Why Over-Sanitizing Is Harmful To Our Health

By Marilee Nelson |

featured image: Woman applying hand sanitizer

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.1
  • 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!
That said, a healthy home and body do rely on cleanliness, especially during cold and flu season and when you have babies and young children around. There are occasions when safe sanitizing is appropriate to prevent the spread of harmful pathogens. However, there are safer and more sustainable ways to achieve this without the use of chemical disinfectants.

Mother and daughter wiping counter with branch basics

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.

Man washing hands with branch basics

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 BPA2 and also has been proven to have varying degrees of effectiveness in killing unwanted germs—with some brands not reducing bacterial amounts on the hands at all.3

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!

Man with child and Branch Basics All-Purpose

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.

Women opening window in bedroom

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,4 metabolic health, blood sugar balance, inflammatory levels, and other bodily functions.

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.

Women with shampoo in bathroom

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.5 It’s also disruptive for the environment and wildlife and has been found in major municipal water systems and natural waterways. Fortunately, its use in soaps was banned in 2016. 

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:

Marilee Nelson

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.