12 March 2013

Are we too clean?

I want to thank you for the loving comments and emails you sent yesterday. Sometimes it takes my breath away when I feel the level of goodness you send to me.

- - - - - - ♥- - - - - -

Dec 16, 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 dishcloths and rags over the side of the laundry bin to dry while they're waiting to be washed.

Since television advertising started blabbing on 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 their little bodies to naturally develop antibodies to 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, 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 helped build tolerance and resistance 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. I'm not advocating that we leave ours 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 your 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.



  1. Oh how true that is. Also the chemicals used to kill the germs are harmful as well. Chalk it up to a lot of advertising hype and a perfect way for companies to make money.

    Take care Ferne
    (Canadian Country Gal)

  2. I totally agree with you on this. We have always had a dog and the first thing our vet said to us when we had our son was that the inevitable germs that come along with dogs will help to improve his immune system. I have a phobia about vomit but even so I avoid all the germ hype in the media and continue with a normal level of cleaning. Lily. xxx

  3. Forgive me Rhonda...but your little typo made me smile...I read it as "wash, you dishcloths, once or twice a week"...and had visions of you calling us all dishcloths and advising us to only wash occasionally...sorry, I have a silly sense of humour! Fab post, great pearls of wisdom, as always. Hugs, Tina xx

    1. Ha Tina! I changed it. It's funny what typos say to us sometimes.

  4. A little dirt never hurt. I caught my 4yo dictating to his 3yo sister to bring water from the wading pool over to the dirt where he was digging and to tip it on his feet. I found him ankle deep in black clay mud... In a white t-shirt *sigh* which hasn't come clean. Oh well.
    My kids play outside, chase and catch chickens, pat cats, dig in the dirt and our house is by no means spotless. I haven't used a commercial disinfecting spray in years. White wine vinegar, bicarb and castile soap are good enough for me and cleaning here.

  5. Hi Rhonda,
    the part of your writing that jumped out at me this morning was your words about kids playing outside and building their bones and immune systems.After almost thirty years as a music teacher,I've noticed a worrying trend. Children now seem to break their bones so easily - two of my students have broken their arms simply by falling over. When I was a kid, i was constantly jumping out of trees, and even off the roof - not a broken bone (okay, and I was probably lucky!) The other thing I see is kids getting 2 or 3 stomach bugs a year. This certainly hasn't happened to my kids, who haven't been oversanitised, and have been fed a superb diet. I think kids are undernourished today, and that includes a lack of natural food,sunshine,fresh air and activity.

    Sorry to go on for so long, but I hope newer mums might find this helpful.

    Have a wonderful day, Madeleine.
    PS; Rhonda, I hope you are recovering quickly :)

  6. That's the truth, Rhonda. I run a green cleaning company and the majority of my clients are green-minded and tend to be pretty savvy about this sort of thing--thankfully. I do have a few "conventional" clients, however. They clean with bleach between my visits and use all sorts of other heavy, unnecessary chemicals around the house. It's disheartening. I'm trying to make a healthy space for them and they go and ruin it in a quest for a 100% germ-free house.

    What is ironic is that the majority of the clients--I don't mind being open with you here; I am all for transparency and if they read this I hope they learn something--that do use heavy chemicals when I am not there practice far from sanitary household management. Dish rags just screwed up and left by the side of the sink. Surfaces not wiped after use. Bins left to pile up.

  7. I totally agree. I have never seen so many tummy bugs, colds and allergies as there seems to be among children these days. It really is a quite frightening scenario - processed food, chemical laden environment and sit all day at school or on the computer.

    My DIL told me on the weekend that 1 in 5 Australian children are considered obese. Obese and undernourished with bones that break easily? Sounding very like child abuse to me.

  8. Great advice. I'm the process of moving toward a more natural cleaning regimen in my home. I really want to stop using the harsh chemicals and so much bleach and antibacterial stuff.

  9. So true Rhonda, my dad,a retired GP, has a theory that the explosion of allergies and intolerances in our modern world could be linked to this too...I can stand up poroudly and say that there is no overcleanliness in this house!;-)
    Julia in Bowen x

  10. I didn't get a chance to wish you well yesterday, so I'm sending it now....Get Well Soon!
    Marie Claire

  11. This is so true and whereas Im sure I could smarten up a bit in the cleaning dept. it frustrates me every time I walk down the cleaning product aisle at the supermarket (which is very rarely these days) and see all these super-bug-killing sprays that are doing much more harm than good.

    The latest one to get up my nose (pardon the pun), is the contraptions you stick on the wall and the 'automatically' squirt either air freshener or insectide at regular intervals. Insane.


