January 13, 2012

Is Squeaky Clean Too Clean?

Queen Elizabeth I of England boasted that she bathed once a month, "whether I need it or not". It wasn't so long ago that the majority of us bathed about as much. That was before our modern cleanliness myth - "if clean is good, squeaky clean is better" - was developed to create the multi-billion dollar cleanliness industry.

If cleanliness was once next to godliness, it is now found between social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Katherine Ashenburg, author of "The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History", thinks our hyper-hygiene has become "hedonistic, anxious and oversanitized", and I agree.

Of course, life expectancies rose sharply in the 1930's and 40's thanks in large part to the improvement of cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene, but we have since fallen overboard into the great Soapy Sea. There are a growing number of people that believe that this obsession with clean is actually making us sick.

Essentially, the philosophy of those advocating for a less clean world says that the more we try to protect ourselves from the environment, the weaker we become. They feel that our immune systems need to be challenged in order to develop and maintain function. Within limits then, being less clean could improve your health.

I used to shower every day, but it doesn't fit with my lifestyle now. These days I find I have better things to do with my time than attack my body daily with a range of smelly chemicals. Consider that people rarely used soap to wash their bodies until the late 19th century. Olive oil-based soaps that were gentle enough for skin were too expensive for the majority of people.

Smelling like chemicals is expensive to this day, and it is an expense I jettisoned from my budget a long time ago. I haven't used deodorant or anti-perspirant for years, and I do not miss these aluminium-laced concoctions designed to mask who you really are.

What's wrong with humans smelling like humans rather than soap, sandalwood, or Musk Deer scent? Within reason of course - I do not want to be as odoriferous as a medieval Christian desert hermit displaying his holiness by not washing. Reports are that these dedicated desert dwellers could set off one's 'Smell-o-meter' from a mile away.

Even Napoleon ("I'm coming home, don't shower") might have been taken aback at such a dedicated funk. However, depending on how your body works, warding off unpleasant odours does not require one to take on a cleanliness obsession like an acquaintance of mine that showers several times per day.

Also, frequent showers do not agree with my desire to conserve resources. Luffa-ing under a constant stream of steamy hot water takes a lot of energy, and this energy use has negative consequences on the environment. Plus, all the hot water and smelly products cost a lot of cash.

I want to save money and be clean enough that I am not detectable from a kilometer away. I find that after a few days it is time for a scrub down, but I see nothing wrong with being a 'free range human' and getting down and dirty every once in a while. If nothing else, it makes the occasional hot shower seem like a dreamy spa treatment rather than just another chore in a busy day.

My cleanliness product bag contains a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo. That's it, and I use them about once a week whether I need it or not. Once-a-month Elizabeth, former Queen of England, might wonder why I shower so frequently.

Where do you stand on the cleanliness - compulsion continuum?


  1. Anonymous1/13/2012

    Afternoon Gregg/calmblueocean,

    Been a lurker on your site, and I always appreciate your posts both here and on Reddit.

    you really hit the nail on the head with this post. if i remember correctly (dont quote me on this, due to being out of college for sometime now :)), my envrionmental sciences professor stated that the cologne/perfume/deoderant/soap business takes in over 2 billion a year, and on the same slide he had the same cost for providing all of worlds population with clean water. i find it ludicrous how much the current populace in industrialized nations spends and uses these products, especially when most of the worlds population goes without most of these products.

    Personally, i only shower a couple times a week, dont use soap, and i only wash my hair maybe twice a month. recent studies are now showing that the level of washing the current populace is doing is actually detrimental to ones health, due to scrubbing away all of the microbes and what-not off of you, of which many are very beneficial for the health of your skin and your body.

    i look foward to future posts and discussions both on your blog and on reddit.

    hope you and your wife are doing well. have a great rest of the day, and an awesome weekend dude.

    peace and love,
    steve/onemellowdude (reddit handle)

    1. Steve,

      How nice to be able to welcome a fellow redditor. I too, am amazed at the things people spend their "extra" money on when there are so many going without basic needs being met.

      I am glad you enjoyed this post. It felt kind of risky considering the strong social conventions surrounding this most personal of issues.

      Have a good weekend.

  2. Anonymous1/15/2012

    I have decided that I don't need to shower so much, but I need to wash my private areas every day. Since I know I, how do you say, do a "number 2" every day, I feel much better when I know that's clean. Otherwise, I could pretty much go once a week. Maybe I need to get to get a sitz bath or something!

    1. Anon,

      My ideal bathroom would have a bidet/sitz bath. It seems so much more economical to use a sitz bath than take a shower when very little really needs to be washed.

      After visiting countries that don't use toilet paper, I began using water to clean after "number 2".

      That, and the occasional wash-up at the sink help me to feel fresher between my weekly showers.


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