Rapper Del the Funky Homosapien said it best: “It’s important to practice good hygiene/At least if you wanna run with my team.”
Well, we do want to run with Del’s team, and besides, smelling nice is always a plus. But think of hygiene more as a happy medium than an all-out blitz. It is possible to overdo it.
On the flip side, there are plenty of things you might not realize you should be doing when it comes to keeping you and your home clean. Read on for a list of the things you might be doing wrong when it comes to hygiene.
1. Relying On Too Much Hot Air
Ah, the old and bitter controversy: hand towels versus air dryers. Well, debate no further. An authority no less illustrious than the Mayo Clinic points to research that shows paper towels are better than electric hand dryers, at least in terms of scraping away bacteria.
By nature, not only do electric hand dryers fail to “wipe off” the bacteria remaining on your hands, but they may also spread it to the entire room, essentially aerosolizing the bugs. Not to mention, hand dryers are louder and often less effective, and they can leave your skin chapped and dry. Plus, if you’re concerned about the environment, know that standard warm air dryers use a lot of power and can be resource-intensive to install.
Hand towels are often more effective at fighting germs. Use fewer towels to reduce your ecological footprint.
2. Using This Old Excuse to Get Out of Your Turn Doing Dishes
It’s tempting to leave dishes in the sink to soak—especially when you know it’s your roommate’s turn to do the dishes tomorrow. But a dirty sink full of old, gross dishes is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria like salmonella and E. coli.
According to researchers from the University of Arizona, somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of bugs that lead to food-borne illnesses are bred right at home.
And where exactly in the home do you think these pathogens are breeding? The second-worst offender in microbiologist Charles Gerba’s research, after the kitchen sponge, is the kitchen sink. It has more bacteria than your toilet, according to Gerba. (“That’s why your dog likes to drink out of the toilet,” he jokes.)
Wash dishes as soon as possible with hot water and soap.
3. Waging All-Out War on Microbes
Good old-fashioned hand-washing is still the best way to fight the spread of germs, but should you really choose antibacterial soaps designed to nuke all microorganisms, no matter what? Triclosan, a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent used in soap, mouthwash, and even deodorant, was examined in a study in Clinical Infectious Diseases.
According to study authors, this sanitizing agent is “no more effective than plain soap at preventing infectious illness symptoms and reducing bacterial levels on the hands,” and its potential to kill even healthy bugs may be associated with the “emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
The FDA seems to have agreed with the study’s conclusions, as the administration recently restricted triclosan’s use in certain products.
When in doubt, use plain soap every time to win the fight against germs.
4. Skipping The Dirt
According to researchers at Cornell University, a little dirt in your diet is a good thing. Maybe you shouldn’t wash your garden vegetables so scrupulously.
They say that geophagy, or the consumption of soil, has existed in humans for millennia—and it may actually help protect the stomach against pathogens, toxins, and parasites.
The data shows that geophagy shows up most commonly in women in the early stages of pregnancy and in pre-adolescent children. Both categories of people are especially sensitive to parasites and pathogens, according to the study’s authors. A little dirt goes a long way.
Don’t fear a bit of dirt on your veggies—that mud pie you ate as a child might have been medicinal.
5. Relying On The Fridge Too Much
It goes without saying that some foods (such as meat) need to be refrigerated. But according to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, purposefully allowing other foods like fruits and vegetables to be exposed to warm air (thereby slightly fermenting them) can actually cultivate your own homemade and delicious probiotics!
Long before the invention of refrigeration (and the concept of hygiene), milk, bread starter, and vegetables were often fermented before eating. The researchers found that eating slightly fermented foods actually boosts your immune system and increases the nutrient content of the food. Who doesn’t love sourdough?
Keep your fruit and veggies in a bowl on the kitchen counter for a little probiotic boost in your diet.
6. Refusing To Share
Odds are, if you and a pair of friends want to share an oversized dessert at your favorite restaurant, you’ll ask for three spoons with the dish. You might assume using separate spoons is healthier than sharing. Not necessarily, say researchers.
