Wednesday Free for All: Household Germ Warfare—Is all this necessary?

Down the supermarket aisle is an arsenal of Antibacterial Agents specifically manufactured to seek out and destroy any manner of germ that could conceivably squirm on, or into, our bodies, our homes, cars, our children and pets, in and around and on our food—you name it, there is most certainly an antibacterial soap, lotion, wipe, cleanser, or spray for it. Toys, bedding, water filters, paints (yes, I wrote paints), toilet seats, and other inventive products line the shelves just waiting for germy hands to grab them so the item can set about its job to destroy destroy destroy!

While watching television one evening (before I had DVR!), I really paid attention to the commercials instead of zoning out and thinking of the chocolate bar I wish I had (sans germs?), and was amazed at how many well-dressed, smiling, uber busy women (rarely men, huhn) there were touting products that Kill 99% of Germs Lurking in Your Home! . . . Lurking! The thought of sinister microscopic bugs crawling about made me doubt my looks-clean-to-me couch (just what the advertisers want)—I felt soooo diiiirrrrty wallowing in my germs. Surely I should have leapt up and grabbed an antimicrobial spray to drench the couch, and then in a fit of Clean Slap Happy, disinfected the floor, the counters, the mirrors, the door handles, my pillow and mattress and sheets and towels—oh my!—and when the house was sparkly and germ-free, then go shower my nasty germ-spattered body with lavender-scented antibacterial soap and shampoo—don’t forget the fingernails!

How about a reality check. Is all this really necessary? Have we really become overrun with malicious (and personified) germs bent on making us and our families not only dirty, but sick? Are these commercial claims realistic? Or, are we really in Germ Overkill?

Realistically, some bacteria are needed in our environment, in and on our bodies—we are covered in microscopic buggies, sorry to give you the willies, but this is true and always has been and should always remain so; much as we are disgusted by the idea, some bacteria is healthy to and for us. Sadly, though, those good germs are dying with the bad ones; yep, good decent law-abiding germs who deserve, no need, to live in our environment. Our very beginning existence on the earth began with Bacteria—these bacteria gave us Oxygen just by their very existence here on our Earth. You have to love a germ that made our skies blue, our waters blue, and our air breathable.

Reality check: there really is no scientific evidence that these products make our homes, and our bodies, “Germ Free,” and indeed, by over-disinfecting we may be creating Super Germs—harmful bacterial become resistant to our assaults and therefore become stronger and even more relentless. There is increasing evidence that too much “clean” creates more allergies. I imagine it this way: Our bodies know how to fight against many bacteria or else how would we have survived this far as a species?

I agree we are certainly better off and I would never dispute the scientific health discoveries that help us to live longer and healthier; however, we as a species long survived by using our own immune systems. When we do the fighting with Product, our immune systems become lazy, the Bugs become stronger, and our immunity is compromised.

Here’s an example of product overkill that is contradictory to a healthy environment. Our septic systems use bacteria to break down our waste. When we use antibacterial cleaning products to excess, these good bacteria are destroyed in the septic systems so they can no longer do their job properly. Bacteria that break down our waste product are killed off by our exuberance. I’ll give you a moment to think about this *Jeopardy Music Here* Need I say more?

Now, I will sound as if I am doing the nostalgic romp of, “When I was a kid, things were different,” just as we laughed at our parents saying, “When I was a kid, I trekked five miles to school through five feet of snow uphill both ways, without shoes or a coat.” However, when I was a kid, my brothers and I used Cashmere Bouquet or Ivory, or at our Maw Maw’s we had the luxury of Dove soap, to wash our hands and bodies with; we ate with dirty fingers when our mom wasn’t looking; ran joyfully barefooted from neighborhood to neighborhood; rolled around on the floor when it hadn’t been mopped with anything other than vinegar and water; sneezed without covering our mouths and no one sprayed a can of Lysol over our heads; traded toys without first washing them with antibacterial agents; and though we sometimes were sick, more times than not we were loud and boisterous and happy and, well, always a bit dirty—sometimes a lot dirty—until our mom ordered us to take our baths and put on our pj’s while she wished we would be sick just so we’d shut up and leave her alone! Lawd! I do believe I am as healthy as I am, danged healthy as the clichéd horse, because we didn’t obsesses about germs.

Scientific discovery has brought us many products and medicines that do kill harmful germs that do make us sick, or worse, those bacteria that can kill us. However, Super Germs will be harder to kill. Stronger medicines will have to be created to keep up—stronger means more expensive, and stronger means “maybe it will work this time, but what about next time?,” which means researchers must continually hunt for new medicines that will respond to these bacteria that morph to survive our onslaught, and research is expensive. Round and Round we go! WHEEEEEEEEEEEE!

