16 December 2009

Are we too clean?

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 for a few days 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.

Can you be too clean? 

PS:  I'm officially on holidays for three weeks! I'm really looking forward to the extra time at home and all that will hold for Hanno and I.  We have our big family gathering on Sunday, we're really looking forward to that.  I'll be writing my blog over the holidays and I thought it might be a good time to ask you to suggest topics.  I'll be doing a new bread baking tutorial soon but I'm open to other suggestions too.



  1. Hi Rhonda!
    I wish my mother would read this. Just recently she bought 'bench wipes' and i got stuck into her about the fact that a dish cloth and some diluted tea tree oil will do just as good a job, without causing more landfill etc. So for christmas i'm making her dishcloths and giving her some tea tree oil and a spray bottle, Hopefully she uses it! I am in complete agreement with this post and it is a common topic of conversation between my family and friends. Thank you for todays post!

  2. Couldn't agree more re an overemphasis by many on an often unnecessary war against germs.
    You raised a point about children between indoors more these days, one of my pet hates (sigh). It seems as though as parents the REAL war is against the electronic world and its allure for children.
    Enjoy your holidays!
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  3. Rhonda, I also agree with you on this matter. I think we (Americans) got sucked into a lot of consumer advertising and that's the bottom line in all of this. I enjoy having a clean and tidy home, but do not obsess about germs--just practice common sense.
    Enjoy your time with family. Love your blog and forum.
    Elaine (USA)

  4. Patricia in DenverDecember 16, 2009 7:32 am

    Hooray! Finally a common sense approach on cleanliness.

  5. thankyou rhonda
    hopefully a lot of people will read this and gain some common sense and stop spraying those (even worse) chemicals about the place

  6. I just loved your post today.I have been using vinegar, bicarb and eucalyptus oil(keeps bugs away) for a few years now. The one question I have is how do you wash your dishcloths and rags? I have been using rags around the house for a year or so now, but very new to dishcloths, I am currently knitting my first lot of dishcloths now(and learning to knit at the same time). Do you soak them first? or just throw them in with the the rest of the washing etc?

  7. I'm totally on agreement with you on this issue. Thank you for being a voice of reason! It seems that fear is being peddled on every corner and on every TV these days and here is yet another example. I started making my own soaps and cleaners myself last year. It's the chemicals that concern me more than the germs. Like Elaine said above, I like to keep a tidy house, but it's my germophobic friends that seem to be sick more often.
    Hope you have a wonderful holiday season. I truly enjoy your posts!

  8. I agree with you too, Rhonda. We don't use chemicals in our house. But sometimes I worry I'm going too far in the other direction.

    We're having our first baby in a couple of months and the idea of him crawling all over MIL's floor with all those chemicals all over it... give me natural 'micro organisms' any day.

  9. Michelle, I'm pleased to read you're knitting your first dishcloths. Don't forget to wash them before their first use - there is no way of knowing where that cotton has been before you bought it. I wash my dishcloths with the rest of the washing. There's no big fuss. I hang them on the side of the laundry bin, as you can see in the photo, and when I do the laundry, in they go. If there is a particularly dirty dishcloth, I will soak that in oxybleach before washing it. Every couple of months I sanitise all my dishcloths by soaking them all in oxybleach over night, then into the washing machine with the normal wash. I always dry them int he sun too.

  10. Rhonda... I saw a post on one of the blogs I follow, on how to make ornaments out of sliced oranges, cinnamon and cinnamon sticks. Was it here? I cannot find it now.....

    I would like to see a post on sweet bread...braided.

    Thank you!


  11. Thanks for that Rhonda. I am thoroughly enjoying learning to knit. Your blog has inspired me in so many areas of my life. I have three young children and found it hard to find time to knit . Now I sit with my youngest (2 months old) while she falls asleep and I knit for a little while each day. It is so relaxing, and my little girl loves it.

  12. Good Morning Rhonda
    The cleaning isle of the store is horrific, sprays and wipes for every part of the home and I used to use these. Nuts or what?
    Now I have a spray bottle with vinegar and a tub of bi-carb. Soap and water cleans away any dirty.

    Have a good day.


  13. Loved this post Rhonda, and I echo your sentiments exactly!

    I clean my house and we are tidy, but put it this way, I think our immune systems must be VERY strong lol! ;o)

  14. Marg, I'm in two minds about Copenhagen. On the one hand I think my brain is too small to truly understand the complex issues that should be addressed there. On the other hand I think if I started, I wouldn't know when to stop.