Encouraging the spread of healthy bacteria in our guts is something we need to do more of, the researchers say. Sharing saliva among healthy friends and family members—and thus introducing their microbes into your own microbiome—may actually help your immune system. Not only does sharing cut down on calories, then, but it also builds up the body’s supply of good bugs.
It’s important to note, though, that you really don’t want to share food or drinks with people who are actively sick. That’s especially true of drinks, Sunny Jung of Virginia Tech explained to Popular Science. No matter how careful you may be, there’s always some level of backwash left in the cup after a sip. Yuck.
Share food and drinks with healthy friends and family to boost your immunity.
7. Relaxing In The Shower
There’s nothing like a long hot shower, especially first thing in the morning. It wakes you up and leaves you feeling fresh and ready to start the day. But is it good for your skin?
According to Alan J. Parks, MD, founder of DermWarehouse, the answer is, sadly, not so much. Hot showers strip protective oils from your skin, so you should always keep them short as you can stand, Parks suggests.
The soap you use is important, too. “Many soaps will strip your skin of natural oils and cause your skin to dry out,” Parks says. Try to use gentle soaps, like those made for sensitive skin, and make sure to rinse every last bit of lather from your body before getting out of the shower.
Here’s another shocker: Hot showers are actually most beneficial at night, as part of your bedtime routine. The cooling process that begins after stepping out of a hot shower can create an easier transition to sleep—potentially leading to a more restful night. A temperature drop triggers your body to rest because it slows down the body’s metabolic activities, like digestion, breathing, and heart rate.
Keep hot showers as short as possible, and take them at night to help you sleep.
8. Abusing The Q-Tip
It’s too bad earwax is brown and sticky. Many people falsely assumed that it’s dirty and needs to be cleaned. Earwax (scientifically named cerumen) is a combination of sebum (oils), secretions from glands in the outer ear canal, and skin cells. It’s all good stuff, people.
Like many processes in the body, earwax production is a self-cleaning, protective mechanism that you shouldn’t interfere with in most cases. Even worse, sticking objects in your ear can damage your eardrum and lead to hearing loss.
Occasionally, earwax gets impacted and messes with your hearing. Even in this case, though, you shouldn’t try to clear the blockage yourself. Instead, visit a doctor to remove it.
Experts suggest that if you absolutely must try something at home, just put a drop of mineral oil in your ear every day for a few days. That can loosen built-up earwax. Once the wax reaches peak-gooeyness, squirt clean water gently into the ear canal and wipe with a fresh towel; that should do the trick
Don’t stick things in your ear. Ever. Unless earwax is impeding your hearing, leave it there.
9. Developing A Preoccupation With Exfoliation
You need to exfoliate to remove a layer of unpleasant skin cells, exposing the beauty beneath, right? Maybe so, but it’s a mistake to treat your skin like a plank that needs sanding. There’s no good reason for most of us to exfoliate every day.
Just like with hot showers, this is an issue of preserving the oils that protect the skin. Even worse, you can actually damage the skin if you don’t give those shiny new layers time to grow in.
So how often should you exfoliate? Dermatologists like to point out that everyone is different, and that your skin will let you know if you’re over-exfoliating. Unfortunately, it can only do that by getting all red and painful, so it might be best to err on the side of caution.
The consensus among dermatologists, when pressed, seems to be that you shouldn’t exfoliate more than two or three times a week.
Do exfoliate. Do not do it every day. And don’t try to get a straight answer out of a dermatologist.
10. Fearing Greasy Hair
Everyone’s hair is a little different—there’s a wide range of types, from the brittle and dry to the over-oily. But all of us could probably stand to go easier on the shampoo.
The oil that the hair naturally produces, called sebum, is actually good for your hair and your skin, as it forms a protective layer and locks moisture in.
Unfortunately, shampoos don’t discriminate between healthy oils and gunk like dirt, sweat, and product residue. Shampoo strips away the good and the bad, potentially leaving your hair drier and more vulnerable to damage.
Now, it’s true that some people need to wash their hair daily. People with extremely fine or oily hair, or who live in very humid climates, or who sweat profusely, might consider shampooing daily with a mild moisturizing shampoo. But that’s not most of us.
Go as long as you can between shampooing your hair, even if that means more ponytail days.
