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I was away from my hostel room for one and a half years due to the pandemic. When I reached there for evacuating my room, I found few lizards and many snails inside and many spots covered with shit. Looking at a few nibbled sheets of paper, it seems rats and/or squirrels had also entered my room through the broken window. Some clothes were wet due to rainwater.

In a hurry, I packed all necessary things including my books and notebooks, and brought them back. Now, I wonder if it is safe to use the stuff. I washed my clothes in detergent first and then vinegar to remove mold but what to do with books, notebooks, plastic, and metal stuff. Is putting books and notebooks in sunlight for a day enough? Is washing the plastic and metal stuff with detergent or soap enough?

The things are already there in my home now for more than 2 months as I am reluctant to unpack them after I was diagnosed with tuberculosis 4 months back. I am fearful about catching some new infection while this one is being treated.

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If the stuff has been in your home for 2 months, most parasites, bacteria and viruses are probably dead. I guess the highest chances of survival have things like mold (if there is any moisture left) and microscopic critters like mites.

I assume you have a N95 / FFP2 filter mask available. Wear a fresh one when you unpack the objects. Keep the windows wide open while you do that and for an additional 30 minutes after you're finished. If there's visible dirt on the floor, it's better to wipe it away with a wet rag than to vacuum it. If you are afraid for your health, ask a friend or family member to do the unpacking.

Textiles or books

Textiles that can survive heat (like cotton, linnen, denim) should be washed on the hottest program. That kills anything there is to kill in them.

If you have a freezer (and some space in it), you can kill parasites and insects by putting the objects into a plastic bag and into the freezer for 2 weeks. This can take care of things like lice, fleas and intestinal parasites from poo, but some molds and bacteria can survive this treatment.

If your books got wet or there is questionable dirt in them, you can try gently heating them to no more than 120°C / 250°F for at least one hour (probably more because books don't conduct heat very well). Put a clean paper towel on a baking sheet and the book(s) on the paper towel, but take special care that no paper touches the top, bottom or sides of the oven or it might catch fire. To help heat all the pages evenly, put small wedges of folded kitchen towels between a few pages to let air flow between them.

If your books already have visible mold on them, the safest course of action is to wrap them tightly in a plastic bag and throw them away. Inhaling mold spores is a health hazard you should not expose yourself to. Wear a filter mask while handling moldy objects.

Metal or plastic objects

Any plastic or metal objects should be manually cleaned of big chunks of dirt and then put into the dishwasher on the hottest setting with the usual dishwasher detergent. Do not increase the amount of detergent. The temperature takes care of any bacteria and mold. If you're afraid that residual dirt might remain in the dishwasher, clean the filter and let it run empty (no detergent) with the short program. This is only to flush out any remains, the germs are already dead.

Metal objects that don't fit into the dishwasher can be heated in an oven. Turn the heat up to 180°C / 360°F, put the object on a rack / grid and leave it in there for at least one hour. If available, turn on the fan inside the oven to distribute hot air evenly around all objects. This is obviously not viable for any object that contains plastics.

Small plastic or metal items can be collected in an airtight sealable container. Pour about half a cup of ethanol, rubbing alcohol or bleach into the container and seal it up for at least 30 minutes. Then open the container (outside or in a well ventilated room) and wait until the remaining liquid evaporates.

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  • Thanks, @Elmy for the detailed answer. I need a little more advice. Actually, a friend had packed this stuff and got it delivered to my home. There was no visible mold on anything I received but clothes were moist and had a really foul smell which remained after washing twice. I thought it is due to mold and vinegar worked. Other than this, all other things were only dusty and had a mild smell. No big chunks of dirt on them. For books, I threw those with nibbled pages, and the rest I plan to dust and put in sunlight.
    – G23
    Oct 16 '21 at 6:39
  • The metal and plastic stuff I have is electronic/eletrical so is it enough to wipe with a cloth and detergent solution? I can not soak it into anything. As I mentioned, there is no big chunk of dirt. To add to the above comment, there was a little dry waste of lizards or some other animal on a couple of books, or other things. I really appreciate your help.
    – G23
    Oct 16 '21 at 6:42
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    Yes, just wipe all surfaces with a wet rag and rinse it often. The water in the rag binds dust instead of sending it flying through the air. If there is no visible dirt like feces or mold and the stuff wasn't touched in 2 months, there's no big health risk after wiping them down. BTW, the last method isn't meant to soak stuff. The alcohol evaporates and the vapor desinfects stuff in the sealed container. But don't do that with electronics, the vapor can damage displays.
    – Elmy
    Oct 16 '21 at 9:02

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