    Off the top of my head though, I wish there was a body of non-politicians, something like the United Nations for the Environment, to lead us on this issue. Most politicians are short term and short sighted and they do what makes them look good. This is a complex, long term issue that needs scientists and other experts, as well as average citizens, to uncover what the truth is and to come up with solutions. All we can do is to start with ourselves and do whatever we can in our own homes and workplaces. If we don't do that, who will?

    Wendy, I'll see what I can do about the sweet bread. Thanks for your suggestion.

  15. I'm s firm believer in, no anti-bacterial hand soap, dish soap, laundry soap, or any other cleaning-solution that is anti-bacterial. I think that we need some good bacteria to thrive on our skin to kill off the bad. I always rinse out my dish cloth in the water I rinsed my dishes in - which I add a tablespoon or so of vinegar to. the vinegar kills the bacteria. I spray my counter tops and cutting board with a vinegar solution - I also clean my bathrooms with vinegar, 1/2 vinegar 1/2 water. I do put about 20 drops of tea tree or rosemary oil with it to make it smell nice and naturally disinfect. I have a dog in my house, and we don't take off our shoes when we come in the front door. We are very healthy!! So glad you posted about this subject. We all need a reminder.

  16. Another great topic for us to really think about. Those products that promise to protect us from all the nasties are so expensive too, so l'm making a concerted effort to get back to the natural products. I love Vicky's idea of diluted Tea Tree Oil in a spray bottle.
    Rhonda a topic you may consider writing about is vege soup. Now I know its meant to be dead easy but I usually use some meat to give it flavour, but we have an abundance of veges in the garden and I would really like to know what works well in soup and if there are any veges that make soup bitter.I don't really like capsicum in soup. I use parsley but am not sure what other herbs would be good. We eat soup in summer and winter so I would really like to hear your ideas on making different soups and of course the feed back or comments section also provides a wealth of ideas and info.

    Blessings Gail.

  17. So true! I have never been worried about germs and bacteria beyond being careful with raw meat, but I have a friend who won't even use toilets at other people's houses because she's so freaked out about germs. I swear she's going to wet her pants one day trying to hold on!

  18. oh gosh what happened to just good old soap and water?

    I use only soap to clean and my house is spotless! I agree with you that you can be too clean and that it can have a negative impact on your immune system.

  19. I couldn't agree more! I am not a brilliant housekeeper, but I keep the kitchen clean enough to stay healthy. I don't do antibacterial stuff, and the pets are welcome in our home. My son has allergies that are virtually non existant at home but flare up when he visits other homes. I can't help wondering if it's all the chemical cleaners. Right now the kids are out in the mud and as happy as kids can be :)

  20. Hi Rhonda Jean - thank you for another wonderful post. I agree with it all. I have been switching back to the vinegar/baking soda way of cleaning. Gram taught me that years ago, and I am happy to go back to it (now that I am apparently wiser). Like Grandmaibb said about the cleaning aisle being a horrific place I also think it applies to so many other areas in the store - 450 types of cereals to choose from, no less than 30 types/brands of peanut butter and I won't even begin to guess on the chips/snacks/cookies. Everything is overboard, crazy, and commercialized.

    Ideas of posting....recipes for crackers. I have a hard time getting away from buying them.

    Thanks again for ALL that you share!!
    Emily in So. Texas

  21. Oh I feel better now. I posted in a thread earlier and looked like a weirdo for being the only one to admit I wait a week to clean dishcloths and towels. I wash by hand anyway, not much different from sudsing, rinsing, and hanging dry each day. :)

  22. I agree with all that has been said, I think we live in a world gone mad about killing germs. I work in a cafe and the health inspectors came to pay a visit, the silly thing was she couldn't find fault with the cleanliness except for the fact that we hand wash dishes, because we don't have a sink we can soak the dishes at 70 degrees C for 30 seconds, we have to spray each dish with an antibacterial spray. I don't know about anyone else but i think I would prefer to have a few germs on my plate rather than an antibacterial chemical.


  23. Spot on!

    Our immune systems need samples or otherwise they can't function.

