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Dangers of Over-Cleaning

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 22 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
: Over Cleaning Dangers Allergies Asthma

While we all know that cleanliness is next to Godliness you can actually take things to extremes. “Over-cleaning” can actually do more harm than good and even cause specific dangers to you and your family. Keeping a good balance between good hygiene and excessive compulsive-obsessive cleaning is important.

Allergies and Auto-Immune Reactions

It has long been noticed that in industrialised countries, where high hygiene standards and constant cleaning with harsh chemical products has created an overly antiseptic environment, there has been a surge in allergies and autoimmune diseases. For example, research has found that in some inner cities allergies in children have gone from being a rare occurrence or being something that affects nearly 50% of children living there.

Protecting children from being exposed to the everyday bacteria, viruses and fungi they would normally encounter meant that their immune systems never learned to mature and deal with these threats. They became over-sensitised to any stimulants in the environment. Thus, by keeping things too clean, you’re actually increasing your children’s risks of getting conditions such as asthma and eczema.

They are also more prone to auto-immune diseases like Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease, as the over-sensitised immune systems start attacking things it shouldn’t regard as a threat – in fact, it starts attacking the body itself. Furthermore, allowing children to indulge in some “messy, dirty activities” – such as finger-painting or jumping in puddles – can provide important learning experiences.

Specific groups of organisms have been identified as helping our immune systems to develop and regulating their function. These include the saprophytic organisms found in mud, the parasitic worms called helminths and a kind of bacteria called lactobacilli. While keeping good hygiene standards are important, not being too obsessional with your cleaning allows these “good micro-organisms” to be introduced to our bodies in a beneficial manner.

Toxic Chemicals

Not only does excessive cleaning get rid of the “good germs” that help to give healthy immunity, it can even introduce toxic chemicals into your environment, which can seriously harm your health. A famous example of this is John Travolta’s toddler son who had to be rushed to hospital after inhaling toxic fumes from their carpet detergent, which was used frequently as Travolta and his wife were worried about bacteria in the carpet fibres.

In fact, many common disinfectants – from all-purpose cleaning sprays to toilet bowl cleaners - contain dangerous, toxic, caustic compounds called phenols, which are often used to mask smells. Phenol is so toxic that people who are hypersensitive to it can experience serious side effects or even death at low exposures. Because it is rapidly absorbed, it can poison the entire body very quickly with fatal damage to the central nervous system, heart, blood vessels, lungs and kidneys.

Symptoms of phenol exposure include:

  • Severe burns and numbness if exposed to the skin
  • Delirium
  • Shock
  • Pulmonary distress
  • Dark urine
  • Coma
  • Death.
While any detergents and cleaners containing Nonyl phenol ethoxylate is banned in Europe, it is still a good idea to check the ingredients of any commercial cleaning products you are using and if possible, to always opt for those that contain fewer strong chemicals or even to opt for the environmentally-friendly versions, which do not contain any chemicals but rely on natural ingredients for their cleaning power. Specially formulated environmental terry cloths, which clean at a microscopic level without the need for any disinfectants are another good alternative.

Other ingredients in common disinfectants and cleaners that may be dangerous include chlorine ammonia and ethanol. For example, Diethylene glycol found in window cleaners can depress the nervous system; formaldehyde in room deodorisers is a respiratory irritant and a suspected carcinogen and petroleum solvents found in floor cleaners can damage mucous membranes. In fact, any product with strong chemical smells is likely to contain powerful and potentially harmful compounds. In many cases, a thorough wash with simple hot water and soap will do the trick as well as a harsh disinfectant and will be a lot safer for you and your family.

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