Too Clean

Americans may be the cleanest people on the face of the earth. We bathe more frequently than any other nation. We spend $15 billion a year on household cleaning products, and another $2 billion on soap and $1 billion on antibacterial soaps, sanitizers and sprays. We have made hygiene into a national religion, with Proctor & Gamble as our Jupiter and Juno.

But our cleanliness is killing us. The huge growth of anti-bacterial soaps and other products may have spurred the growth of drug-resistant bacterial strains, strains that can’t be fought with traditional antibiotics. So with every squirt of Purell, we may be helping build super-bugs like staph or strep that doctors and scientists are hard-pressed to stop.

What’s more, there’s no evidence that people who use antibacterial soaps have better health than people who stick with normal soap. And meanwhile, recent studies have shown that our excessive verve for hygiene may be linked to increased allergies among schoolchildren. Meaning germophobia may be getting us sicker, not better.

So relax, America. Take a break from the anti-bacterial arsenal and try regular soap and water instead. Don’t start a war we can’t win.