The Hygiene Hypothesis is adhered to by many medical professionals as a way of explaining the high incidence of immune/allergy related ailments in the hyper-clean Western world. In brief, the Hygiene Hypothesis is as follows. Children these days in the developed, urban world have fewer older siblings (to bring home germs from the outside world), have less contact with animals and the outdoors than they did in the past or in rural areas, and live in a home that is kept scrupulously and meticulously germ-free with the help of modern disinfectants. Their immune systems are not exposed to many bacteria and as a result, they tend to over-react to otherwise innocuous substances, causing asthma, allergies and eczema (whether this is because the cells involved in immune response are “spoiling for a fight” and take it out on the nearest handy target, or whether the cells are more like nervous new recruits taking fright at shadows is a matter for debate).
According to proponents of the Hygiene Hypothesis, the best way to avoid the likelihood of these immune related disorders is to cut down on the amount of disinfectant used in the home, and to allow children to play in the dirt every now and then, and to play with animals (some go so far as suggesting that even Type 1 diabetes may be attributable to the Hygiene Hypothesis, but this is debatable – children can, unfortunately, get Type 1 diabetes even if they have plenty of exposure to animals and the outdoors, etc.).
This is yet another reason why we should switch to using natural home cleaning products. Natural cleaning products are all you need to remove dirt and the worst of the germs. Removing the majority of the germs is still very important for a household with young children, as infantile diarrhoea is extremely debilitating and can be dangerous, and meningitis is definitely dangerous. So don’t let the Hygiene Hypothesis turn you into a slob. But the hospital-grade disinfectants you find in some proprietary cleaners are simply over the top. They’re not necessary to maintain a healthy home. You do not live in a hospital where sick people – both those with reduced immune function and those with bacterial diseases – are confined, and you do not have to perform major surgery.
Common sense is still required and some things should be kept as germ-free as possible. Anything used for food preparation or storage should be cleaned properly and thoroughly. Hands should be washed before eating or handling food, and after using the toilet, doing a dirty job or playing with animals. Tea towels and dishcloths should be changed regularly. And extra care should be taken in households that have small children, elderly people or invalids.
If you need a natural cleaner that is more heavy duty than just soap, baking soda and water (soap is a mild disinfectant, incidentally), try one or more of the following:
Vinegar: vinegar kills bacteria, which is why it is used for bottling and for pickling. The more concentrated it is, the more bacteria it can kill.
Salt: salt also kills bacteria and is used to preserve food.
Mix it into a paste that is abrasive as well as disinfectant (you can use salt as a substitute for toothpaste, but make sure you rinse well and have a big drink of water afterwards if you try cleaning your teeth with salt).
Essential oils: Essential oils of thyme, oregano, lavender and/or pine are stronger disinfectant and anti-bacterials than some hospital-grade disinfectants. However, you won’t be using them concentrated in large quantities unless you have more money than you know what to do with. Add up to 20 drops to any other natural cleaning product for a bit of antiseptic boost.
Boiling water: Immersion in boiling water for 10 minutes kills all bacteria. Keep this for items that can handle the higher temperatures, such as metal, oven-proof glassware, china and cloth made of cotton/linen without any elastic. Don’t be a juggins and try to get the things out of the boiling water with your hands – use tongs and allow the items to dry thoroughly.
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