1 June 2015

Clean, cleaner, cleanest

Walk into any large supermarket these days and you'll be faced with a vast array of cleaning products, for both personal and household use. In fact, these products seem to have proliferated in recent years - a trend that feeds the fears of those with contamination issues and potentially generates worry in others.

According to the National Health Service, the idea that we're becoming 'too clean' is a myth. There is a tendency, however, for those of us of a certain age - who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s - to subscribe to this notion. We bemoan the fact that children are apparently overprotected nowadays and talk as if we ate nothing but soil, stoically declaring 'A bit of dirt never did us any harm'.

While these tales of our childhood may be exaggerated, it's true to say that - in most first-world countries, at least - we achieved acceptable hygiene standards decades ago, and many innovations since then seem largely surplus to requirements.

When I was a child, our family used one very cheap, plain product to wash hands, face and body: Fairy mild green toilet soap. It has now, sadly, been discontinued, though you can buy 4 'very rare' bars on ebay for £35.95!

Occasionally we availed ourselves of wet wipes, on picnics, but they were little more than damp, citrus-scented tissues. And my mum used white dishcloths to wipe down surfaces - without the help of any kind of spray - which she kept clean by boiling in a pan of water.

Now everything's antibacterial: from the hand gels and liquid soaps of every fragrance and hue, to the surface sprays that kill 99.9% of all known germs, and the wet wipes with exfoliating bumps to scrape every atom of dirt off your skin.

Image courtesy of dusky/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The product I find the most mystifying is the 'no touch' soap dispenser, which supposedly reduces the spread of germs. I'm unclear exactly how this helps, when you have to touch the taps both before and after using the soap? It's just an Emperor's New Clothes' marketing ploy.

And while the television advertisements designed to counter problems such as food poisoning are well intentioned, and no doubt helpful to some, they can also cause more concern than necessary.

One warned about salmonella by showing a darkened kitchen decorated with neon splashes that represented the spread of contamination from not washing hands and utensils properly after processing raw chicken. The image was so striking - and frightening - that it prompted me to devise a ridiculously stringent handling system of my own, which includes wearing rubber gloves to stop meat getting under my nails.

Normal hygiene precautions are sensible, especially for the young, the elderly or those in fragile health, but we should think twice before buying into the sales' pitch for the latest must-have cleaning product - and avoid wasting our hard-earned cash!

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