11. Washing Your Face In The Shower
Without a doubt, it’s easier and less messy to wash your face when you’re already in the shower. However, despite the convenience, it’s actually not good for your face. The water that you shower in will typically be much hotter than what you’d wash with at the sink, and the high temperature can make your skin dry out very quickly.
Those with skin conditions such as acne or rosacea may also find that washing their face with hot water can cause excessive redness and irritation—it could even burst a blood vessel in your face if you wash too aggressively. Use a gentle cleanser and avoid washing your face in the shower, particularly if you have acne-prone skin or rosacea.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends limiting face washing to two times a day, or as soon as possible after sweating, to prevent irritation of the skin. If you are going to wash your face in the shower, turn the temperature down to lukewarm and wash only with your fingertips (anything else is too rough), using a non-abrasive cleanser that doesn’t contain alcohol. like CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser for Daily Face Washing. (Get the formula for normal to oily skin, as their dry-to-normal formula contains alcohol.)
The AAD also recommends applying moisturizer if your skin is dry or itchy. An alcohol-free formula is good whether you have fine lines, patchy texture, normal, dry, oily, acne-prone, or sensitive skin.
12. Not Washing Your Feet
You might be thinking that your feet make contact with plenty of water while you’re in the shower, so there’s no real reason to actually bend down and give them a proper wash. You’d be wrong, though.
Even if you’re not prone to smelly feet, think about how sweaty your feet can get throughout the day. Not only that, but if you’re known to walk around the house or outdoors without socks or shoes, you never know what you might be picking up along the way.
There’s no excuse for just letting the soap suds run down to your toes anymore—imagine what you’re bringing into your bed every night without giving those feet a good wash.
13. Not Replacing Your Loofah Regularly
Be honest, how long has the same loofah been hanging in your shower? Months? YEARS? As it turns out, that can be terrible for your health. This video demonstrates why:
Alternatively, nix the loofahs and sponges altogether and invest in a good set of washcloths. You can use a new one every time and, once the week is up, put all your towels through a wash cycle using hot water to ensure that all the bacteria has been eliminated.
14. Using A Soap Dish
Yes, that built-in soap dish is there forever, but using it for its intended purpose actually isn’t that good of an idea. The majority of people don’t use bars of soap these days but, for those who do, be aware that leaving a bar of soap in one spot could be encouraging bacteria to grow on it—bacteria that you’re then going to spread over your entire body the next time you lather up.
If you have reasons for resisting the switch to liquid body wash, try finding a wire soap dish, which won’t trap as much bacteria.
15. Using Scented Soaps
Yes, those soaps that make your bathroom smell like a tropical rainforest or a freshly-made vanilla cupcake do transport you to a place of olfactory luxury while sudsing up, but those very fragrances could be doing a number on your skin at the same time.
Anyone who notices their skin seems particularly irritated after a shower should look to their soap as the first culprit. Fragrances can irritate sensitive skin very easily, so it’s best to use something unscented to keep your skin in the best shape. Plus, you won’t have to worry about the scent of your soap mixing with the scent of your perfume to create “questionable” smells.
16. Showering in Hard Water
Some people may not even know how to tell if their water is considered hard, but figuring it out and taking steps to adjust it could save your hair and skin from a lot of damage.
When you're used to soft water in Scotland, and go for your first shower down in Essex with hard water: pic.twitter.com/bxdgFLv5ft
— Sarah Mackie (@lumi_1984) April 8, 2018
Hard water is defined by its high concentration of minerals like magnesium and calcium, which can end up making your skin break out or cause a layer of buildup on your hair. Those with dyed hair may even find that hard water strips the color out of their strands, or at least causes their tint to fade a little quicker.
If you’re unable to add a water softener to your shower, try incorporating a clarifying shampoo into your routine to remove any buildup caused by those pesky minerals.
17. Not Taking Cold Showers
Most people wouldn’t even dream of standing in cold water for more than a second, let alone taking an entire shower in water that’s anything less than steaming hot.
Still, cold water showers can actually be really beneficial for your skin and hair, and you only need 30 seconds under a cold stream to see a difference. A quick blast of cold water is said to improve your immune function, increase your metabolism, and increase the amount of stress you can tolerate.
