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Latest Edit: Hector 2014-02-14 (EDT)


The term "hygiene" is derived from the name Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation. [1] The hygiene movement began in the 1830s by dedicated practitioners who rejected orthodox medicines and believed that with hygiene the spread of infectious disease could be prevented.

Hygiene refers to the science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health.[2] The principles of hygiene are to prevent the spread of disease, thus promoting health. There are various divisions of hygiene yet they all have the same goal which is to prevent the spread of disease. Hygiene should not be confused with cleanliness. As hygiene is to prevent disease spread, cleaning techniques are often involved in this process. Cleaning techniques such as hand washing and antiseptic sprays are methods used to promote hygienic practices.

Types of Hygiene

  • Medical hygiene Medical hygiene refers to the practice and standards used in medical settings to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Some of the practices include quarantining individuals infected with disease, sanitization of all medical instruments, wearing gloves, gowns, masks, and other protective barriers, the use of biohazard waste bins and disinfecting reusable gowns and linens.
  • Home and daily life hygiene Home and everyday life hygiene is the practice of hygiene in the home setting. Disease can be spread from food, domestic animals, water and between individuals. The goal of home hygiene is to break the spread of transmission.

Some of the methods used in home hygiene include:

  • Hand hygiene refers to the use of disinfectant and antibacterial soaps or sanitizers to prevent the spread of microbes from contaminated hands. Most important times to wash hands include: after going to the washroom, after touching foods (particularly raw foods), before eating, after handling domestic animals, after wiping or blowing nose and after contact with any contaminated surface.
  • Respiratory hygiene refers to correct sneezing and coughing practices to prevent disease transmission. Coughing or sneezing into your sleeve prevents contaminating the hands, thus minimizing spread of infection. Washing hands immediately after blowing nose, coughing or sneezing also helps prevents spread of disease.
  • Food hygiene is essential to prevent food poisoning. Proper food hygiene refers to cooking food to appropriate cooking times, separating raw and cooked foods and storing food at appropriate temperature for appropriate amount of time.
  • Household water treatment and safe storage are practices that can be used by individuals in the home to ensure safe drinking water. Using a carbon filter, boiling water, solar disinfection are methods that can be used to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Hygiene in the kitchen, bathroom and toilet proper cleaning of the bathroom and kitchen can prevent spread of disease. As these areas can become moist, moulds can easily grow. Ensuring adequate scrubbing can prevent the growth of moulds and spread of disease. Proper cleaning of contact areas such as kitchen cupboard handles, toilet seat, toilet flush handle and bath tub floor can prevent the spread of microorganisms.
  • Laundry hygiene prevents the spread of micro-organisms between linens and contaminated clothing. Fabrics that come into direct contact with the individual can carry various organisms that need to be eliminated in the laundry in order to prevent spread of disease. Washing clothing at 60°C water kills most pathogens. Washing clothing at 30-40°C with bleach is also effective at eradicating pathogens. For a more environmentally sound way to do laundry, increase the temperature of the laundry cycles before considering the use of bleach.
  • Body hygiene Body hygiene refers to the care of an individual’s body in order to promote health and well-being. Body hygiene has become customary for social acceptance in the western world. Body hygiene practices include: teeth brushing, flossing, showering, use of shampoos, deodorants, skin cleansers, use of toilet paper etc.
  • Culinary hygiene Culinary hygiene refers to the practice of food hygiene in the food industry. The set of practices are stricter than are necessary in a home setting given the mass amount of food production and potential for the spread of disease. Some of the methods employed include labelling foods with an expiry or best before date, never reusing a utensil without proper sterilization once contaminated, using different utensil for each individual food prepared, using bleaches and various disinfectants to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Personal service hygiene Personal service hygiene refers to the set of practices required by various service providers. Services include: aesthetics services, piercing and tattoo, hairdressers etc.

