Are we too clean?

6 January 2014
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.



  1. We had stopped using antibacterial hand soap and bars of soap in the shower years ago because we were concerned that they were a gimmick, or possibly even harmful, and just recently the FDA here in the US announced that antibacterial soap manufacturers have to "prove" that their products work better than regular soap and water do for washing. I was so excited to see this, because it confirms what we already believed to be true about it. I would love to see it go away, or at least be used less widely.

  2. How I agree with you! We are far too clean! & I dread how much illness that is actually causing.

  3. Three cheers for common sense! :)

  4. Oh Rhonda,

    The saddest part of this post is how children on average do not play outdoors as much. I loved outdoors and when raising my children now 18-24, outdoor time was an extension of indoor time. The kids loved it . In fact on the 25th of December the kids and all their special sweeties met at the house and we played a game of stickball.

    It seems that time with laughter, sunshine, a bit of dust and dirt made for a lovely day. I wonder how things will be down the road for say my great grandchildren? Will we come full circle and return to the outdoors?

    As to sterile environments inside the homes, I prefer clean and cozy. Living near the White Sands of New Mexico, I learned practically from the first day at our home, dust and sand coexist inside with us!


    1. You know, was just thinking the other day how sad it is that children aren't out much unless for organized sports and activities. When l grew up in the 80's newly fallen snow was full og childrens footsteps in just a few hours, now, the snow lies untouched. Trying to bring up my boys loving the outdoors. Pam

  5. Happy new year Rhonda,
    I do put a blob of bleach on my dish cloth daily, but I agree overdoing the cleaning isn't doing us any favours.
    Looking forward to another year of posts.
    Best wishes,
    Angela (south England)

  6. I agree in principle with all you say, but I am excessively pedantic with cleaning hands before touching anything I eat. 2 years ago I picked up an uncommon stomach illness, most likely from contact in public ie shopping trolley, door etc. I was extremly ill for 5 months and my weight went down to 45kg. This illness and weight loss also affected me emotionally and brought on anxeity. As a result of all this, I now find myself so much more concerned over cleanliness than I used to be, I guess I don't ever want to be that sick again. Logically I know that I'm unlikely to get that illness again but it's almost like self protection now. I hope one day to let the anxiety go and be able to relax more when it comes to germs.

    1. I understand. Not that I have ever been that I'll. I don't like touching handles, trolleys etc. friends say I'm a bit fussy, asking me what do I think will happen, but I can't help it.
      I do believe too many anti bacterial cleansers aren't good, hot water & soap applied thoroughly should be enough.
      By the way, been to Perth a couple of times. Loved it!
      Best wishes,
      Angela ( south England) UK

  7. Hi Rhonda, and Happy New Year to you and Hanno and your whole family!

    I have to agree with you on this matter. I don't pay the extra money for anti-bacterial soaps for hand washing etc; I believe that if we just make a habit of washing properly with soapy water for longer than just a few seconds we eliminate all that can infect us.
    I recently (early December) went to the doctor with my son in law and 2 1/2 month old grandson, he had gotten his first sniffle and was having a cough due to sinus drainage. I was super impressed with the young (but thorough) doctor that came in to see the baby. He told my son in law, that on average a child fights off one infection a month until about age 3 and that my grandson wasn't croupy, but that the drainage was creating the hoarseness we were hearing. He instructed us to only give the him small amounts of infant drops for pain to relieve discomfort-- and gave instructions for preparing and administering homemade saline solution to help break up the mucus and remove it from the baby.
    Now, I wish I'd been given such great information when my children were babies. They were all born in the late 80's and early 90's ---when the 'anti-bacterial' movement was coming on strong! I'm positive my children receive more than ample amounts of antibiotics ...half of which, looking back were probably unnecessary.
    ...there is too much of a good thing, when it comes to germ warfare. :/

  8. What a timely and common sense post! There are hundreds of bacteria on our skin that do valuable work, when we kill them we have all kinds of skin disorders, When we rid our environment of all germs we weaken our immune system - if you don't believe it ask parents whose kids have just started school! (they turn into little typhoid Mary's!) Clean but not attempting sterile is practical. Thanks for reminding us!

  9. I avoid any anti-bacterial cleaners- not only are they unnecessary, they may be contributing to the rise in drug-resistant bacterial infections.

    When antibiotics were first invented, bacteria were wiped out by them. As they are repeatedly exposed to the same drugs, the bacteria begin to adapt to withstand the attack. Bacteria now are constantly bombarded by low levels of non-specific anti bacterials, meaning they can 'bounce back' stronger than ever and making it harder to kill them when it's really needed.

    As well as kitchen sprays and hand wash, check your toothpaste for triclosan, an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent in most commercial toothpastes. Do we really need to be exposed to it twice a day?

  10. I change my dishcloths daily (mainly to stop them getting too grubby), they dry on top of the boiler overnight and are then put in the laundry bin. A few people I have converted to laundry gloop say they don't like it as there whites are no longer white so have gone back to powder even though they don't like that either. I have oxywash which I put in my whites if and only if it is necessary but really, I don't care if my whites are not whiter than white and I rarely buy whites anyway!

  11. I reckon every one of your readers will agree with you on this, Rhonda, and many of us remember playing outside in the dust in summer and mud in winter, with our pet dogs, cats, chooks, mice, etc. I don't remember kids at school having asthma - only the occasional vomit!

  12. Hallelujah! My kids are 12 and 8, and I swear that they are healthy *because* we didn't try to remove every germ from their lives. Clean, sure, but germ-free??? In addition to this, so many parents are running to the MD for antibiotics where it's not necessary for their kids, and also feeding them meats pumped up with antibiotics. Our poor kids' systems just can't learn how to fend off illness like that! Sorry for the soap box drama here, but it just amazes me how overly simplistic people try to make this...and, as usual, it's got a lot do to with the *profits* that chemical cleaning product manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies have to make from the fear of germs... anyway: thanks for addressing this.

  13. I brought home my new born son to an old leaky caravan where flying ants infestations often occurred. Caravan living was the order of the day till the house was built. While the house was being built there were piles of dirt and sand around the house. My bottom-shuffling son was always in the soil and his face was often covered in dirt. He had a ball - and ripped endless nappies tearing along on the ground.

    Bottom line: apart from winter colds, he's never been sick - never!! Must have been all that good dirt - hehe.

  14. Agreed!

    My mum is a nurse, and when I was little, on days that I'd been out in the nature, playing, and had gotten dirty, she said "a little dirt is good for you" and I totally believe in that! I see more and more people suffering from skin conditions, allergies and intolerances, and I reckon some of the anti-bacterial products are to blame, not allowing our bodies to be introduced to certain bacteria and fight as possible. back, causing our immune system to grow stronger.
    I try and not buy anti-bacterial products, but make sure that washing products are as natural as possible.

  15. I grew up in the late 40s and 50s and we played outdoors in fields, climbed on rocks, and slid down hills in winter snow. My mother was a big proponent of "You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die". We were rarely sick and never went to the doctor except for yearly checkups.

    I think the media has made us very afraid of afraid that many people have no resistance any more. My cleaning products are vinegar based and homemade with no antibacterial products whatsoever.

    Thanks for this post.


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