the car," Dr. Kesh says.

Have your kids remove whatever supplies they need for homework, but to leave the backpacks in a separate area from the rest of your home. Regalbuto recommends cleaning out backpacks at least once a week. Some backpacks are machine washable (but follow instructions) and consider cleaning the backpacks with a disinfectant if it won't harm the fabric. Then you can place the backpack outside to dry in the sun if weather allows. 

School supplies

A reality of back to school is homework -- and usually lots of it. So if your kids have to bring in books and other supplies to work on at home, be sure to wipe them down before they use them . This is especially important if you need to help kids with homework and will be handling their books and supplies too. And don't forget to reinforce hand washing for everyone -- including grown ups.

"If you need to help your child with homework and you're touching a lot of their stuff, then it's probably a good idea to wash your hands before you go on with your day," Dr. Kesh says.


Have your kids change clothes when they get home from school and throw them in the wash to get rid of germs.

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School clothes and shoes 

Kids are pretty messy -- so it's likely that they're already used to changing their clothes and shoes when they get home from school. Dr. Kesh suggests having kids change clothes, throw them in the laundry and take a shower or bathe when they get home. This ensures that any germs they could have picked up at school don't spread around the house too. 

Lunch boxes

If you're sending your kids to school with a lunchbox, be sure they remove them from their bags and then give them a good wipe down or wash in the sink at the end of the day. Try to aim to do a deep clean on lunch boxes at least once a week. If they are made of fabric, you can sometimes throw them in the laundry. "[Washing lunch boxes] once a week in the washer machine on gentle is recommended. However life does happen. Spraying or wiping them out everyday is ideal," Realbuto says. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.