If a consumer buys, for example, a cutting board with a claim that its manufacturer has treated it with antibacterial agents, should the consumer worry when they next cut their kids’ carrots after cutting their meat? Can you really trust that this product is “antibacterial?” If it were me, I’d thoroughly wash the “new and improved” board with soap and water after each use, and as well, use separate cutting boards: one for your meat and one for non-meat items. If one must go to all this trouble anyway, why not buy the plain old cutting boards of olden days?

And what about toys? Manufacturers of toys made with Microban tried to claim children were safe from disease by using these toys versus toys without Microban. Reality is, consumers still need to wash the toys full of germy gooey-goopness. What good is that? If I still have to wash the product, then why buy the product with the antibacterial agent?  I wonder, too, just what is Microban? Sounds a little scary to me, although I’m not a scientist, so perhaps it’s just a happy go lucky little ingredient that only wants to do good in this world.

Don’t we have enough to worry about without obsessing over thoughts of invisible germs marching into our homes and bodies and foodstuff? Having a clean and healthy environment is important, but really, have we gone too far? And if these claims that overuse of antibacterial and antimicrobial additives can create those Super Bacteria, shouldn’t we back up a bit and think hard about our next soap or cleaning purchase? (And don’t get me started on the environmental impact, that’s another article.)

And finally, since there really isn’t any firm evidence these products actually do what they claim to do, our pennies are better spent on a day at the park, happily reaching into the picnic basket and extracting a non-antibacterial laced apple to eat with non-antibacterial laced fingers while lying on the—heaven forbid—dirty ground. Ah Joy! Now, I think I’ll go wash my hands with soap and water and have some breakfast on my soap-scrubbed dining table.

What do think?

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20 thoughts on “Wednesday Free for All: Household Germ Warfare—Is all this necessary?

  1. Girl, I was one of those dirty kids, too. We shared drinks out of the same bottle, ran and played and sweated and then spent the night at each other’s houses climbing in bed all dirty. Nobody cared about all that. And we all survived just fine. Maybe that’s why I don’t obsess about it now. I keep up appearances with wiping things down and sweeping…but don’t look under my bed or my couch…lol! In fact, don’t look too closely at anything. :D

  2. But, Mr Clean is such a tall handsome virile looking man. I thought it was every woman’s dream t o have him running around their house. Wouldn’t he make a nice household pet?

    Bacteria has many uses that is beneficial and like you said, killing them sometimes causes more harm then benefits. Couple of interesting things bacteria are being used for is the manufacture of gas and decomposing of waste products. The smoke of the The Great Smoky Mountains is a result of bacteria at work, among other things. Then there is yogurt, a very beneficial bacteria.

    There are cautions and there are phobias and then there is marketing. Sometimes I feel like I am a character in a dumb and dumber movie. Puts one foot out and…….. life moves on.

    • Oh, Mr. Clean Mr. Clean!

      I don’t know if anyone else remembers, but there was this brief commercial where the woman wipes down a counter with anti-bacterial spray and a cloth and there is all this screaming! Like people screaming as they died! OMG – it was the worst most disturbing commercial – very bad taste – awful! I think it came not long after 911, too, which made it even more upsetting.

      I never saw it again and I know they pulled it from backlash, but, no one else I’ve asked saw it — what about y’all?

  3. Hi Kat .. can’t stand all the waste of money on unnecessary expenses – just leave us alone with our bugs .. and we’ll be fine. Use wooden boards that self-clean themselves .. and they’re going back to the old ways: simple, old fashioned remedies.

    Though I have to say the infestations of bed-bugs I’m not so sure about … another sort of bug … we had an outbreak in South Africa – fortunately were able to use chemicals in those days to smoke kill them out … thankfully!

    I have to say I hate everyone being so sensitive about cleanliness .. in some places I can understand it … hospital and Nursing Centres ..

    Cheers it’s gloomy enough over here – Hilary

    • I draw the line at bedbugs or other critters that crawl where they ain’t wanted and … *shudder* — that’s different – that’s vermin. They had problems with them, apparently, in the US, too — made me so paranoid to sleep in hotels, which I have to do from time to time -eek!

      so yeah, Vermin is different – lawd! lawd! :-D

      it’s been a little gloomy here, too – but i see a peek of sun! yay!

