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OCD and Cleaning / Washing

"Cleanliness is next to Godliness". Many religious ceremonies involve 'holy' water and washing away the sin, being clean is good and being dirty is bad (our parents tell us) and generations ago character was assessed by cleanliness.

One of the basic human emotions, disgust, reflects a fear of something dirty, something rotten and bad that may contaminate us and cause illness and disease. We 'wash our hands' of blame, responsibility and the past.

Not only is this cleansing related to the physical but also to what we say. How many mothers in the past have threatened to wash their children's mouths out with soap and water for saying bad things?

Words for cleanliness and dirt, such as 'pure' and 'tainted' are also used for virtue and sin, and modern society, flooded in antiseptics and disinfectants, is obsessed with germs.


Being clean and cleanliness lies deep within the human psyche.

Perhaps it's not surprising then that over 30% of all obsessions in OCD revolve around contamination and about 25% of compulsions and rituals involve cleaning.

Everyone cleans and washes their person and their belongings regularly for hygiene and safety reasons. Dirty things do spread illness and disease and keeping things clean can help to prevent this.

In OCD, however, such fears are greatly exaggerated. They are usually based on self-generated inner fears over being contaminated or contaminating others and no amount of cleaning and washing can remove the underlying fear.

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"a microorganism,esp one that produces disease"

(Collins English Dictionary)


Bacteria are a large group of microscopic living organisms, usually one-celled, that can be found everywhere. They can be dangerous, such as when they cause infection, or beneficial, as in the process of fermentation (such as in wine) and that of decomposition.


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