Why Over-Sanitizing Does More Harm Than Good

Our bodies have an amazing built-in capacity to adapt to our surroundings.  However, this adaptive capability is being threatened everyday. Predominantly, by the unintended consequences of using  products that interfere with our inherent and deep reliance on our interaction with nature.  Human health relies on a biodiverse external environment that informs our internal microbiome. Overuse of chemicals in agriculture as well as antibiotics are two modern phenomena known to reduce biodiversity, but did you know over-sanitizing your home can be just as harmful 1,2

Defining the Microbiome

We have more bacteria/fungi in our bodies than human cells. These bacteria/fungi, known as our microbiome, rely on daily exposure to microorganisms in our environment to inform our immune system about harmful pathogens. However, our modern building practices, which focus on energy efficiency and tight houses, combined with our use of products containing EPA registered pesticides allow for nearly total removal of environmental microorganisms, prohibiting exposure to this rich diversity3. This limited exposure weakens our microbiome’s ability to support innate immune health. Our home interior, when disinfected, becomes a monoculture compared to the outside environment. This offers little opportunity for our microbiome to adapt to the changing ecology.

Keeping a Healthy Gut & Home

We clean our homes to enjoy a healthy environment but when we do this, we need to consider what happens if we use disinfectants that kill 99.9% of bacteria and fungi. We call using such disinfectants “clearing the forest”. A cleared forest is a piece of land where all trees, grass, plants are removed. Over time, this cleared forest will naturally re-populate with grass, plants, and trees as it will not stay barren and neither will a disinfected home. You may get rid of most bacteria/fungi with strong disinfectants but just as with a “cleared forest”, the bacteria/fungi will return with much less diversity. Only the few types of microbes that can survive the disinfecting will populate your home. Your microbiome will adapt to this much less diverse environment which under prepares your immune system for the pathogens in the world’s ecologically biodiverse environment. With sufficient diversity in your microbiome, your immune health is supported, even in an ever-changing ecology. 

Instead of leveling our microbial forest, let us look to natural cleaning products that support a healthy microbiome and do not completely “clear the land” but instead more or less “trim back the overgrowth”. We suggest working to clean and remove germs, following these practices. This thoughtful balance in our home cleaning rituals will allow the microbiome around us and within us the opportunity to continue to adapt to our ever-changing world, keeping us healthy and thriving. 

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  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2015.01543/full
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13593-014-0266-x
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24154724/

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5 Comments

  1. Can you give me insight on the disinfecting fogging that is taking place due to the coronavirus? Is there a natural alternative for this?

    1. Marilee did speak with a chemist for Matrix Labs and he verified that this is a chlorine based hypochlorous acid product with another chemical typically used in salt water swimming pools that will slow the degradation down – meaning it will last longer on surface to kill the virus. It is a safer option than a high powered disinfectant. While it is still not the safest, we would recommend using hydrogen peroxide to wipe down surfaces if you feel the need to disinfect. Here is our blog post on this. https://branchbasics.com/blog/does-branch-basics-kill-germs/

  2. What are your thoughts on using a product like Force of Nature or the Toucan Mini to disinfect areas such as steering wheels, door knobs, countertops/sink after raw meat etc.? From what I have read this is a safe alternative to using harsher products, but honestly I’d love some input from you as a company that I trust and use daily in my home. I did read that it’s safe to use on hands without drying them out as well to kill viruses. Is hypochlorous acid (which is what this produces) safe to use? Any help is greatly appreciated.

    1. Hi Suzie, here is our blog post on what we recommend using if you feel the need to disinfect. https://branchbasics.com/blog/does-branch-basics-kill-germs/
      We are not familiar with Toucan Mini. With Force of Nature, it is a less toxic product but Marilee’s sensitive clients have had reactions to the chlorine element. If used with ventilation and aired out after use it can be okay for frequently used surfaces.

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