3 MIN READ | Mental Health

Health Psychologist Warns ‘Overcleaning’ Can Have an Impact on People’s Mental Well-being

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Psychreg, (2020, November 25). Health Psychologist Warns ‘Overcleaning’ Can Have an Impact on People’s Mental Well-being. Psychreg on Mental Health. https://www.psychreg.org/overcleaning-impact-well-being/
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A new study by Currys PC World has revealed the true extent of the nation’s cleaning habits, with Brits spending more time and money on cleaning.

Ben Ainsworth, lecturer in health psychology at the University of Bath, is currently leading the ‘Germ Defence’ study. ‘Germ Defence’ is a UK government-funded research project that provides advice to people in order to protect their homes from infections People using the tool are less likely to catch viruses and if they do become ill, the illness is likely to be less severe.

His research involves understanding the different behaviours people use to keep themselves healthy and using digital technology to improve health through behavioural science. 

Does overcleaning have an impact on mental well-being?

Ben reasons that it definitely does, although it can be very different for different people. While some people really benefit from and enjoy a ‘spring clean’, others might use cleaning as a ‘coping mechanism’ that can actually lead to increased anxiety and stress.

One of the challenges related to cleaning habits during this time is that we have all had a lot of information presented to us, in different ways, and it’s been really hard to work out what information is relevant and what is likely to cause additional stress, without actually helping. This is having a psychological impact on people’s cleaning habits and their general mindset relating to cleanliness.

For example, being told that we should ‘clean surfaces’ doesn’t actually tell you when or how often to clean these surfaces, or what products to use. It’s so important to make sure you clearly understand how your cleaning habits reduce the spread of infections, to make them as useful as possible.

Ben’s recommended advice when it comes to hygiene

Firstly, trying to improve hygiene habits that have been set over the course of a lifetime can be really hard. Making small changes to your own home can really help here – for example, leaving a bottle of disinfectant and a cloth by the front door can make it easier to wipe down packages when you receive them. Similarly, leaving the cleaning products on the countertop (instead of under the stairs) can help remind you to use them more frequently.

It’s also useful to remember that regular cleaning (in combination with other behaviours, like handwashing, leaving parcels for a day before opening them, wearing face coverings) really can make a difference, even in a busy household with kids running around. If you are in an area that’s been locked down, one of the best things to do is reduce household transmission.

Finally, try to avoid ‘excessive cleaning’ which can be psychologically unhealthy. While an extra wipe with some soap and water usually does no harm, it’s important to make sure that cleaning habits are in line with your own personal level of risk.  For example, if you have recently been to a crowded area, have received a parcel from a delivery person who wasn’t wearing gloves/face covering, or have had more than one person in your house to visit, you might want to clean a bit more regularly than you normally do.

When asked where we are at this year – as opposed to last year – will have a lasting impact on cleaning habits and attitudes towards hygiene, Ben says: ‘I think that people will keep their homes clean to avoid infection; whereas before we were more concerned with general dirtiness, but often didn’t really think about why we were worried about dirt. It will also make a huge difference out and about – hopefully, people will realise that hygiene and cleanliness are everyone’s shared responsibility.’


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