  24. OH yes! You go girl! I am so much against antibacterial wipes, mops, etc. I've had experience with these "superior" cleaning agents, and know first hand that what they really do is leave behind an unhealthy chemical residue, even a film that actually attracts dirt more than normal: making you clean more, making you buy more of the product! Plus the commercials and the "must have" perfectly spotless home...
    Those big corporate machines really know how to make money...
    *humbly steps off of soap box*
    Thank you for posting about this. I don't know why more people don't use just plain old fashioned vinegar and baking soda.
    Great post today, and I hope you enjoy your holidays! A breadmaking tutorial would be nice- my white bread turns out all right but for some reason I have trouble with my whole wheat. It seems very heavy when done, and has a tough time rising. Any tips? Have a lovely day!
    The Girl in the Pink Dress

  25. My mom needs to read this as well. She came from a rough home life and has always seemed to try to compensate by being super clean. She's the queen of bleach and disinfecting wipes. We did not have dogs or cats in the house till I was a teenager, either. I'm strongly asthmatic with severe allergies. Connected? Can't prove it, but I sure wonder.

    My kids on the other hand, should have super immune systems. Okay, I admit, there are areas where I could stand to improve in the cleaning arena, but so far the kids are all really healthy and only one shows any sign of mild seasonal allergies. They sleep with a cat and/or dog from the time they are very little, breastfeed for a year or more, and play outside in the dirt and garden beds regularly. I believe there's also a connection between this and their good health. Also delayed and limited vaxing, but that's another subject.

    You're on a roll with the great topics! Not that I don't usually love your blog.

  26. I agree 100% and was very proud that all of my children loved mud. That does not mean that we ever had dirty walls though. Cleanliness is highly important but the 'germ' thing is way overboard. My basic idea is that our own family germs (not talking toilet or body washing here or chicken on the breadboard either!) are something that we are basically immune too from having lived so long with them. Hospital germs are a whole 'nother thing as are germs from those who are sick or those on public toilets. But to expect your own home to be perfectly sterile is ridiculous because the fact is that as soon as you have cleaned the toilet and it is exposed to air or actually gets used, it is again dirty. O no! Cherrie

  27. Amen to this post! It bothers me so much to see how parents are now turning their children into germophobs, washing, washing, washing...
    Another one is not allowing them to experience real llife. Not the horrid stuff, but things that happen, that will not harm us, but is part of life and part of our maturing processes when we are young.
    I feel so sorry for some opf the children whose parents are that paranoid. When those kids are older they will have no coping skills.

  28. I totally agree Rhonda, but we are all preaching to the choir ... how many germaphobes read your blog? Most of them are the ones who need to read this.

    Just a thought - why is most poorer children are never sick? Because they have to play outside, most don't have TV's or computers inside.

    I don't mean to sound like I'm preaching either, but common sense is sooo lacking today. I've also read that most of these antibacterial products don't work all that well anyway. They just infect us with chemicals. Total waste of money.

    Enjoy your time off, your time with family and friends and definitely your alone time!


  29. Hi Rhonda,
    We have to be fastidiouly clean here, as I don't have a spleen and am immunocompromised. Even if someone has a hint of a cold, I catch it.

    We clean once a week, thoroughly and vacuum in between.


  30. A topic close to my heart at this very moment. I am due to have a baby very soon (Christmas eve) and my mother has come down from Queensland to help me get the house ready.

    My mother is a neat freak and works as a professional house cleaner. The amount of chemical based cleaning products she has bought into my home in the last week horrifys me but unfortuantly I am too pregnant and over it to have the energy to suggest other ways of doing things because i know it will cause as argument if I try to tell her that she doesn't need to use the can of oven cleaner, the bottle of bench cleaner, the bottle of shower cleaner, the bottle of pino clean etc on everything and that bi carb, vinegar and essential oils will do the trick.

  31. Cleaning products drive me crazy. It seems like there is something to clean everything. Disposable things are especially stupid. Who needs to toss out the scrubber end of the toilet brush. It only goes in the toilet! Cleansing wipes, bleaching everything, practically following kids with sanitizing spray, it all seems silly. We are better off without most of that crap.

  32. well there are at least three kids in Brisbane who still play outside in the mud (well dust - i am hoping for mud when it finally rains down here) and climb trees - and I've got the dirty floor to prove it. it drives my mum nuts that our kids always look like they have been dragged through a hedge backwards - but generally that's because they have been...

