The importance of dirt

Health
bucket and cloth

The obsession with the danger of ‘germs’ is thought to have led to an increase in allergies. Much of this obsession with cleanliness seems to be driven by the media and advertising. Headlines about ‘killer bugs’, and advertisements that claim their products kill even more germs have led many to buy more and more products to wipe out these dangerous enemies.

But current thinking among some researchers and doctors is that a certain level of dirt is good for us particularly during infancy and early childhood when the immune system is maturing. While the mother is pregnant, her immune system has to be subtly adjusted so that she doesn’t reject the baby. The baby is then born with its immune system ‘tipped’ in the same direction, so that the part of the system that is, among other things, responsible for allergic reactions is more prominent. It is believed that the exposure of the very young to some level of ‘dirt’ is beneficial in that it rebalances the immune system to emphasise the part of the immune system that is not involved in the allergy process.

Even if you have no young children in your household, over zealous cleaning has its drawbacks. A lot of cleaners, air fresheners and similar products contain high levels of volatile organic compounds, such as benzene, toluene and xylene. These are lightweight molecules that easily evaporate into the air, and so can be breathed in. These have been linked to allergy problems, and a range of other symptoms and problems including asthma. This is particularly true for spray cleaners, etc. where research suggests that the use of spray cleaners as little as once a week can start asthma in adults.

By all means take a pride in your home, cherish and care for it, but realise that you may not be doing anyone any favours by being very clean and house proud.