I have never been a big fan of chemical detergents and household cleaning products but i am surrounded by people who seem to be obsessed with hygiene...they disinfect and sanitize everything and are constantly at war with germs and bacteria. They carry sanitizing wipes, they squirt alcohol gel on their hands, would never drink from the same cup/bottle as someone else, and invariably are the first ones to get sick as soon as the flu season starts.
Since reading Kristin Ross' Fast Cars Clean Bodies a few years ago i have felt somewhat justified in my suspicion of those who feel civilised by virtue of showering more often than me and using Dettol and bleach in their homes...and think that cleanliness is just one step below holiness
Now it seems that i have even more ammunition than just common sense when i argue with them. It's called the 'hygiene hypothesis'. Medical researchers have found that exposure to dirt and germs early in life primes the immune system so it is prepared for any future threat and that our constant wiping and sterilising of everything from kitchen worktops to childrens toys may be undermining this important mechanism.
Just take a look at the amount spent by consumers on household cleaning products. And the result of all this cleaning? According to researchers, it is an exponential growth in allergies.
Previously, researchers focused mainly on allergies, asthma and eczema. Numerous studies show that children raised on farms are less likely to get these diseases, either because they inhale all kinds of toxins or drink raw milk packed with bugs.
Youngsters raised with cats or dogs also seem to be protected.
But now scientists believe the hygiene hypothesis could also explain the rise in some cancers.
According to the hygiene hypothesis, repeated exposure to allergens, bacteria or certain toxins keeps the immune system on red alert, suppressing cancer cells in the earliest stages of development. Studies suggest that the more germs you get in your body, the less likely you are to get certain tumors.
So, if you stop using "body care" products (which are packed with chemicals and come in plastic containers), and stop cleaning your home obsessively, not only you will save some money and time, but you will also be protecting your health and the environment.
On many beaches in the Mediterranean using shampoo and liquid soap during a shower is strictly prohibited, as the untreated waste water ends up in the sea. I dream of the day when such rule will be applied in Hong Kong.