This special guide deals with one aspect of treating a ringworm infestation: housecleaning. It is essential in fighting ringworm infestations in multi-cat environments.
The information in this article is based on advice by veterinarian dermatologist Dr. Karen Moriello, DVM, DACVD, an expert on treating ringworm in shelter environments. Some of the cleaning tips here are from the epic ringworm thread started by TCS member Bunnelina.
The Goal of Housecleaning
The good news is that you are not trying to sterilize your home or make it 100% spore free. There will be some shedding as long as there’s an infected animal (or human) in the house, but the fewer the spores, the less likely are the cats to become re-infected. Eventually, you will probably need to clean your whole house, because ringworm spores are airborne. But you can do it in stages. It will take a lot of effort in the beginning and then you’ll just need to do maintenance cleaning as you wait for your cats to be cured.
Bunnelia suggested in her thread that you think of this as fighting dust mites or other allergens. You know you’ll always have some, but if you’re allergic you aim at reducing their presence to a minimum, knowing you can never entirely eliminate them.
Another piece of good news is that spores do not multiply on their own. Unlike mold, the invisible spores of ringworm cannot grow in numbers while they’re in their house. Only active infections shed new spores into the environment. Once the spores are out there, they need to germinate on skin in order to produce new spores.
Housecleaning can be beneficial in other ways too. “I was SO worried when I learned our cats had ringworm,” says Bunnelina. “But I found cleaning to be the perfect distraction. Fear and anxiety gave me loads of nervous energy to keep going with cleaning tasks that I’d normally hate doing. So if you’re feeling anxious, don’t sit there —clean! It will distract you and soon you’ll feel productive and in control instead of helpless. You’ll probably be surprised at how much you accomplish.”
What Should You Be Cleaning?
The fewer surfaces you deal with cleaning, the easier it is for you to battle ringworm. Your first step is de-cluttering your household. Keep things realistic — you’re still living there! — but this could be a good time for spring cleaning and for storing unused items out of sight. Just make sure you clean them properly prior to storage so you can get them out later without re-contaminating your house.
Textiles such as carpets, curtains and furniture covers are prime dust and spores locations. Cat trees and gyms belong in this category, unless they’re made exclusively from plastic or a similar surface which can be wiped clean. The more textiles you can remove, sanitize and store for the duration of Operation Ringworm, the better. Don’t forget to clean them thoroughly before storing them. Steam cleaning, laundering in hot water and a hot dryer, or dry-cleaning are best. People on the forum recommend a laundry additive that contains triclosan (sold as Vibax).
As for your furniture, Bunnelina suggests covering them with lightweight bed covers which can easily be washed and dried to be cleaned. Even plain sheets will do the job. Remember, this is just temporary – you will be getting your old living room back!
Anything else that stays in your house and could possibly come in touch with dust and/or cat hair will have to be cleaned on a regular basis. Keep it as simple, de-cluttered and as textile-free as possible. Pack away knickknacks and other items after you wash them or wipe them down. Use a damp microfiber cloth, which can catch and hold the spores, and rinse it out frequently. You can use make a cleaning solution with the laundry additive (read the directions on how to dilute) or another disinfectant (see below).
Get rid of cat hair and anything that “looks dirty”. Dirt and debris such as “dust bunnies” and loose hair cat act as shelters for ringworm spores, protecting them from detergents and disinfectants. You can’t just clean around them. You have to get rid of them first. A Swiffer-type mop with disposable cloths works well for wiping floors, walls, windows, doors, and ceilings. Like microfiber cloths, it will trap dirt and particles. Change cloths when you see they’re getting dirty.
Dr. Moriello suggests washing surfaces with water and detergent first, allowing them to dry before applying disinfectant. The idea is to mechanically remove most of the spores out of your home, and only then to exterminate the ones that couldn’t be vacuumed, swept or wiped away. Applying disinfectant on wet surfaces is less effective, so you have to clean thoroughly, rinse with water, dry thoroughly and only then apply the disinfectant.
As to which disinfectant to use, again, advice shared on our forums suggests using a laundry additive containing Triclosan (sold as Vibax). Dr. Moriello says other disinfectants can work well too, as long as they were tested against trichophyton mentagrophytes (a type of fungus that’s similar to the one causing ringworm).
Use disinfectant liberally and let it stand for at least 5-10 minutes, to allow the active ingredients time to break down the spores and kill them.
You may have read that a strong bleach solution works best to kill ringworm spores but not many surfaces in a home can handle that treatment, and the fumes can be unhealthy for your family and your cats. You can use a diluted bleach solution on things like plastic cat carriers and tile floors if you prefer, but focus your efforts on wiping , vacuuming, and using less-toxic cleaners.
Make sure your cats and other pets do not come in contact with your cleaning products, which might be toxic. Rinse floors and other surfaces with plain water to keep everyone safe.
Fight dust wherever it may reside in your household. Wipe surfaces with a damp cloth and use sanitizing cleaning solutions wherever possible. Dust and dry-swiffer everyday and don’t forget surfaces such as walls, doors, windows and the ceiling. Mop the floors at least once a week, or as needed. If your cat has been underneath beds or upholstered furniture, it’s important to vacuum the undersides of those, too.
The Vacuum Cleaner
The vacuum cleaner is your chief ally in cleaning. You need a good one that has a a HEPA filter to sift particles as small as fungal spores.
Some sources recommend getting a cheap vacuum cleaner with disposable bags, changing the bags daily and getting rid of the vacuum cleaner itself when you’re rid of the ringworm. However, TCS member Bunnelina recommends a different approach. She believes the cheaper cleaners suck in the spores and blow some of them back into the air via their exhaust. She opted to invest in a quality vacuum cleaner, a Miele in her case, with self-sealing bags and a quality HEPA filter. The self-sealing bags make sure none of the dust and spores get back into the air, in effect purifying the room.
In fact, whether you’re dealing with a ringworm infestation or not, choosing a good vacuum cleaner is always a good idea for a pet owner. That’s why we added a section for vaccum cleaners in our Reviews Section.
How Long Will This Last?
The good news is that this cleaning fest is temporary. Consider this as Operation Ringworm and remember that there is light at the end of the tunnel!
You want to get the ringworm spore levels down while your pets are being treated, so that they do not keep getting attacked by new spores. It is the infected pets who actually shed fresh spores into the environment, so cleaning alone won’t do the trick. It’s a vicious cycle that you need to break by cleaning the house and treating the pets at the same time — see more about treatment in our Ringworm in Cats Guide.
You should plan to keep on cleaning intensively until your cats start getting negative culture results. Then you can relax a bit, but keep on fighting against dust and fur building up anywhere.
Once your pets are all healed, they stop shedding new spores. If your house is clean enough at that point, and spore levels aren’t high enough to ignite a new infestation, you’re in the clear! Just how long it would take depends on many factors: the number of sick pets, the effectiveness of treatments used, the level of cleanliness you achieve — and sheer luck!
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