Has Your Child Gotten the RDA of Dirt Today?
In my lifetime I have seen the proliferation of so many choices on the grocery store shelves that simply didn't exist in my childhood. In the case of cleaning products, there used to be several types based upon location of use (kitchen, bathroom, floors), and I believe in my mother's or grandmother's generation, things were organized in even more basic categories: lye, soap, and bleach; liquid vs. powder. Now there are so many types of cleaners, many claiming to have antibacterial or antiviral properties, but are they just another example of a need invented by marketers?
While good hygiene is an important part of human health, it turns out that cleanliness is not so clear-cut. "Over-cleaning," in fact, is like clear-cutting: it destroys the entire ecosystem of microbes that, when in balance, helps keep us well.
Some advice to live by from the experts (excerpted from the New York Times article, Babies Know: A Little Dirt is Good for You):
- The immune system is not a static program we are born with; rather, it is a flexible system that learns from its environment. “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
- Keeping your kids away from germs may be setting them up for a fall later. “Children raised in an ultraclean environment...are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”
- All dirt is not created equal. Kids who grow up on farms feasting on mud pies may be less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases because of worms. Urban kids are more likely to have allergies and asthma because of the cockroaches, pollution, and other contaminants common in cities.
Having established that dirt is actually beneficial (in small doses), do you feel freer to choose the less toxic cleaning products, or even make your own? In case you're still on the fence:
- Keeping kids away from harsh cleaners is actually really important to their health. A study at the Charles Young Elementary School found that kids' test scores actually increased when the school switched to green cleaners.
- The Conscious Consumer Marketplace has a guide to cleaning products and recipes for homemade cleaners, targeted for each room in your house.
- Refer to our page, "Is there such a thing as too clean?"
- To try and green your child's school, download the free Green Cleaners guide for institutional purchasers, courtesy of RPN.