Written in 2009
We are back to a practical subject again today because I've been thinking about the word "germaphobe" and it scares me a little. I've come across this word a few times recently and I want to comment on it. We all know it makes good sense to keep a clean house, to raise children to wash their hands before they eat and, in general, to maintain good levels of cleanliness in the home. But you can be too clean.
Hang your dirty cloths and rags over the side of the laundry bin to dry while they're waiting to be washed.
Since television advertising started blabbing about the benefits of "whiter than white" and how we can rid our homes of germs, we've been brainwashed to believe that every germ is harmful, every germ must be killed and if we don't do that, we're not as good as our next door neighbours. What hogwash!
There are many medical studies around now that assure us that exposing children to pets and normal household dirt is good for them. It builds up the immune system and allows the body to naturally develop antibodies that fight those germs. Back a few years, when I was growing up, and even when my boys were young in the 1980s it was common for children to play out side. Out there, among the dirt, bugs and grass stains, not only were they having fun swinging on ropes and riding bikes, they were building bone strength, muscle tissue and healthy immune systems. Nowadays there is a tendency for children to play inside on computers and playstations, and inside is becoming increasingly clean. We have gone from the common family home with a dirt floor in the 1800s to stainless steel and the war against germs now.
We are surrounded by millions of bacteria and viruses but only a small number actually cause us any harm, the rest we live with, have evolved with, and being exposed to them has probably helped build tolerance to many of them. When we do our daily chores it's not necessary to rid the home of germs - it's impossible, and it's not a healthy option. Now, I'm not advocating that we leave our sink dirty and not sweep the floor. Of course we continue to do those things. We also need to wipe handles, cupboard doors, remote controls, light switches etc, but we shouldn't be using antibacterial wipes. Soap and water, vinegar or bicarb will do the trick. Using bleach, peroxide or disinfectant every day is overkill.
Wash you dishcloths once or twice a week, depending on how dirty they are. In between times, thoroughly rinse the cloth, wring it out and hang it over the tap or sink to dry. Few bacteria can survive dry conditions, they need moisture to propagate and thrive. Hang your dirty dishcloths and cleaning rags over the side of the laundry bin/basket so if they're wet they can dry out and not sit in the pile of dirty laundry, wet, waiting to be washed.
Take the pressure off yourself to kill germs, your aim should be to have a clean home. You'll never eliminate germs completely. So relax, put the bleach bottle away, stop buying the antibacterial wipes and allow the short sharp exposure to pathogens in the normal home to build your immune system. If you do that, your immune system will not only protect you from colds and flu but also from more sinister ailments.
Say hello to the 100 Trillion bacteria that make up your microbiome - Michael Pollan