  12. I find that cleaning with vinegar & bicarb doesn't take my breath away, unlike the harsher chemicals do - thats got to tell us something. Simple things like allowing cloths, towels & clothes to dry before adding them to the washing basket not only discourages bacterial growth (& the lovely smell that accompanies it), but stops dyes from one garment staining another, one of the simple common sense we should be teaching our kids from an early age. As usual, Rhonda, your pearls of wisdom strike a chord. Keep the leg up & rest as much as you can, I'm looking forward to attending one of your day long wokshops when they are up & running, particularly if you do some on the gold coast, & I want to see you fit & healthy, take care, Deb M

  13. Very true, l have thought a lot about this. Commercials for new cleaning products and gadgets aim to make us feel that our homes are never clean enough how ever hard we try. Nonsence. I had a friend visit sometime ago with her two little children. I was sad to see how afraid she was of dirt and germs in connection with the animals and outdoor playing in general. She actually took the toys out of the sandbox so the children didn't need to get in it and play with the sand. We don't bebefit from a sterile environment, and as you say, there will always be germs. Pam

  14. So nice to hear a sane point of view on this! It's literally been a few years since I bought any cleaning supply, and I walked down the cleaning aisle at a grocery store the other day looking for a big box of baking soda (nope, they didn't have it), and felt like I should be holding my breath with all the fumes and fragrances. Ugh!

  15. A little dirt is a wonderful thing! My boy has what can only be described as an iron clad immune system, he's been around animals all his life, I'm not fussed about dirt and have to admit I don't really do 'spotlessly clean'. Beyond pine o kleen for the occasional disaster there are no harsh cleaning chemicals in our house. Consequently he's rarely sick and also completely unconcerned with getting dirty (much to my annoyance sometimes!!).
    My interest was piqued by the comment from Madeline on kids breaking bones. Fear of the sun is now ingrained, Vitamin D plays an important role in bone strength and kids 'nowadays' are highly protected when it comes to the amount of sun they are exposed to. Rightly so given the harshness of the sun but a little bit goes a long way in terms of getting a Vitamin D 'fix'.

    Natural, unprocessed honey is wonderful for certain infections, used with the agreement of your Doctor of course! I hope you're on the mend.

  16. Oh im counting on it not being necessary to clean everything in site. I just cant do it. I have a girlfriend who's house is superclean and yet her family lives in mine on weekends. I could be a little too slack but i dont get any help and id rather focus of good food, lots of laughter and happy times.

  17. A study in Germany showed that children benefits from being exposed to a variety of germs and have an immune system busy from fighting them are more likely to be healthy and without problems associated with overactive immune system such as asthma and allergies. Seeing that both are on the rise I suppose it shows how brainwashed most people are by commercials and the buying culture

    I hope youre feeling well soon

  18. I agree - I don't use hand sanitizer or antibacterials in our home. I believe that soap and water are mostly all that is needed to keep a clean environment. My kids play outside, get dirty, shovel out horse stalls, work in the garden. They like to call it their protective layer of dirt. Then at dinnertime we wash hands and at bedtime we shower. I grew up using our dishcloths for a week at a time, and laying them out over the side of the hamper to dry too, so the rest of the laundry doesnt get musty before laundry day. The habit stuck and I still do it.

  19. I completely agree with the Vintage Folk Painter above. There seems to be a huge industry out there peddling in paranoia. The one that made me laugh was the automatic sensor soap pump, that sensed your hands and pumped out soap so you didn't have to touch the dispenser. Presumably, you usually WASH your hands after touching the dispenser so I never quite understood the need to avoid it...

  20. Those germicidal wipes make me really cross. My dad died as a result of a hospital superbug, and we now have antibiotic resistant diseases that are really really nasty, because of overuse of antibiotics. And I fear we are in danger of doing the same thing with germicidal wipes. Basic biology teaches that if they do, as they claim, kill "99%" of germs, if there is a food source for bacteria, the 1% left will just breed and repopulate the niche within hours. And that 1% that we're breeding are the ones that are really strong and hard to kill. Just like breeding a breed of dogs, but much much faster. The solution is to just get rid of the food source with basic, ordinary cleaning. The wipes are a cynical, sinister marketing ploy, and usually I just ignore marketing like that, but this one has the potential to cause real problems.

  21. Take care Rhonda!

  22. Indeed we have gone too far when trying to keep a home clean. I am in favour of using a bit of bleach in common areas like the bathroom, though. Soap and water are all that is necessary most of the time, but bathrooms harbour moulds and such and need to be disinfected (and aired out!) periodically.

  23. In the USA we are here dire warnings about "catastrophic super bugs" that are completely resistant to any and all antibiotics. I think they come about because people use antibacterial things too often and becauase people run to the doctor for an antibiotic at every little illness. I grew up on a farm, we had no antibacterial products and my mom used basic household items for cleaning. We played in the dirt and all the rest and we survived just fine. Too many people these days are too concerned with killing off everything and avoiding as many germs as possible. I agree with you Rhonda 100% and the other people posting here.

    I fell into the specific cleaners for specific needs trap for awhile and it wasn't until I felt sick after cleaning that I realized those darn products were the culprit. No more hazardous junk for me.
    I hope you are feeling better every day.


  24. Dot Richardson Denham WAMarch 13, 2013 11:07 am

    Sorry I didn't get to my email until this morning hope you are feeling better.
    Would just like to mention that I have your wonderful and helpful book which has
    made life so much more simple for me.
    I have also given your book as gifts to friends and family and they also are enjoying it so keep up the good work you are certainly an inspiration to us all.

    1. I'm pleased you like my book, Dot. Thanks for the kinds words.

  25. I couldn't agree more. I actually find it very hard to walk down the strongly scented laundry aisle these days. Vinegar, eucalyptus oil and occasionally boiling dishcloths are what we mainly use here. Unfortunately there seems to be a whole industry of products built on this idea that all germs are bad.

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