What to do if your roommate is sick — 5 expert tips

Make sure you're staying healthy while your roommate is sick

Two boho beds with pink blankets
(Image credit: Pottery Barn Dorm)

In today’s post-Covid world, even the slightest sniffle or worse, cough by a roommate can feel like a threat. But, if the pandemic taught us anything, it’s the importance of staying healthy. After all, if we get sick, we may have to isolate ourselves as well as take time away from our social lives and work.

If you live with a roommate, staying healthy can be an even bigger challenge. Not only are you exposed to their germs, but you are also exposed to everyone they encounter and vice versa.

If your roommate starts to get sick, it can feel like a countdown until you become ill yourself. But getting sick doesn’t have to be inevitable. You can stay healthy even if your roommate is seriously under the weather. You even need a few items to make living with a roommate easier. Here’s what to do if your roommate is sick during cold and flu season as well as all year round. 

Emily Silver
Emily Silver

Emily Silver is the co-founder of both NAPS and Nurture by NAPS. NAPS provides prenatal education and postnatal support services. She is a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Board Certified Lactation Consulting.

How to avoid getting sick

1. Wash your hands

While your mom probably told you to wash your hands all the time growing up, this hygiene practice was brought back into the forefront of our minds during the pandemic. Emily Silver, NP-C, IBCLC, and co-founder of NAPS, which is an online platform for newborn and parenting support tells me this is a very important habit for preventing illness. 

“No seriously, I know people might be sick of hearing this or it sounds too easy... but that's it, right there. Washing your hands is the best way to prevent the spread of germs and to keep people healthy,” says Silver.

2. Stock up on supplies

Be sure to have plenty of soap (like this highly-rated anti-bacterial soap available on Amazon) on hand as well as paper towels. While regular towels are fine when everyone is healthy, a wet towel can breed germs and bacteria quickly. Or if you want to be more eco-friendly, use hand towels just once and then throw them in the laundry basket. 

3. Use hand sanitizer

Another good habit is to always have enough hand sanitizer. Stash bottles around the house in places like the entryway and in shared spaces such as the living room. While you don’t need to do this all of the time (after all, sanitizer can be very drying on your hands), it’s a smart idea when someone is sick. Stock up on this mega six-pack aloe vera hand sanitizer from Amazon.

4. Disinfect touch points

Silver suggests wiping down high touch points such as counters, bathroom sinks, and door knobs as often as you can. You should also clean off the dirtiest places in the home. While this can vary, Silver tells me the toilet flusher, handles on sinks, dishwashers, fridges, freezer doors, and doorknobs can become very germy. So prioritize these spaces first. 

Don’t forget that your bathroom floor and tub mats are also prime breeding spots for germs. These should be washed and changed out frequently. 

“As a nurse, I am looking to disinfect high touch point surfaces often, especially during cold and flu season. So I love wipes,” says Silver. “I leave a pack of wipes in the kitchen and bathrooms.”

Silver is a fan of Clorox Wipes, especially during cold and flu season. You can pick up this three-pack of Clorox wipes on Amazon. But any brand provides a convenient way to quickly clean and disinfect surfaces. 

5. Avoid contact

Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid your roommate, but there are many things you can do to limit contact. For example, if possible, don’t share bathrooms. 

Also, let your roommate know (via text) when you will be in the kitchen making dinner and they can come in when you’re finished. 

Don’t watch television together in the living room and avoid sharing food and drinks if someone is unwell. 

Frequently asked questions

Can I have guests over if my roommate is sick?

If you're having visitors, make sure they only come into your home if they’re healthy. And follow this rule yourself—if you're sick, stay home (but just avoid your roommate!). 

Do I have to quarantine?

While you don’t have to quarantine, Silver suggests taking a little time apart. “Generally speaking, be symptom or fever-free for 24 to 48 hours. Things to be careful on especially are respiratory illnesses, like flu and RSV as well as norovirus or GI bugs—they can spread like wildfire.”

Living with a roommate can be tough at the best of times, but it can be even rougher if one or both of you is sick. Stuck inside and need some advice? See how to get along with your roommate to keep the peace.

Amanda Lauren

Hi, I’m Amanda Lauren. I’m a design expert and interior stylist who writes for Real Homes, Forbes, Real Simple among other publications. I live in Los Angeles in the historic neighborhood of Hancock Park with my husband, and two dogs, Lulu and Milo. We also have a baby coming in spring 2023. I’m a big believer in finding beautiful things at all price points. There are so many places to find affordable things, you just have to look for them. If you don't find it at first, look harder!