Hygiene Hypothesis

The hygiene hypothesis was first proposed in 1989 by David Strachan, who noticed a decrease in allergic rhinitis (runny nose due to allergies) in individuals who were born into big families.[3]

The theory suggests that a decrease in exposure to microorganism early in life increases the risk of allergic conditions and auto-immunity. Historically, individuals lived on farms, were born into large families, attended day-care setting and had domestic pets which increased the body’s exposure to microorganisms. Hygiene practices were also not what they are today exposing an individual to numerous pathogenic agents, which in turn challenged and strengthened their immune system. Today, with individuals living in urban setting and the rise in body hygiene and hygienic techniques such as antibacterial products, disinfectants and sterilization techniques the body is not exposed to as many microorganisms as it once was. This decrease in exposure has not allowed immune systems to develop optimally given rise to an increase in auto-immune conditions, asthma, allergies and eczema. Decreasing exposure to certain known pathogens through hygienic practices has helped prevent the spread of disease, however over sanitization have been suggested to increase the number of allergic conditions in the young.


  • Prevents spread of disease Since the implication of hygiene practice there has been a large decrease in the spread of infectious disease. This has helped decreased the incidence of illness in developed countries. It is essential to follow hygienic practices in order to prevent unnecessary illness within our society.
  • Clean food Following culinary hygienic practices within the food industry is essential to help prevent the spread of disease through food. This has greatly decreased the incidence of food poisoning and outbreaks within our society. Hygienic food practices should also be practiced at home in order to prevent the spread of disease within the household. Without hygienic practices in the food industry and at home there would be a large incidence of infectious organisms spread leading to sickness with our society.
  • Clean Water Bacterium and viruses can spread very easily in the water. Ensuring that communities have proper water filtration plants and follow guidelines for hygienic practices, there can be a decrease in the spread of infectious agents. Without proper hygienic practices in the water system there would be unnecessary spread of various bacteria leading to potentially life threatening illness.


  • Can You Be Too Hygienic Although hygiene is essential in today’s world to prevent the spread of disease, as a society it has been taken too far. The use of antibacterial agents has created a more sterile environment which, in itself, has contributed to health concerns. The spread of infectious agents has decreased, yet the incidence of allergic and auto-immune conditions seems to be on the rise. A balance between hygienic practices and exposure to a normal amount of bacteria is essential to a healthy immune system. Conditions associated with over-sterilization include:
  • Allergies and asthma with hygienic practices there has been a decrease in microorganisms’ exposure in young children. This is thought to contribute to the increase number of allergies and asthma among school aged children. Exposure to microorganisms early in life allows the immune system the opportunity to correctly identify harmful pathogenic agents from benign agents. When the immune system is not awarded the opportunity to discern bacteria it can become hypersensitive to very benign agents. Hypersensitivity can lead to asthma, allergic rhinitis (runny nose), itchy watery eyes etc.
  • Auto-immune diseases in the western world auto-immune conditions are on the rise. This seems to be due to a lack of exposure to certain known ‘good’ bacteria early in life. The exposure to these bacteria has decreased substantially given a link to the cause of auto-immune conditions.


In order to prevent the disease associated with over-sterilization and sanitization it is essential to follow a few guidelines.

  • Choose natural products whenever possible: choose natural deodorants, toothpastes, shampoos, conditions, creams etc. that do not rid the body of its natural oils and natural protective barriers. This will allow the body the opportunity to create a natural amount of healthy oils at a regular rate. Using chemically based products will wipe the body of its natural oils forcing one to shower, shampoo, cleanse more than necessary. This will lead to over drying of the skin and hair. Naturally based shampoos will allow one to wash their hair 1 to 2 times a week which is the naturally required amount, instead of the average, which is every day.
  • Avoid the use of antibacterial agents: Antibacterial agents should be used when there has been a known exposure to harmful bacteria. Such as, using antibacterial cleanser following the handling of raw chicken. The use of antibacterial agents at all times creates over sanitization which does not allow the immune system to work optimally, potentially leading to disease.


  1. Hygiene. (2010). Retrieved August 25, 2010 from Wikipedia.
  2. Hygiene. (2000) Retrieved August 25th, 2010, from The Free Dictionary by Farlex [1]
  3. Adkinson (2008) Middletons Allergies: Principles and Practice. (7. edition, Ed.) China: Mosby.