  33. I absolutely agree with your post. It reminds me of the other 'poison' we use to keep our air clear of insects in the home, with the automatic sprays on the market these days. There's no way I want my family breathing that poison! Sorry, rant over ..

    Have a lovely summer break, Rhonda. :)

  34. All those chemicals clean out good germs along with the wallet!
    I use water & soap & vinegar and our home is clean.

  35. Good evening Rhonda. We're just back from a long trip to and from Thornleigh in Sydney so I'm catching up on my morning. There is such a thing as too clean but what really frightens me is some of the horrendous products used to achieve that!

    On the suggestions front: I'd love a revisit to the price book. Lucky you being on hols, we have ten days coming up after Christmas.

  36. Another great post! Couldn't agree more.

    A post suggestion if I may is one of not so much a practical nature, but a philosphical one. I would love to see you write on how you became "comfortable in your own skin", as you mentioned in a post some time ago. As I get older I get better at the self-acceptance thing, but still sometimes rile against having become "invisible" now that I'm a (homeschooling) homemaker and over 40 to boot!

    Enjoy your holiday! :o)

  37. Hi Rhonda,
    hihi, apparently we are many to agree on this point (again...) I don't use bleach a lot, just occasionally. If we loose our immune system, because everything is too sterile, our body won't be able to react normally anymore. I like clean...but don't need sterile.
    I didn't know about the dry cloths,though. It's such a simple thing, to hang them out to dry before washing, but somehow it never entered my mind. Thank you for the tip!

  38. As always Rhonda your posts always strike a chord with your readers. I have got to the stage I don't even walk down the cleaning aisle at the supermarket - it's smells too much and I will end up with a headache from the chemicals not to mention the screaming my purse does at the price of all that stuff. More and more we are switching over to bicarb soda, vinegar and other natural products. Even DD1 who is off to uni in a couple of years is taking a huge interest in simple cleaning ideas. Her theory - as a student she won't have much money and why use chemicals when there are safer and simpler cleaning products out there. My home isn't spotless - I don't think I could actually achieve a spotless home - but it is clean and if there are germs there I don't want to know about them. Thank you again and keep up the brilliant work on your blog.

    Merry Christmas

    Catherine (Swan Hill)

  39. Hi there- enjoy your blog. We have recently got some for our children to enjoy. I have read your chicken entries and would love to see you do a few more.


  40. This is so true... people don't realize the harm they are doing with all of these anti-bacterial products - they are killing the good bacteria as well.
    A few germs are good for us!
    Warm wishes.

  41. I totally agree with you and all your commenters. Chemical cleaning products, insect sprays and air fresheners are responsible for so many modern illnesses and conditions, probably even more than we know about.

  42. My sentiments exactly, I have a little print on my kitchen wall which reads "Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy".
    Love your blog, have a wonderful holiday with your family.
    Di (Launceston, Tas)

  43. ...I forgot to add, my 3yo son has also grown up with 2 cats, a dog and a bird in the house, his favorite activity is making (mud/dirt) cake, he rarely gets a cold or ill. I also clean with bicarb, vinegar, water and tea tree oil. I wash his clothes in wool wash as the supposED "natural" and expensive wash powder I was using gave him eczema. I am very careful about reading labels, seems they can put the word organic or natural on anything these days without any substance, including food! Cleanlife and Cyndi O'Meara's websites are full of information about these things.
    (Launceston Tas)

  44. I understand what you're saying.

    But I'll stop stressing over this kind of thing outside of my own home when I stop seeing people use the bathroom and leaving without washing their hands. All those cases of kids with diarrhea are not just due to "food poisoning".

    And we're only talking soap and water here.

  45. Yay for a little dirt! Not that I advocate a dirty house by any means - but I think it is great that you are getting the word out that ALL germs are not bad for you. Can you also give a shout out about parents running their children to the doctor for every little sniffle to get antibiotics?? Here in the States that is so prevalent. Also about taking ALL of your antibiotics when you do have to have them? That is what causes things to mutate - and how MRSA got started. Methicillin-resistant staph. Resistant to many different medications - and why it is so hard to get rid of. Thanks! Raquel XO

  46. During the American Civil War, before the discovery of antibiotics an interesting phenomenon was noted. When the young men left home to go to military camps the big strong healthy farm boys dropped like flies from disease, while the city boys who'd lived in dirty confined conditions did just fine. Because they'd been exposed to "germs" and developed healthy immune systems. Clean is good, but you are right, there is such a thing as too clean. And I agree with others who comment that all these chemicals are absolutely not the way to go!

