This is Part 2 of 2 on Cleanliness. Read Part 1 here.
Cleanliness is next to Godliness, as the old saying goes. Keeping a clean house can reduce allergies, kills germs, and just put your mind at ease. But the American obsession with cleanliness is actually a recent phenomenon. A hundred years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for people to bathe once a week, and two hundred years ago, soap was all but unheard of in the Western world. In fact, early Christians thought filth would bring you closer to God, since cleanliness signified wealth and comfort.
Cleanliness just forms daily life now, but here are a few reasons why obsessive cleaning can do more harm than good:
One of the biggest problems with our clean obsession may be its source: corporations. In the 1920’s and 30’s, companies like Listerine, Lysol, and Colgate spent billions on selling the idea of “clean,” which could be achieved through the products and chemicals they sold. In addition to revolutionizing the advertising industry, they also made cleanliness the ideal to strive to.
But overusing cleaning products can actually be harmful to your health.
Perhaps the most common product everyone buys is soap. Antibacterial hand soap is now a staple in many homes. But instead of just keeping your hands clean, it could be harming you in several other ways. For one, the overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the creation of several antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, as we talked about in our previous article. Another is that antibacterial soaps often contain triclosan, a fairly untested substance which has recently been shown to have no effect on bacteria. There’s also growing concern over its safety.
When it comes to staying germ-free, regular old soap and water will do the trick just fine. In fact, it doesn’t matter what kind of soap you use, but just that you wash for at least 20 seconds under running water (how long it takes to hum “Happy Birthday” twice). The longer you wash, the better for killing and removing germs.
While washing your hands often can be a good way to stop the spread of germs, especially if you are sick, taking too many showers can actually be bad for you. Cleaning too often with soap can strip the natural oils from your skin and remove the protective top layer of cells, leaving it dryer and unhealthier than it would have been without washing. Unless you get extremely sweaty during the day, or have severe allergies, try skipping a shower or two! The same goes for washing hair. There’s actually a whole movement of people who choose to wash with only a conditioner instead of stripping out the natural oils with shampoo.
In addition to products that we use on our skin, we should also watch our for unnecessary household products that we’ve been convinced to use. Harsh ingredients such as ammonia and bleach emit harmful fumes, and some cleaners can leave a film on surfaces that could then transfer to your hands or food and be ingested. Remember that in nearly all cases, using a damp rag can eliminate most dust and particles from your furniture and floor.
Speaking of furniture, the last cleaning habit that might actually be bad for you: making your bed. One of the biggest sources of asthma and allergies is dust mites. These little critters could number in the millions in just one bed. They feed on skin cells and also absorb moisture from the air. It’s this second mechanic that explains why a messy bed can be bad for them and good for your health. Leaving the bed unmade can dry the sheets, dehydrating dust mites, and ultimately reducing allergies.
Finally, while this may not directly affect your health, reducing the amount of cleaning you do can benefit the environment and the Earth. For instance, between transporting the water, pumping it, and heating it, one daily warm shower of 10 minutes ultimately costs around $1000 a year. In addition, Americans spend an average of $42 a month on household cleaning supplies and $35 a month on personal care products. This adds up to nearly another $1000 a year!
All things considered, cutting back on cleaning could save you time, money, and energy, and ultimately improve your health!