  4. Oh, holy catfish, I am laughing my a** off. Law-abiding germs! If my apple fell into the grass, I’d still eat it. And I wonder, in the negative-temp over-nights of North Dakota, if all our germs are packing their teeny weeny bags for Florida.

  5. A hearty amen. I think as I was growing up we took one bath a week. Now my daughter makes my grandson bathe every day–ok, so do I now, but going to bed dirty one night isn’t a killer.

    • we were so filthy, our mom made us bathe every night. The water could at times be black, we’d be so filthy from playing in the dirt *laughing* Then again, I ate dirt at one time in my early childhood – ungh ungh

  6. Hi Kat – we all were … that’s why we’re so healthy .. manure cupcakes – who can beat them?! I think I’d rather have them than ‘vilvy vvvvvermeeeen’!!!!!!

    What memories … or my brother falling into the cesspit – aged 2 .. and my father having to haul him out – unimpressed (my Dad!!) .. but I dine out on the story .. not the manure cakes, nor the rest …..

    Glorious mud: Flanders and Swann song about the Hippopotamus:
    ‘Mud, Mud, glorious mud
    Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!
    So follow me, follow
    Down to the hollow
    And there let us wallow
    In glorious mud!

    Happy day ahead .. I’m off for a glass of red vino – away from our muddy dismal day. Cheers Hilary

    • This made me laugh — although the cesspit made me go “lawd ewwww” a bit too – but then, shoot, what’s a little poo between family members>? OMG laughing — LAWD!

  7. Well, you should know that I have a bit of OCD, but I’m totally allergic to anti-bacterial soaps/lotions/etc. I know. OCD and can’t use germ killers. *sigh* Oh, and fragrance, I can’t use anything with fragrance.

    So my kids live with dirty hands, plain smelling clothes, and yes…they run around shoeless in the backyard. But you know…they are some of the healthiest kids in our neighborhood. Weird. I’m glad I have problems with the anti-bacterial stuff. ;) Whew.

    • Haw! Yeah, well – you want to hear something funny and maybe sounds as if it is contradictory? I have a bit of the “Germaphobe” in me – kind of like A La Sheldon Cooper *laugh* — and I can have compulsive tendencies if I’m not careful – but, I’m still adamant about things – like I won’t take antibiotics unless I am absolutely POSITIVE I absolutely need them. I use soap and water and I wash well, but it doesn’t have to be anti-bacterial. I wash the counters anytime any kind of anything touches them — especially if it’s meat or even if meat acts like it’s going to touch something *laugh*

      When we were kids, we ran behind the danged skeeter trucks (we lived in Louisiana at the time) and then when we’d visit the farm in Arkansas, we’d run from the crop dusters but not quite make it to a hiding place that wasn’t near adequate to keep the poison off of us — and I turned out (relatively) normal! I think it made me resistent to . . . to . . . I lost my train of thought – whatever that word is – oh dear. LAWD

      I have my weirdness — but still I think advertising, and some results of that advertising, goes too far.

  8. There is little doubt that we have become germophobes. The germs you and your family are exposed to on a regular basis (within your environment) do not usually cause problems. On the other hand, the germs that are abundant in public restrooms (think door handle on the way out); the germs that can be cultured from grocery carts (think leaky poopy diapers); and the germs on the common pen used for signing your pharmacy record (think flu patient used it before you) do indeed concern me. The alcohol-based handwashing products are indeed effective. I keep one in my car all the time. My dear husband laughs at me when I use it immediately after church (we shake hands and hold hands during the Lord’s Prayer). He says Jesus didn’t fear touching even the lepers. I respond that Jesus had a better immune system. Besides, Jesus didn’t sit next to an old geezer who spent most of the service coughing and snorting and sneezing with no handkerchief; then put out his hand to join mine.

    You make a valid point about toys, utensils, cutting boards and the like that are “treated” to be germ free. Nonsense. In fact, it’s worse than nonsense because it may lull parents away from the need for regularly washing them in soap and water. The only anti-bacterial soap in the house should be in the kitchen for handwashing before cooking.

    • Yup – one of my “Sheldon Cooperisms” (I wrote a blog post about it one day not long ago) is things like shaking hands. If someone shakes my hand and particularly if I do not know them, then I can feel my hand tingling, it grows bigger and heavier and I am just so AWARE of that hand – it doesn’t happen with everyone, but it happens a lot. And until I wash my hands, I stay AWARE OF THAT HAND and I won’t eat with it *laughing* Yeah, I’m weird!

  9. Happy Belated New Year! Well, much of this I agree is overkill. But moderation works for me. What an incredible site makeover here! Shows you I’ve been away too long. lol! I’ll be back!!!

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