Cleanliness has become an American obsession. We want to scrub everything until it sparkles and smells like lemon and lavender. But what if this desire for cleanliness is harmful?

Keeping our bodies clean is essential to good health. We know that regularly washing our hands can help to protect us against germs that can get into our bodies and make us ill. However, there is a fine line between healthy body care and habits that are detrimental to our health.

Benefits of a Little Dirt

Exposing children to the environment has benefits. When children come into contact with a little dirt and bacteria, their immune systems are challenged and subsequently strengthened.

The immune system has to be exercised in order to grow stronger and more effective. If we constantly clean our environments of every bit of grime, we rob our children of opportunities to develop immunity. Studies continuously show that children exposed to dirt have immune systems that are stronger and better able to fight off stronger bugs in the future.

Problems With Cleaning Products

On the flipside, when we clean incessantly, we are also exposing our children to dangerous chemicals in the products that we use. Cleaning products—unless they are generated from natural ingredients—contain chlorine, bleach, ammonia, fragrance (which contains dozens of chemicals), and many ingredients obtained from petroleum and coal tar. Most of these chemicals are poisonous if ingested.

So if these products are toxic when ingested, wouldn’t they be equally toxic if inhaled day after day? Many people don’t make this connection, but it is true that they can degrade our health—especially for those little people who like to hang out on the floor.

What About Antibacterial Products?

In an effort to keep their kids away from any germs, many parents pull out the antibacterial lotions after each encounter with public areas. The idea is to kill any bacteria before it enters their child’s body and causes harm. However, antibacterial products contain a chemical called triclosan that can cause liver damage, and has even been implicated in cancer. The widespread use of triclosan is also leading to antibacterial resistance, a serious issue if we want to be able to kill bacteria when we really need to. Thus, you may be trading in one problem for a much larger one down the road.

It is important to understand that antibacterials—including antibiotics—will lower our own numbers of good bacteria. These good bacteria that we have comprise a huge portion of our immune system, some say up to 80 percent. With decreased levels of healthy bacteria, children are more likely to develop allergies, asthma, and a host of other diseases. Therefore, it is important to preserve these bacteria if we want to improve our kids’ immunity.


Many children in North America have a bedtime routine that includes a bath. However, this too can be a problem, as constant bathing can strip the skin of its natural oils. This can lead to issues such as dryness and even eczema. Add to this the onslaught of bathing products most families use (bubble bath, shampoo, conditioner, etc.) and you have another massive exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

Parents can use common sense when it comes to the bathing needs of their kids. If your child is dirty, give them a bath. But you may want to ask yourself if it is really necessary to bathe them daily if they are not really very dirty.

When it comes to children’s health it is wiser to take the middle road when it comes to cleanliness. Too much can lower their bodies’ ability to develop a healthy and strong immune system while too little can expose them to sickness. Good hygiene, such as washing your hands, should be encouraged. However, in most cases, a natural soap is a better choice than the fancy antibacterial options that abound.

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