Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Cleanliness is next to… dirt.

Welcome to the April 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Personal Care
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles relating to their children's personal care choices.

I’m sure it drives my ex insane: during the four days that the kids are with me each week, they are as likely to take a mud bath as they are to take a shower.  But hey, since I’ve been the steward of my backyard mudpit for the last decade, I’m pretty sure I know what’s in there (um, microbe-rich, pesticide-free mud).  Which is more than I can say about most soaps and shampoos.  So who’s to say what’s “cleaner” anyway.

Well, there are scientists who study this stuff, and they probably could tell me, if I knew any of them.  Fortunately, lots of them work with and for Environmental Working Group, and they keep these massive searchable databases about what’s in a vast range of the products that line up on the edge of the tub.  Their Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database, which it would not immediately occur to me to search, since as a letting-myself-go middle-aged earth-mama type, I don’t really think of myself as using “cosmetics,” provides anyone with internet access with more information than we ever wanted to have about soaps, shampoos, sunscreens, and lots of other things we put on our kids.

The pervasiveness of not-entirely-safe ingredients in our body-cleaning products begs the question of whether “healthy” and “clean” correlate as closely as we like to think.  As a nurse, I do a heck of a lot of hand-washing, and I do honestly believe in it as a way of preventing the spread of disease.  I take quite seriously my responsibility in not transferring germs from one patient to another.  But as a mom, I let my kids spend a lot of time in dirt, and don’t worry too much about how much of it gets in their mouths.  And although I believe in handwashing, I’m completely and totally opposed to anti-bacterial soaps (for all those of us who are lucky enough not have an immune-suppressed family member).  Plain soap with minimal additives, plus water and friction, never ever contributed to the evolution of a super-bug, as far as I know. 

I was once told by a friend, quite earnestly, that I was “not clean enough” to become a nurse.  And if you looked at my kids’ fingernails, you might well agree.  As for me, I do occasionally cringe when I notice those half-moons of black as they climb out of the car to go to school.  But then I relax, remembering that they got that way out in our very own organic garden.  So I just call it good clean dirt.  Which is clean enough for me.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon April 10 with all the carnival links.)


  1. Absolutely. I love your perspective. Dirt is a good thing, when it's good dirt, and I avoid antibacterial soaps whenever possible. (It's astonishing how hard they can be to avoid, but I sure try!)

  2. "Good clean dirt" - I love it! I love how you bring together the issue of enjoying some good clean dirt, and "cleaning" up with products that are from clean. I definitely prefer the former! :)

  3. My kids sport the black half moon sometimes too...it's hard not too when they spend so much time digging up a mud pit or baking mudpies....

  4. Would you mind posting research on the antibacterial soap thing? We don't have any in the house, but I'd love to share the research with my mom!

    1. Here's a good simple explanation: http://wholelivingdaily.wholeliving.com/2011/07/econundrum-should-i-use-antibacterial-soap.html

      Good luck!

  5. We steer clear of antibacterial soaps too - and we're starting to make our own liquid soap this week :)

  6. I hate how prevalent antibacterial soaps are in public places-they're often the only option. We love playing in the dirt though :)

  7. I cannot fathom how more people can't see the problem with antibacterial soap...and the wretched hand sanitizer that stinks to high heaven! I much prefer the smell of good clean dirt. :)

  8. I carry fragrance free, all natural hand sanitizer in my purse for public restrooms - it scares me far less than the provided antibacterial soaps!

    I absolutely agree about the kids playing in the dirt. Thanks for the article!

  9. I completely agree. I love watching my toddler play in the mud. People worry far too much about cleanliness these days.

  10. I loved reading this post. Your are so right about normal soap not encouraging superbugs. I never use anything with 'anti-bacterial/microbial' on it for this reason. When I first started using cloth nappies I though I would wash them with Napisan, but saw the 'words' pasted all over the bottle and so reached for the earth friendly product I was already using! You have a great attitude to this issue as a nurse!

  11. My kids get to spend hours playing in "gasp" african dirt. Lots of the other expat moms are horrified of their kids even walking barefoot, but living like that is plain not living to me!

  12. I do love your perspective! It is true: the "stuff" in so many cleaning and body products is way worse than anything kiddos could touch in an organic garden!

    This is something I have to remind myself of often, because I like clean!