  47. Thank you Rhonda. I'm a firm believer in exposing children to germs in order to develop an adequate immune system.

    I use cotton dish cloths and tea towels, but I tend to change both of these on a daily basis. With two small children I tend to have the washing machine on most days so I throw the cloths in with the clothes.

    I do have some anti-bac wipes for the loo (toilet training!), but when these have gone I will be returning to reusable products.

    Apart from that we're pretty much disposable-free.

    I do use cleaning chemicals, but they are by and large the products that my mother, and her mother before her, used...nothing fancy, just plenty of elbow grease!

  48. Thanks Rhonda - you're a woman after my own heart! I've always thought I was a lousy housewife - cleaning is not my first love! Interestingly, none of my three kids have asthma or eczema and in 27 years, we only caught a tummy bug twice. We did use soap and water, but they played outside both at home and on my parents' farm with the animals. I remember doing hospital ward rounds with the infection control manager - she taught me that the best method of control is hot water and soap, if you add bacterial cleaning agents to cold water it doesn't work. The cleaners we met were always using cold water and we wonder why the rate of hospital acquired infections has risen!

  49. Way to go Rhonda. I grew up in the days of the "you've got to eat a peck of dirt before you die" philosophy. My house is clean but not sanitized within an inch of its life. I'm sure some people would be appalled to see what I do and don't do but it works for me. I can honestly say I can't remember the last time I had a cold or the regular flu. I think if you are exposed to all kinds of germs you are better off in the long run.

    As I mentioned on the forum thread (that probalby prompted this) I have lots of dishcloths and tea towels and scrubbies so I do use a clean one every day and if I've done a messy clean up then I will change two or three times. If I didn't have as many cloths I probably wouldn't, would just rinse and dry. They all go in the regular wash with the towels, etc. Once in a while I might do them in a light bleach wash, but that's rare.

    I'll be 65 soon so I think I must be doing something right.

  50. Amen! I couldn't have said it better myself. I agree 100% about over-sanitizing everything, anti-bacterial detergent, and antibacterial hand wash. Well put.

  51. I don't even think I have bleach in the house.

    Plus I don't buy into all the anti bacterial stuff. Our skin has it's own defenses and I don't like the thought of bleaching them out.


  52. Hi Rhonda, What a great post. We just arrived in the US from Australia after a 25 hour journey (just my 15 month old and I), he was crawling on the airplane aisles, licking the airplane windows, lying on the airport floors, and I just too ka deep breath and thought- well this will build his immune system and thank goodness I am still breastfeeding him and giving him some anitbody boosts. I make sure that he spends at least 4-5 hours a day outside if not much more more, even if it's cold or raining- we jsut have to bundle up and get out there.

    As for new posts... could you do another dishcloth tutorial even easier than the last one (if that's possible- LOL).

    xo Meagan.

  53. My mom has always hung her towels and cloths over the edge of the laundry basket until dry enough to put in the basket. I put mine in a metal basket with a mesh bottom that hangs directly over the washer, in the same fashion.

    I agree wholeheartedly about germs. My mother also warned me when my children were little that I didn't need to rush the kids to the doctor every time they had the sniffles and that a small fever was doing needed work. I am happy to say that it's one thing I really listened to her on and my children, now almost grown, are very healthy boys.

    I have a friend who always quotes her mother as saying, "you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die." lol

  54. iris you are so right
    how many people do you see that don't wash their hands eeww

  55. My elder son's first solid food was a handful of composting lawn clippings. My younger son, at two, ate a dried chook poo.
    They are extremely healthy boys -- I think the elder one, now 8, has a one-page medical file at the doctor's!

  56. As paranoid as I can be, I have always encouraged my children to play outside (even though one sucked her thumb) o:. I try to ease my mind with the thought that the sunshine kills the bad stuff. They are very healthy and above all happy. I sometimes worry about the wrong germs, I appreciate your practical posts and reminders.



  57. I would like to echo the thanks of others here, it's nice to read a common-sense approach to cleaning (and everything else too).

    Maybe you could do a Q&A post, I would really love to know how to get the meaty smell out of my kitchen laundry. I use a clean cloth to strain my bone broths, and even though I like to give them a rinse and soak in a soapy sink before washing, they still smell like broth. And now all my kitchen towels smell like meat!


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