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Hygiene vs. Cleanliness

When discussing my health issues with other people and ultimately also my doctors the subject of hygiene often comes up. In fact just a few days ago I had a bit of a fallout with some people on a forum about how people wearing diapers might not qualify for certain professions. Aside from the fact that this is downright discriminating and simply not true, it illustrates some of the fundamental misunderstandings people have about this. This warrants a closer look at some of the aspects.

Long before I fell ill with my chronic disease, I liked to keep things clean and tidy, a trait I inherited from my mom and grandma, it seems. Now with my risk for infections being like 20 times higher this surely comes in handy, as of course keeping floors and surfaces of furniture free of dirt and contaminants like bacteria is one part of a successful hygiene plan. There is nothing magical about it and contrary to what you may think it doesn’t even require to use special cleaning agents, sterile wipes or whatever. You just have to go through with it and do it regularly.

Dust is not only visible and makes your home look dirty, but can also cause allergic reactions. Things like the fibers and lint from your bedware or the flakes from your skin, while themselves not infectious, are also carriers for mites, bacteria or chemicals. Therefore you should remove dust regularly by vacuum cleaning or doing a quick dry wipe. For wet-wiping I use a normal generic cleaning agent diluted in water and it sufficiently takes care of not only removing stains, but also a good part of germs based on the simple physical fact that the tensides make it impossible for the bacteria to stick or the components of the medium dissolve the hull. Just use fresh water for every room, clean the rags used and use separate buckets for floors and shelves. Basic rules, really. On the other hand do not obsess about it – as long as we are talking about “your own” dirt, the risk of it being dangerous to yourself is minor. This is something you need to keep in mind in your dealings with this matter: Inside your home and within your family you already share a similar set of microbes because when you touch each other or breathe the same air, you create a stable balance that your immune system is accustomed to. It is only a different thing if someone is sick and has a cold or something like that. That is where it begins to get interesting.

People are always afraid to contract all sorts of mayhem just by looking at someone, which of course is nonsense. Unless you touch someone, he directly sneezes at you or you are forever stuck in the same room, breathing in someone else’s “used air”, you do not get sick unless you are a high risk person like me. That’s assuming everybody follows simple rules like regularly washing his hands, holding a hanky or his sleeve in front of his nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and of course not cooking dinner in the same clothes he used to clean out the cow barn. Of course any form of additional cleaning measures will help, but, and that sort of brings me back to my introduction, just because you smell of perfume doesn’t mean you are “hygienic” just like in reverse if you smell of sweat or your diaper is getting a bit ripe doesn’t mean you are contagious in any way. Unless I were to stick my hands down my soaked diaper without washing them afterwards, they would not be any more dangerous than before. The example I used in that discussion is, that even a chef in a restaurant needs to use the restroom every now and then and needs to follow these procedures just as well. If he doesn’t wash his hands, you’re more screwed than me sitting next to you with a pooped diaper, if you get my meaning. Which is ultimately getting to a point.

True hygiene is about having a plan and obeying rules. It’s not about individual, isolated measures just as it is not about having irrational fears about things you may not like or understand. Or to put it this way: The real trick is to educate everyone involved, prevent potentially contagious materials from entering your safe zones and if they do, knowing how to get rid of them without putting yourself at risk. That being so, you also have to lead by example. There is no point in being all fussy about keeping things clean at home and then walking in with dirty clothes in the hospital when visiting your loved ones after your working day. I have seen that far too often.

In all the above we never talked about specific disinfection agents. Why is that? Because in a normal home they are not necessary nor should you excessively use them. There is a number of reasons for this:

  • Those agents use specific chemicals that can cause allergic reactions by themselves or even be toxic, especially to children. At any rate, they often smell terrible.
  • Many agents you can buy for home use are really not that strong and only exterminate a limited set of bacteria and spores. The one little germ that makes you ill therefore may survive.
  • Bacteria could get used to those agents and become resistant.
  • As per all the previous write-up, you can eliminate a lot of germs just physically.
  • Without actual cleaning even the best disinfectant can only do so much. You still have to wash your hands properly and wipe the floor.
  • Germs reproduce and survive. As you dump those chemicals into the toilet that promise to make it all bacteria free, they are having a laugh and are going through their normal mitosis and multiply. Or they encapsulate and come back.

So as you see, before you spend lots of dollars on expensive stuff, you might want to consider a few of those points. In the end, a lot of it is merely exaggerated marketing. That doesn’t mean that antiseptics and other stuff have no place. they certainly do – when you are caring for someone at home or in a hospital, but then many other things become relevant, which is a topic for another time…

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One comment on “Hygiene vs. Cleanliness

  1. This is a great post! You explain the issues in a clear and common-sense way. I get so frustrated by the overuse of antibacterial agents in cleaning products. It’s been shown that handsoap with antibacterial agents is not better at cleaning than regular handsoap, and yet it’s all over the place — contributing to antibacterial resistance so that when these chemicals are actually needed, they are less effective.

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