Can we be too clean?

Please note: This is just my opinion, please make your own conclusions. I’m not responsible for any dirt you eat as a result of this.

Modern sanitation has been the impetus for ridding the world of major diseases and bacterial infections. It is LIFE SAVING, there’s no denying that.

But can we be TOO CLEAN?

Many people believe that your environment needs to be as clean and sanitary as possible. But did you know that children kept in ultra clean environments have higher rates of respiratory conditions such as asthma and hay fever? You’ve probably heard that having a dog or being around farm animals reduces risk of childhood illnesses. That’s because having access to beneficial bacteria is good for you and having the occasional access to mild viruses helps build your immune system.

Our water is sterilized, food sanitized, we wash our hands constantly and we don’t have access to some of the ways humans traditionally acquired beneficial bacteria (being outside). I’ve had food poisoning in the developing world far too many times and very much understand the necessity for clean water and food. Let’s not change that. Work with patients? Hanging out at an airport? Visiting the restroom? By all means, wash your hands. It’s the incessant hand washing that I believe could be doing more harm than good (especially considering many people use hand sanitizer with triclosan… but that’s another story). When I go to playdates I often see moms washing their children’s hands every other minute (or at least it seems that way)… it’s like the second they touch something they must have acquired a deadly disease and must be sanitized.

Let them build their immune system, let them get exposed to the world.

According to Jack Gilbert, author of ‘Dirt Is Good’: Why Kids Need Exposure To Germs:

“In the past, we would have eaten a lot more fermented foods, which contain bacteria. We would have allowed our children to be exposed to animals and plants and soil on a much more regular basis. Now we live indoors. We sterilize our surfaces. Their immune systems then become hyper-sensitized. You have these little soldier cells in your body called neutrophils, and when they spend too long going around looking for something to do, they become grumpy and pro-inflammatory. And so when they finally see something that’s foreign, like a piece of pollen, they become explosively inflammatory. They go crazy. That’s what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies.”

We’re built to be exposed to bacteria all day everyday, and much of that bacteria is beneficial. The gut microbiome is essential to the immune system and does a lot of the work to keep your body healthy and distinguish between friend and foe. By sterilizing everything and having no exposure to natural soil, we are sterilizing ourselves in unnatural ways. We’re meant to get exposure to pathogens at an early age to build our immune system in ways that help us for the rest of our lives. Without these natural exposures, the immune system never learns how to respond to its environment and can eventually overreact to non-threatening stimuli and to our own bodies.

Ask your grandparents if they remember a time where allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disease was commonplace.

Not to say that this is the only cause of modern ailments; these are multi-factorial problems. But science certainly shows there is a relationship between the bacteria we are exposed to and our susceptibility to certain diseases.

The conflict between cleanliness and exposure can be difficult. You want to be exposed to good bacteria in your environment, especially dirt. You also DON’T want to be exposed to bacteria and viruses that can cause major illness, which in rare cases, can come from dirt. It’s a balance between doing what is genuinely protecting yourself and being unnecessarily clean. Ever hear the story about doctors who would go from the morgue to deliver babies because they didn’t understand germ theory?

It’s a balancing act.

We have to live with the downside of our modern living. We’re too clean and our bodies don’t understand how to work in our ultra clean environment. BUT, no one wants a horrible flesh eating parasite either.

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By |2018-01-25T18:01:14+00:00July 16th, 2017|Clean|4 Comments

About the Author:

Hi, I'm Ania. I'm a natural living, primal advocating mom of a crazy toddler.


  1. Lila July 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Fun thoughts! Thanks for sharing! I’m inclined to agree – a little dirt never hurt anyone. 🙂

  2. Lisa V in BC July 18, 2017 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    Great Post! Completely agree with letting our kids go out and get dirty and I love just using vinegar and baking soda for the majority of our cleaning needs!!

  3. Heather July 19, 2017 at 1:01 am - Reply

    So true! We want the house clean and our kids (somewhat) clean…. yet their immune systems need a bit of dirt to develop. =)

  4. Lynne July 31, 2017 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    Great post. I agree completely. We all went out as children and did what we do not encourage our kids to do nowadays, and actually, I was sick a lot less frequently.

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