In addition to speeding up your metabolism, a study done in 2009 suggests that regularly taking a cold shower could even help you lose weight over time.
18. Using Old Razors
For most of us, old razors aren’t something we thoughtfully replace on a regular basis. Instead, they just sit in the shower until we finally cave and get a new one. Razors, whether you’re buying replacement heads or the kind that are entirely disposable, are surprisingly expensive—so why throw one out after a certain period of time if it still seems to work?
Well, just because a razor is shaving off your unwanted hairs doesn’t mean it’s doing so effectively. If you notice that your skin gets red and inflamed after you shave, it’s because the blades are dull and it’s time for a replacement.
19. Leaving Your Razor in the Shower
Remember how leaving your wet bar of soap in your dingy old soap dish makes it a breeding ground for bacteria? The same thing goes for your razor. There are plenty of nooks and crannies in your razor that make perfect spots for bacteria to hide, and the problem will only get worse when the razor is sitting in a warm, wet environment.
If you don’t actually want to store your razor outside of the shower, at least make sure that you hang it up when you’re done using it so it can air dry.
20. Skipping Your Shower Post-Workout
If you like to work out late at night or in the morning before you head off to work, you may decide that you’re too tired or pressed for time to squeeze a shower in. However, working up a sweat can leave bacteria on your skin that will get trapped against you if you choose not to rinse it off afterward.
a cold shower after a hard workout is totally necessary
— Michaela Wiesman (@MichaelaW1111) May 19, 2018
This could lead to a skin infection or, at the very least, some minor irritation or redness. Not to mention that you’d be going to bed or heading to work a sweaty, stinky mess.
Remember, just because you can’t smell you doesn’t mean others can’t smell you. At very least, take some time to wipe that sweat off with a clean washcloth or hand towel, or, better yet, just change your clothes. Throw some body wipes in your gym bag for a quick refresh on-the-go.
21. Reusing Dirty Towels
The logic seems solid: If you only use your towel when your body’s clean, how could it possibly get dirty?
This isn’t exactly the case, though. Yes, it’s alright to use your towel two to three times before you finally give it a wash, but that’s only if you hang it up to air dry after every single use. Just like your loofah, dead skin cells can cling to your towel and, when you don’t let it dry properly, there’s a big risk for bacterial growth.
Using the same towel for a week or more at a time could mean putting yourself at risk for bacterial skin infections—plus, they can eventually start to smell pretty bad.
22. Rubbing Towels on Your Skin and Hair
We can guess with relative confidence that you reach for your towel right after getting done with your shower, but there are a couple of different ways that people towel off.
Some choose to just wrap their towel around themselves and wait to air dry while doing other things—putting in contacts, applying moisturizer, brushing their teeth—while others immediately start to wipe that water away.
As it turns out, rubbing a towel against your skin isn’t the best thing for it, and dermatologists actually recommend that you use a patting motion to dry your skin. For anyone with long hair who likes to wrap their towel around their head like a cocoon, know that doing so could be damaging your locks, as well. Instead, use a microfiber hair turban and a wet brush to protect your hair from damage.
23. Skipping the Moisturizer
It can be pretty tempting to go lounge around after you’ve gotten out of the shower, and it’s easy to get sucked into things like reading a book or watching television before you finally start to get ready. However, you’re doing your skin a disservice if you don’t apply some moisturizer right when you get out of the shower.
Moisturizer is absorbed just a little bit better when your skin is nice and warm, and you’ll also want to replenish any moisture your skin lost from being in that hot water. Also, just like you shouldn’t be rubbing a towel on your body, don’t scour your face when drying it, either.
24. Bathing in a Dirty Tub
Alright, so a bath definitely isn’t the same as a shower, but we have a reminder for those of you out there that take them.
Clean your bathtub every once in a while!
It’s a chore that few like doing, but it’s an important one. If you’re going to be sitting in a tub full of water for any period of time, you want to make sure that there’s nothing mixing in with your soak that you haven’t added intentionally.
This is especially true if you share a bathroom with other people—you might like your roommates, but you don’t really know what they could’ve tracked into the tub.