Stomach Bug Blues: Tried and True Tips From the Front Line


During December 2011, my almost 3-year-old daughter came down with her first of THREE stomach bugs for that winter. It happened in the middle of the night, and vomit landed everywhere. Her first time getting sick this way completely ruined my otherwise calm responses to her ailments. The worst part? The element of surprise with small children and tummy bugs: toddlers have no idea whatsoever what that nasty feeling in their stomach means, and tend to just get sick wherever they are standing when it hits. And even some early-elementary aged kids get so thrown off by illness that they can’t think straight enough to get themselves to the bathroom or the bucket you have placed next to their bed. It is disgusting on so many levels, but you slog through and get them cleaned up, the hazardous waste moved down to the laundry room, and a bucket placed next to them for the next round. In our house, this can happen 2-3 times a year, but I know that it happens less frequently with other families (I am envious). With my unfortunate experience comes some expertise, so enjoy these “tried and true” tips for when a tummy bug hits your house.

At home:

  1. Once your kiddo gets sick once, set them up in the bathroom to sleep. Bathrooms, with predominantly hard surfaces, clean up easier than an entire bed and carpet. We clear the countertop of everything but the soap dispenser, to leave us less to deal with when cleaning the bathroom later. We use our inflatable camping pads and they sleep in their sleeping bags. Put their head/pillow as close as possible to the toilet to increase the odds that they might actually get sick in there.  We also stash a bucket next to them, just in case. During the daytime, we stay nearby or get the baby monitor out and set it up in there so we can monitor when they need us (while we attack the mountain of laundry).  
  2. Have a small spray bottle with bleach water to actually kill the germs. Disinfecting wipes do not kill all stomach bugs. Use a bleach spray, especially on bathroom surfaces that came in contact with either vomit or diarrhea. According to’s article on viral gastroenteritis, the bleach solution should be “a mixture of two cups of bleach to one gallon of water.”
  3. Keep individual packets of children’s oral electrolyte/rehydration drink on hand. Yes, the individual servings cost more this way, but we never used the entire container when we bought the liquid, so this ended up being the most cost-efficient for us. Make sure to monitor their intake…one small drink every 20 minutes for the first hour, to see if they keep it down.
  4. We also have two layers of waterproof protection (mattress covers) on each child’s bed. Then if they get sick in bed, or even have a potty accident, we just take the top one off and put clean sheets on. If one of our kids gets sick, we put a beach towel on the floor with a bucket in their sibling’s room, just in case they go down next.
  5. Line the sick bucket with two plastic shopping bags. Then after the kiddo gets sick, you can remove the bags and dispose of them easily. I suggest two bags because otherwise you run the risk of a hole, and nobody needs to spill that stuff. If you don’t want to do this, then use your bleach spray to clean the sick bucket after use.

In the Car:

Just today, I picked up my 5-year-old from daycare and he complained of a hurting tummy and looked quite pitiful.  This trapped my daughter and I in the car with him while he might get sick. Enter the car preparation supplies:

  1. Have a garbage can that doubles as a sick bucket.  For us, we use the plastic bucket that dishwasher detergent packets come in (see below).  They are nice and deep for collecting regular garbage, making them exceptional for containing any tummy yuck that comes up in the car.  
  2. Have a waterproof blanket that you can use to protect the seat in front of the sick child and corral the yuck. I drape it backward over the headrest of the front seat, then drape it over the sick child’s lap.  That means that if they miss the bucket, the tummy yuck gets caught by the blanket.  This may sound extreme, but anyone who has cleaned vomit out of the crevices of a car seat will back me up…try to keep the vomit off the car seat.  For regular life, this blanket works perfectly for picnics, even after there’s been rain.
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Most days, this bucket is the garbage can in my car. On tummy bug days, it doubles as a sick bucket until we can get home.

We actually didn’t even make it out of the daycare provider’s driveway today before he got tummy sick, poor little guy.  He had the garbage can in hand and aimed accurately…we’ll call that a win!

We did hear from a pediatrician that many kids get stomach bugs less frequently as they age. Let’s hope so! Until then, I hope these tips help you through! And don’t forget to get out new toothbrushes after a tummy bug!

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Kahla hails from Wisconsin, but heard the siren (loon?) song of Minnesota calling as she selected a college. Then, after eight years living in the Boston area for graduate school, her family moved to Rochester in the summer of 2010. Kahla and her husband have two children: one daughter and one son. They enjoy spending time outside, especially on Rochester’s hiking and bike trails. She loves finding inexpensive ways to pass time, and also enjoys her favorite form of recycling: shopping at thrift stores and yard sales. An avid reader her entire life, working as a school librarian is the perfect fit for her outgoing, book-loving personality. She also enjoys running, baking and knitting. She loves spending time with her family, book club, and running group.


  1. I had no idea kids electrolyte drinks came in single-serve powders! Having just suffered through a whole-family stomach bug, I just bought some through Amazon in preparation for next time. Thanks for the tip!

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