Why Over-Sanitizing Is Harmful To Our Health
By Marilee Nelson |
We’ve been taught that a sanitized home is a healthy home… and the more antibacterial, antiseptic, and antimicrobial products we use, the better. The idea behind this is logical enough: the more germs we kill the less likely we are to be exposed to harmful pathogens. However, over-sanitizing experts failed to consider three critical issues:
- The negative impact of killing all germs, the good and the bad, on microbiome immune health.
- The fact that when you kill germs, the few left behind will learn to adapt to disinfectants, eventually becoming superbugs.
- Chemical disinfectants are extremely toxic and have been linked to dozens of acute and chronic diseases and environmental problems. These toxic disinfectants and sanitizers weaken our immune system and lungs… the very allies we need to protect us from pathogens in the first place!
Tip #1: In most cases, removing germs is more appropriate than disinfecting and killing them
If you’re in the habit of using disinfecting wipes or chemical counter-spray around the house, we’d highly recommend trading them in for a natural soap-based cleaner. The reason is that simple soap and water are highly effective at binding to all types of unwanted germs (even viruses), which can then be wiped away and removed using a microfiber cloth.
This is (typically) preferable to killing the germs with a disinfectant, because it doesn’t cause the leftover germs to mutate into stronger germs. For counters and most hard surfaces, we recommend Branch Basics All-Purpose dilution with a microfiber cloth for effective germ removal.
Tip #2: As a general rule, trade hand sanitizer for soap and water
These days, alcohol is the main ingredient in most hand sanitizers. Alcohol is a germ killer (versus remover) and therefore can contribute to a superbug problem. Plus, use of hand sanitizer has been linked to an increased absorption of other toxins like BPA
There are concerns about alcohol absorption via the skin and lungs for the very young and vulnerable, or those who use a lot of hand sanitizer. In fact, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends opting for plain soap and water to remove germs instead of a sanitizer that kills and might create superbugs!
Ideally, choose an all-natural soap (like Branch Basics Foaming Wash) and wash your hands under warm water for 30 seconds before rinsing. When you’re out and about, Branch Basics travel size All-Purpose or Foaming Wash are perfect for cleaning up hands on-the-go.
Please note, if you have nothing else to clean your hands with before eating or after being exposed to harmful germs, you’re fine opting for the occasional alcohol-based hand sanitizer rather than nothing at all. It’s all about balance!
Tip #3: When sanitization is warranted, use a non-toxic approach
Speaking of balance, there will be times when sanitizing your cutting board, countertop, keyboard, children’s toys, door knobs, toilet, highchair tray, pacifiers, toilet and much more is entirely appropriate. In these cases, we turn to our trusty non-toxic sanitizing combination of 3% hydrogen peroxide (in the brown bottle) and distilled white vinegar, stored in separate bottles.
To use, simply spray a few sprays of vinegar or peroxide on the surface, and let the one product dwell 5-10 minutes. Wipe thoroughly. Then spray the other product on the same surface. Let dwell, and wipe thoroughly. To make things even easier, you can affix your own spray nozzles directly to the bottles.
This combination works as well as chemical disinfectants… without the toxicity-factor. Again, these are only to be used separately (spray one first, wipe, then spray the other) and stored in separate bottles.
Tip #4: Let fresh air do it's magic
It’s been proven that disinfectant cleaners, hand sanitizers and personal care products can negatively impact your gut microbiome by killing off healthy bacteria. Why does healthy bacteria matter? Because it’s the healthy bacteria, fungi, and other germs in our bodies that help protect us from pathogenic germs. They also help regulate things like weight,
Also, about 80% of your immune system resides in your gut. Therefore, when the gut microbiome becomes imbalanced your immunity is compromised. In the integrative health field, the answer to a disrupted gut microbiome has been to take or eat more probiotics. In a recent interview, Dr. Zach Bush shared research showing that spending time outdoors is more effective at rebalancing the gut than probiotics! Do yourself a favor by spending time outdoors and opening your windows to let the fresh, microbial-rich air into your home. For best results, open your windows twice daily and try to spend at least 30 minutes outdoors.
Tip #5: Be mindful of antibacterial ingredients in personal care products
Just a few years ago, most antibacterial products (hand sanitizer, soaps, wipes) contained a chemical known as: triclosan. Despite its widespread use, this chemical is considered one of the top contaminants of concern worldwide and has been linked to cancers, developmental problems, endocrine disruption, thyroid health issues, chronic gut health problems and liver toxicity.
However, triclosan or its cousin, triclocarban, is still used in many types of personal care products including toothpastes, deodorants, facial care products (especially products for acneic skin), and even clothing, footwear, outdoor gear, or kitchenware bearing the name: “microban”. There is active legislation to stop its use in cosmetics entirely, but we’re not there yet.
Thus, we implore you to avoid using any chemical-based personal care or oral care products that are labeled “antibacterial” or contain triclosan. Even natural-looking antibacterial products (like those containing tea tree oil) may also contain tricolsan or triclocarban, so be sure to read your labels. Or better yet, skip chemical-based personal care and oral care products altogether!
Additional tips to optimize your personal microbiome health (including skin, oral and gut) are
- Using all-natural soaps, skin creams, hair care, deodorant, toothpastes and dental floss
- Using only 100% organic feminine care products (because many pesticides used on cotton, like glyphosate, are also strong antibacterials)
- Using a shower and bath filter (which removes chlorine)
- Avoid over-washing/over sanitizing yourself. This doesn't mean to go a week without a shower! One shower or bath a day or even every other day is typically sufficient for most people.
Further resources on natural cleaning and sanitizing
It can be difficult —and even scary—to change your cleaning and personal care habits, especially if you were brought up over-sanitizing. However, once you get the hang of cleaning with natural products, using natural skincare, and knowing when natural sanitizing is warranted, life makes a whole lot more sense. And you’ll be so much healthier for it! Here are more resources to help:
- How To Clean And Disinfect Surfaces Naturally (includes helpful tips on when to sanitize vs. clean with natural soap and water)
- How To Clean And Disinfect Cutting Boards Naturally
- Our Favorite Non-Toxic Personal Care Products
- Feminine Care 101: Toss The Toxins For A Happier Healthier Period
- How To Detox Your Armpits And Switch To Natural Deodorant
- Hand Soap Vs. Hand Sanitizer (a fascinating deep dive into the history and detriments of triclosan)
- Our Non-Toxic Baby Registry (for tips on baby skin care products)
- Beyondpesticides.org has a helpful article on products that may contain triclosan
- EWG.org has helpful resources for avoiding triclosan in household and skincare products.
Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.