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Super Sanitizing in the Age of COVID: Can You Be Too Clean?

Sanitizing surfaces

In the last decade, health experts touted the benefits of having plenty of good bacteria in the gut.  They say having a diverse gut microbiome strengthens the immune system.  As it turns out, a diverse microbiome in our environment operates the same way. In other words, there are plenty of good bugs all around us that can help us fight off disease.  

However, during the COVID pandemic more than ever before, many of the good bugs in our environment are being wiped out with high-powered cleansers like antibacterial agents and bleach. While health experts stress the importance of fighting COVID by washing hands and surfaces with mild cleansers, such as old-fashioned soap and water, they say disinfecting may literally be overkill.

When New York City shut down the subways for four hours each day for disinfecting it deprived untold residents of much-needed transportation.  Many of these travelers worked at hospitals and other health care facilities treating COVID patients, the last people who needed additional hardship during the pandemic. 

To make matters worse, some scientists declared the subway shutdown a colossal waste of time and money.

"It looks a bit to me like 'cleaning theatre,'"  Dr. Jack Gilbert, microbiome researcher, University of California San Diego professor and author of Dirt Is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System told CBN News, adding the purpose of the disinfecting project may actually have been "to make people feel more comfortable about using those environments. Bleaching the surfaces will have very, very little impact upon the spread of the disease."

That's because science tells us COVID-19 is spread mainly through personal contact. Furthermore, Dr. Gilbert points out the fact that once a surface is sanitized, it doesn't stay that way for long.

"If you sterilize a surface, in a few minutes after sterilization the microbes from our body are re-colonizing that surface."

During this pandemic, welcoming some of the germs living all around us may seem scary, but it's generally better than killing them all. 

"The negative consequences of bleaching the environment, especially if you have very young children in the environment, can actually lead to chronic consequences which may be worse," Dr. Gilbert said, adding the good bugs we encounter, especially as youngsters, can help prevent food allergies, skin problems like eczema and even issues associated with autism.

"Those experiences that those children are getting shape how their immune system develops. And that can shape how our brains develop," he said.

Growing Up With Dirt

Think about all the germs surrounding barnyard animals or even household pets. Turns out, those bugs are good for us. Growing up with animals can reduce the lifetime risk of a number of ailments. For example, asthma strikes about one in ten Americans.  Children who grow up with a dog, however, are 13-percent less likely to develop this serious lung disease. Kids on farms do even better, enjoying a 50-percent reduction.

In the age of COVID, doctors say it's never been more important to wash our hands.  However, we can go overboard.

Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. Heidi Nelson told CBN News that exposure to certain microorganisms can help fight disease.

"Keeping clean is good, but there probably is such a thing as too clean," she said, adding that exposure to a diverse array of microorganisms in the environment can help fight disease. 

"We all grew up playing in the dirt and it didn't hurt us and it probably kept us healthy and having a strong immune system," she said. 

In his book, Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure It, Dr. Josh Axe, who has the number one natural health website, told CBN News that a preoccupation with disinfecting everything in sight puts us at risk for chronic illnesses. 

"What a lot of people don't realize is by using excessive sanitizers and bleaches they're actually weakening their immune system."

The Natural Approach

Dr. Axe says some cleansers contain harsh chemicals that can harm the skin and gut.  He recommends a more natural approach.

"If we use things like essential oils that are referenced in the Bible we're not going to have those same side effects, yet it's going to help sanitize us and keep us healthy," he said. 

He recommends this recipe for a general household cleanser.


8 Ounces Water
4 Ounces Distilled White Vinegar
15 Drops Tea Tree Essential Oil
15 Drops Lemon Essential Oil

Fill a spray bottle with ingredients. Close bottle and shake to mix. Shake bottle before each spray.

In addition to gentle cleansers that kill bad germs while still allowing our immune system to flourish, Dr. Axe points to other COVID-fighting strategies.

"I recommend getting zinc, around 30 milligrams a day, Vitamin D at 5,000 IUs a day and Vitamin C at 1,000 milligrams a day," he said, continuing, "I really like echinacea because of how it strengthens the lungs, elderberry because of how it fights viruses and astragalus for its immune-boosting properties."

So while health experts advise washing hands and surfaces often with plain, old soap and water or another type of mild cleanser, they warn that super-sanitizing with antibacterial soap or bleach may literally be overkill.

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