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Cleanliness and Mental Heath

Updated on September 17, 2012

We Are a Society Obsessed With Clean

Since the first Ivory bar was introduced in 1879, Americans have used approximately 40 billion bars of Ivory Soap. If lined up, these bars would be approximately 2,525,253 miles long or would circle the earth almost 101 ½ times!

Pinesol is the biggest selling household cleaner in the world.

From anti bacterial soaps to colon cleansers, we are a society focused on purifying ourselves and our environment. Glistening mirrors, spotless windows, shiny faucets, and sparkling rooms are the very things we all strive for in our homes, our cars, and our workplaces. Cleanliness is a good thing. Mold, food borne illnesses, filth, viruses, bugs, and clutter are not so great. We buy antibacterial wipes and use soaps that state they are effective germ destroyers so that our bodies can be as free as possible of these microsopic invaders. The United States CDC (Center for Disease Control) approximates 76 million reports of food borne bacterial transmissions happen each year in the U.S.A. Hand washing practices, if improved would significantly reduce this problem. Many anti microbial products have greatly reduced the threats of viruses and other illnesses easily transmitted from place to place. The bad news is overuse of anti bacterial products can create adaptable changes in these nearly invisible creatures that carry the virus and bacteria, creating “superbugs” who become resistant to the very products that were designed to stop them.

Cleaning Products Sales Are Big Business

Cleaning Makes Us Feel Competent

The cleaning products market is estimated at approximately $30 billion. This market capitalizes on the idea of improving our health and quality of life by offering products that help us “feel safe”, in a world that seems hostile to our health and orderliness. After all, we just want to be free of infections and illness, and have our surroundings be clean and neat. Or …. are we looking for more? We live in a fearful world. Some thoughts are rational, and some are irrational. Sanitary conditions are the best situations. Unnecessary and over extensive use of germ killing products is counterproductive. How does someone tell what is rational and what is irrational thinking, when it comes to cleaning products choices and our habits? A clean environment feels good, it gives us satisfactions to have things neat and clean. We are proud of our sparkling homes and clean desks at work. Clutter free spaces, knowing just where things are, and to have things “twinkling” because we made them that way, gives us a sense of power in a world where we can’t always control things. We feel competent and fulfilled and this helps us feel better about who we are and where we work and play.


Worry and Cleaning

When the need to clean grows more insistent and we are obsessed by “how clean things are”, or “how clean our bodies are”, when we are trying to scrub every speck of microscopic dirt away, we could becoming slaves to the invisible threats of germs. We may be trying to get rid of something else. That something else may be anxiety, guilt, stress, or some other feeling we are afraid to deal with. The physical activity of scrubbing, sweeping, vacuuming and other cleaning related chores, may be a substitute for absolving ourselves of these unwanted feelings. On one spectrum of the scale, a person might be trying to keep order in their lives. We like “a place for everything and everything in its place”. This helps keep ourselves from feeling overwhelmed by the many events that we have to handle on an everyday basis.

Some people are afraid to shake hands or touch other people, fearing that contact with someone else will make them have contact with unwanted germs. And in extreme examples, there are people who have OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). OCD displays itself in people who do things over and over again in a ritualistic habit that they can’t control. Clean is never clean enough, and so they wash their hands over and over and over again, some even scrubbing their skin raw.

Some People Have a Fear of Germs

Are Intruding Thoughts Interfering With Your Quality of Life

Many people are trying to sanitize their environment the same way.  They are fearful and are attempting to do things to relieve their anxieties. People who fear germs   may be trying to over sterilize their environment beyond expectations with these anti bacterial products.. They may have  a pessimistic view of the future and of  humanity. Cleaning for everyone relieves anxieties. It is desirable to live and work in a beautifully clean and organized place. Our productivity, efficiency, and the pride we take in being organized are an important aspect to the way we function.  Life is a balance.  We need to balance how much energy is used to keep things clean and keep a check on our individual comfort level.  Demanding perfection from yourself, your family, and the products we use, in order to keep unrealistic clean conditions may be interfering with  the fun in your life. If you find yourself obsessed with fears about germs, viruses, or how organized your environmnent is, and these thoughts are intruding in your relationships and your life, you may benefit from talking with a professional mental health counselor.  

Excessive Hand Washing

Cleaning Relieves Anxiety

Know that you are not alone. According to “An estimated 1% of children in the United States experience OCD” And according to National Institute of Mental Health, OCD affects about 2.2 million American adults are afflicted with OCD. “It strikes men and women in roughly equal numbers and usually appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with OCD develop symptoms as children, and research indicates that OCD might run in families.” If you feel anxious, know that nearly 40 million adults in the United States over 18 years old, suffer from an anxiety disorder, and almost all of us endure stress each day. Cleaning is actually a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. But there is a difference between rational and irrational thinking about cleaning. When someone constantly has intrusive thoughts about cleaning or a fear of germs, and this interferes with their quality of life, psychiatrists, psychologists, and mental health counselors can help.

The Benefits of Cleaning

Cleaning has a lot of physical and emotional benefits and assists us in feeling less stressed. And if it helps you let go of anger, or takes your mind off of what is bothering you, grab those wipes and start cleaning, it can be very therapeutic.


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