NO, it can’t. Why? The definition of “clean” as it relates to your home is “the absence of unwanted matter”1. If there is a desirable benefit to dirt or soil, then it is not “unwanted”.
“Unwanted matter” is empty pizza boxes, soda cans and bottles. You get the idea. There is no sound argument for them decorating your home. Sorry. It is also soil (dirt and oils) that can cause excessive wear on carpet and hard surface floors. The grit in the soil can scratch and ruin surfaces. Oil traps soil in carpet.
Then, there are germs. Yes, there are good and bad germs. Bad ones are called pathogens. They are alive. They communicate with each other. They are designed to stay alive by defending themselves against threats, including chemicals. One defense they use is their formation of biofilm. Biofilm is often made up of many types of pathogens2. They can include bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi.
The major surfaces where you do not want germs are kitchens, bathrooms and high touch areas3. Foodborne illness in the home often comes from cross-contamination while preparing a meal. Bathrooms harbor bad germs too. Mold and fungus frequently cause illness and are not easy to kill or remove completely. Most people who get sick from this source do not realize or appreciate how or why they are ill. Other germs are transmitted from people. Avoid sharing towels and cloths. If someone has been in the hospital, it is highly suggested that they have exclusive use of a bathroom for a time when recuperating at home.
Chemical disinfectants and biocides are regulated solutions that are designed to kill germs4. They do not know the difference between good and bad germs. To protect you and your home it is not always necessary to kill germs. Germs can be removed from a surface and disposed of in a sewer or trash container. Germs can be killed without chemicals that can harm you or your home. Some ways this can be done is with heat, light and ozone. Ozone generators are dangerous, highly corrosive and recommended for professional use only and should never be used when people, pets or plants are present5.
Chemical solutions are appropriate in some cases to restore the “clean condition” to a home. There may be a need to remove chemical residues after killing germs or pests. Bombing a roach infested home is one example of this. No, roaches are never “wanted”! They excrete an endotoxin that can cause illness in humans6.
Some chemicals are frequently confused as cleaning solutions. Bleach is one example. Bleach does not clean7. It oxidizes or corrodes. It kills and is regulated as a biocide. Which kills everything, this is not good, a too sterile environment leads to multiple allergies, and a weakened immune system and homemade solutions can be very risky. Tests using vinegar and lemons have shown these recipes do kill many germs, but not enough. There are other factors to consider when using chemicals such as “dwell time” or sit time8. To do their job, chemicals must be in contact with germs. They must be kept wet and allowed to react with the germs. This can take up to 10 minutes. A great way to remember this is when you eat out and watch your table being cleaned just before you sit down. Have you ever seen anyone let the chemical solution sit for even 3 minutes? Keep your tableware on your plate or napkin!
There is a place and time to be in dirt. Dirt and rich soil of the earth has many healthful benefits. Studies show working and playing in the dirt allows you to touch and breathe positive beneficial organisms9. They help protect you from negative pathogens and build your immune system. Working and playing in the dirt with bare hands or feet has been shown to benefit the electrical activity in humans. Helping the body to be more balanced, and transition into a more relaxed state. With all these positive effects, this does not mean it is a good idea to bring a bucket of dirt in the house and let the kids dump it on the floor.
YES. Dirt is good for you. Just not in the house!
5 ITEMS YOU TO KNOW FOR YOUR CLEAN HOME
- Understand the definition of “clean” for your home. This means realizing that there are germs inside your home that are a dangerous threat to you and your loved ones. A single person who travels and never cooks at home has different needs than a family of four with a cat and a dog.
- Based on your needs, establish a cleaning routine. Emphasis should be placed on kitchens, bathrooms and high touch surfaces like doorknobs. Some surfaces may require cleaning daily.
- Do not share personal items like towels, razors or brushes.
- Use cleaning solutions and disinfectants (biocides) responsibly. Many dangerous germs can be removed from a surface into the sewer. When using any disinfectant always follow the label directions. Follow the dwell or sit time instructions.
- Spend time in the dirt. Outside. Plant something. Take a walk barefoot. Let your kids play outside in the dirt. Have some limits. Muddy shoes on the sectional sofa is not a good idea.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
David Kiser is a Founding Member and Past President of the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International (ARCSI). Before selling his 34 year-old residential cleaning service his company was one of two residential cleaning services to achieve the CIMS-GB certification. Currently David is an Instructor for the IICRC HCT Program which he helped conceive and develop. He is the Vice Chair of the HCT Program and consults to the industry.
Brandy Burnett, R.N. is an Emergency Room nurse at New York Presbyterian Hospital Lawrence Campus. She has worked as an Emergency Room nurse since 2007 in Northern Virginia and New York. Brandy holds many other credentials including Certified Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and SUNY.
1. Michael A. Berry, Ph.D., Journal of Cleaning Restoration and Inspection: Science, Cleaning & Built Environments: May 15th, 2017
2. Birte Hollman, Mark Perkins, Dean Walsh; Bite Sized Immunology. Biofilms and their Role in Pathogenesis; Copyright British Society for Immunology; https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/pat%C3%B3genos-y-enfermedades/biofilms-and-their-role-in
3. John M. Boyce, M.D., Chief, Infectious Diseases Section, Hospital of Saint Raphael and Clinical Professor of Medicine Yale University School of Medicine New Haven, CT Principles of Environmental Cleaning and Monitoring the Adequacy of Practices
5. Michael A. Berry, Ph.D., Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health 1994 Page 63
6. Lai, K M, Are Cockroaches an Important Source of Indoor Endotoxins? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health January 2017
7. Mayhew, Elizabeth, Bleach isn’t so scary — if you know how to use it correctly. Washington Post January 8, 2019
8. CDC Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities, Last Update 2017 Pages 34-56
9. Study linking beneficial bacteria to mental health makes top 10 list for brain research, CU Boulder Today January 2017
by David Kiser and Brandy Burnett, R.N.