Clean is the new Dirty

Dirty Scruffy Vegan Lesbian Hippie Woman.

I got called these things (and more) by some of my dear readers the last time I wrote on personal hygiene.

Now I didn't mind having such labels (even if not all entirely accurate) applied to me, except for one: guess which.

Yup. No one likes being called Dirty. Not even us hippies.

No one wants to be thought of as unclean in person or abode. It's a sin. The slightest spot or stain, the most fleeting undeodorised whiff – banish these or be banished yourself to the chill vacuum of societal deep space.

But society's consensus as to what it means to be “clean” is outdated, and sadly ironic for two reasons.

Firstly, the conventional notion of “cleanliness” goes way beyond sensible hygiene, towards obsessiveness. An obsessive compulsive cleaner-washer is a cleaning product purveyor's fondest fantasy. They'd have us all scrubbing away our shame, like demented domestic Lady Macbeths, endlessly. I've often wondered how many OCD cases have been triggered by ads for antibiotic soap magically slaying "99% of germs".

This pursuit of the pure, white and unblemished isn't just a waste of energy and money spent on the purifiers, whiteners and de-blemishers. We don't need to be perfectly clean; on the contrary, a little dirt keeps our immune systems fighting fit , while excessive use of antibacterial products may create resistant bacteria against which we have little defence.

The other problem with our definition of “clean” is the myopic emphasis on the cleanliness of our immediate environment. Congratulating yourself on an immaculate home and self, while ignoring the impact you're having on the larger Environment (which is your home too, don't forget), is very 1950s.

It's 2011. Time to look beyond the garden gate. 

If you drive a car, use electricity, purchase the avalanche of products punted as essential to a happy modern home, obediently put out the rubbish in your tidy wheelie bin, then sorry, but, truth be told: you're filthy.

Think of brown haze and factory smoke stacks sullying blue skies, fetid rubbish dumps buzzing in the sun. Those are your exhaust fumes, your anti-bacterial pine-scented drain cleaner being manufactured, your black bags of waste too.

We know this, but we haven't absorbed it on a personal, visceral level yet. Why not? Is it because the exhaust pipe is at the back of the car, so it's easy to ignore the noxious cloud we trail as we roar off into the smoggy future? We only see the exhaust of the vehicle in front of us: it always looks more like someone else's fault.

Nicely brought up middle-class folks like us would rather die than be caught chucking a can out the car window, but we have little shame about being seen driving that same car, an act far more destructive, far “filthier” than littering.

And I'm tired of being made to feel like a hippie scruffy etcetera person when I arrive slightly sweaty by bicycle, whereas someone stepping out of the latest carbon-belcher, looking all cool and antibacterial, earns few dirty looks.

So I would like to propose new definitions of Dirty and Clean for our times. Here goes:

  • dirty adj. unhealthy, unnecessary, resource-heavy pursuit of the apparent cleanliness of one's person and property, with little regard for how one's actions might be bespoiling the rest of the planet

  • clean adj. one who treats the Environment as their own back yard, to be kept as free from filth as possible. One who reduces, reuses, recycles. And cycles...

I'd also like to invite anyone interested in getting to grips with their Filth Footprint to join me ( in the following project: during November I'm going to be hoarding all my solid waste to see just how much I produce in a month, and how I can reduce it (biodegradable waste to be represented by fresh stand-ins...).

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, October 2011

Read more:
Dirt may be good
Non-toxic cleaning and deodorising tips. 

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