Personal hygiene products like shampoo and body wash, as well as cleaning chemicals and products are worth billions per year. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spend on advertising these products, convincing you that you need to buy them.
But the reality is we can do without the overwhelming majority of these products. Take personal hygiene products for example. The human body is an amazing self regulating and self cleaning machine. Constantly stripping its natural oils by using soaps and detergents damages your skin. These chemicals cause irritation and dry the skin: cleverly you can then be sold a range of moisturising and skin care products to reverse this damage.
How often do you shower
I was talking to a friend the other day about this and it turns out she showers three times per day. Three; once in the morning, once after gym, and once before bed. Personally I have a quick rinse after a gym session, if I’m dirty or of course when scrubbing up for a formal event. But definitely not three showers a day!
Sometimes a nice long hot shower is great for soothing the muscles or relieving a congested sinus when you have a cold, but if I’m not dirty and I don’t need to, some days I wont shower at all. During the warmer months, when I hang out at the beach or down the river, all I need is a quick rinse to get the sand off (A thorough De-sanding is mandatory in my household and I’ve been known to get the hose out before allowing people inside!)
Cleaning and health
As an example, I was misdiagnosed by a doctor as having a fungal condition on my torso when it was actually reactive contact dermatitis; my skin was literally reacting to all the anti fungal creams and shampoos creating the symptoms. After struggling for years and noticing it would flare up after treatment I decided to go cold turkey – low and behold, the symptoms subsided. No more need for expensive ‘treatment’ (creams, lotions, medicated shampoos) which were actually causing the issue. Thanks Doc.
There is actually a growing body of research shows that excessive cleaning with harsh chemicals and sterile environments are bad for you and your family’s health and immune system. Its quite obvious that common cleaning products like ammonia bleach and chlorine can trigger asthma attacks, but did you know most cleaning products release Volatile Organic Compounds and contain chemicals (such as fragrances) that react with one another to produce dangerous pollutants indoors? These can actually wreak havok with your bodies microbiome and damage your lungs, skin and eyes.
Below are just a few papers on this topic showing some of the latest research. One of the scariest facts coming out of a study in Norway was that professional cleaners incur as much lung damage from cleaning products as a pack a day smoker does (Svanes, 2018).
- Svanes, Ø., Bertelsen, R. (2018). Cleaning at Home and at Work in Relation to Lung Function Decline and Airway Obstruction. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine
- Kennedy, R.C. (2012, June). Triclocarban (TCC) Exposure in Pregnancy and during the Female Neonate Period Compromises Lactation and Reproductive Development. Paper presented at the Endocrine Society’s 94th Annual Meeting and Expo, Houston, TX
- Antibacterial Household Products: Cause for Concern. (2001). Emerging Infectious Diseases, 7(7), pp 512-515
- Steinemann, A. (2017). Fragranced consumer products: effects on asthmatics. Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health, 11(1), pp3-9.
- Kolatorova, L., Vitku J., Hampl R., Adamcova K., Skodova T., Simkova M., Parizek A., Starka L., Duskova M. (2018). Exposure to bisphenols and parabens during pregnancy and relations to steroid changes. Environmental Research, 163, 115-122
- Bertelsen, R. J., Longnecker, M. P., Lovik, M., Carlsen, K., London, S., & Carlsen, K. C. (2012). Triclosan Exposure And Allergic Sensitization In Norwegian Children. D33. ASTHMA PATHOGENESIS
Now I’m not saying go out and be a wild and free and eat mud (although I did this as a kid and I turned out fine). Obviously common sense dictates personal hygiene is important, and not showering for weeks is probably not a good idea (however during my time camping and during survival training I went weeks without showering with no adverse health effects). Basic hygiene principles means keeping yourself clean and looking after yourself, like hand washing with warm water before a meal; but not lathering yourself in harsh chemicals, hand sanitisers or excessive amounts of soap. And yes, that food you dropped on the floor is still perfectly fine to eat.
What I am suggesting is that the millions of dollars spent on marketing is done so for a reason: to promote an unhealthy obsession with being clean and pure, to promote consumer spending, and take money out of your pocket. Lynx adds anyone? Teenage boys buy this product and girls will sleep with you!
Rather than be a germophobe, you should embrace the fact that exposure to germs actually makes your immune system stronger. Studies show that kids who grow up with pets have much lower rates of asthma and other allergies – likely because they have been exposed to a variety of bugs early on in life.
Are you cleaning out your savings?
On average the standard consumer buys $20 worth of marketed cleaning and hygiene products such as spray and wipes, shower gels and moisturisers per week. That’s over $1000 per year (for products which most list their first ingredient as water!). Compounded at 9%, over the average forty year career someone spends in the workforce that amounts to over $400K! Wow. Small spending habits like this can make a huge difference to your overall health and financial wellbeing – $400,000 is a lot of money.
When you think that you can buy a pack of four or five bars of soap for $1 at most supermarkets, the numbers just don’t seem to stack up. I don’t know about you, but I’d be lucky to go through a single bar in a month.
I try to make a few simple steps to be more self sustainable with my laundry washing, too. For example, if I have been at work flying and I want to workout, I will use the undershirt, socks and jocks I wore with my uniform and just chuck on a pair of shorts, rather than having to dirty an entirely new set of clothes. My jeans are usually good for a week or two of wearing before they need a wash, and button up shirts usually survive two or three days (I wear undershirts) before they need a wash and iron unless its been an absolute scorcher of a day. By making these simple changes, I went from doing a big load of laundry every week, to a smaller load every two weeks.
This next one I love the most – use your dishwasher more. I mean the study was probably paid for and influenced by ‘Big dishwasher’, but hell if climate change deniers can cherry pick which studies they listen to then so can I. It is actually more efficient (water, energy, soap) to run your kitchen dishes through the dishwasher machine than do them by hand. Plus your not exposing yourself to kitchen detergents which damage your skin (or the risk of pricking your finger on a kitchen knife in the sink – its happened to me more than once!). I always wait till I have a full load, which is about twice a week and I spend .15c per load on a dishwasher tablet.
Most stores have huge aisles full of fluorescent coloured, expensive cleaning products in plastic bottles. Most of this is hazardous or toxic to you, and the plastic is just going to end up in landfill. To save my health, my money, and the environment, I maximise my use of a steam mop for cleaning the bathroom and hard floors, as well as baking soda, vinegar and some good old fashioned elbow grease.
Look I still enjoy a good spa bath as much as the next person does – and every now and then I treat my partner and spring for something from Lush (home-made organic soaps, shower gels and bath bombs). But the difference is this is a conscious decision based on something I value, not an automated subconscious obsession with cleaning and being pure.
This has allowed me to focus my spending on what is actually necessary in my pursuit of FIRE. Rejecting this subconscious obsession with cleaning and purity and saying no to unnecessary spending on cleaning products will help you remove yourself from the rat race and reach financial independence quicker – in this case your skin (and the environment) will thank you for it too!
What do you think? Do you have any cleaning tips or ways you have cut down on unnecessary or obsessive cleaning? Let us know in the comments below!