We’ve all hopefully got the message about washing our hands as a precaution in the fight against transmission of Covid-19. There has also been much talk about cleaning surfaces which are frequently touched like door handles, phones and using gloves when using petrol pumps. When coronavirus first hit the headlines, we were concerned about the possible germs BJ’s wheelchair was collecting as it wheeled across surfaces. His wheelchair is also a piece of equipment being handled by multiple people. Before BJ finished at his day program to go into isolation, Hubby was wiping his wheelchair down daily with disinfectant wipes. This job really needed to be happening multiple times during the day and the fact we couldn’t do it added to our stress about BJ still being in the community.
Now with talk of restrictions regarding Covid-19 being lifted and the thought of life beginning to return to some form of new normal, my thoughts are returning to how we’ll keep BJ safe from potential spikes in cases of the virus. How will we ensure his wheelchair isn’t a germ carrier? So, I’ve been researching, and consulting with our Have Wheelchair Will Travel Facebook community as to how they are keeping their wheelchair clean during Covid-19.
When BJ gets a new wheelchair, we keep his old one as a backup chair. It’s helpful in case his day-to-day chair needs repairs and it means we don’t need to transport his chair to and from his day program (BJ doesn’t stay in his wheelchair for travelling in the car. He sits on a seat). His main wheelchair stays at the day program and only comes home on weekends and we have the backup chair at home in case we need to go for a walk or go out.
During Covid-19 this has been helpful because although we’ve had the two chairs at home, we’ve kept one wheelchair for going out on walks and this one stays in the garage or car, and the other is used indoors. This seemed a common approach with many in our HWWT Facebook community.
Here’s what our readers had to say –
Margaret “I am fortunate to have in in-house power wheelchair and an outside manual wheelchair. The manual lives in the boot of my car while the power wheelchair does not leave the house.”
Lee-anne “We only have the one wheelchair for Ollie but just bought a cheap pram because we are desperate to get for a walk but don’t want to contaminate his wheelchair… it’s not perfect but will be ok under the circumstances as a stop gap measure.”
Kay “I decided to use one wheelchair to take out and it is the power assist one with an electric motor as it fits through most doorways and if need be it can be used manually.”
CLEANING A WHEELCHAIR
While disinfectant wipes or spray are better than nothing, Leon from Mogo Wheelchairs suggests the best method for cleaning a manual wheelchair properly is hot soapy water. Queensland Government of Health recommendations are similar, “Items or surfaces must be clean for disinfection to be effective, sole reliance on a disinfectant without physical cleaning is not recommended. When disinfection is required, surfaces or items should always be physically cleaned with a detergent solution followed by or combined with a disinfectant.”
When Hubby does a thorough clean of the wheelchair he removes the wheels, the Superman guards, the cushion and any other bits which can be cleaned thoroughly. Leon from Mogo also mentioned that people don’t wash their cushion covers nearly often enough so perhaps add that to your to-do list.
Our HWWT Facebook community also shared their tips for the best cleaning and hygiene for wheelchairs as follows –
Edward – “For my Day ‘chair, diluted Pine O Clean/water in a Spray Bottle and thoroughly spray tyres and push rim then wipe clean with paper towel.”
Lana – “Any chair or wheeled mobility device of any kind that goes outside right now is driven slowly through a boot tray at the entrance door to the house filled with dilute bleach before entering house. Chair is left on drain mat to dry upon entry. Outside shoes are also stepped into the bleach solution and left on a drain tray outside.”
Frankie – ” I wipe down (or ask someone to) wipe down high use areas such as joystick or headrest with isopropyl alcohol”
Marie – suggests cleaning “arm rests, seat belt buckles, harnesses and headrests. Any of the high frequency touching points or those points near the face or hands.”
HOT SPOTS FOR GERMS ON A WHEELCHAIR
Anything that comes into contact with surfaces such as the tyres and push rims are obvious hot spots. But don’t forget to clean the areas where you, or multiple people, are touching the chair. Places like the handles, seat buckle and brakes. For a power wheelchair user, remember to clean the joystick.
We are looking at replacing the current wheelchair handle covers on BJ’s manual chair as they are a foam type of material which we don’t feel can be adequately cleaned hygienically.
MAKE IT EASY FOR SUPPORT WORKERS
We have lots of storage built into BJ’s manual wheelchair and we will be using this to ensure support workers have access to cleaning materials hopefully encouraging them to keep BJ’s chair clean both for his sake and theirs.
We usually have hand sanitizer, sunscreen and a MLAK key (universal key which opens accessible bathrooms in Australia) at the ready. We’ll add disinfectant wipes to this stockpile.
EMERGING FROM COVID-19
Although we’ve always cleaned BJ’s wheelchair (and that’s the royal ‘we’ because Hubby does it every time!) Covid-19 and the chance of infection has certainly increased our thinking about it. Once we are out of isolation and life goes back to whatever the new normal is, I’m thinking it will be more important than ever to maintain the hygiene of a wheelchair. While I hope we see an end to Covid-19, the reality is it will take some time before the risk isn’t as high. Everyone’s heightened awareness of hygiene will only benefit everyone in the long run and this has been something lacking in the wider community for some time.
If you’ve got any tips regarding the best ways to ensure a wheelchair is kept clean and hygienic and ideas on how to protect a wheelchair user, we’d love to hear about it.