by Lisa Keilhofer

What’s the matter with that ongoing disinfecting of everything?

Disinfect hands
Constant disinfecting damages our skin - so who or what causes us to do this? (Pics: © Kunstzeug + Ruslan Ivantsov -

As a company committed to the microbiome and its preservation, we have an increasing feeling of unease about the ongoing disinfecting of everything all the time that we encounter lately. Of course, hygiene is important. Nevertheless, we would like to raise the question of who came up with the rule that hands, tables, door handles, and other surfaces have to be disinfected constantly.

What does disinfection do?

Surfaces (also our skin seen as a surface) are disinfected if we want them to be sterile. In the clinical routine this makes sense in order to prevent germs from getting into open wounds and entering the body. At the same time, disinfection is destroying our skin microbiome. Trade journals or Allergy Certified (1,2) have written about the issue long bevor Covid-19. Also, readers of the mainstream media might have come across the topic, already (3).

If disinfectants are applied to the skin, almost all viruses and bacteria are killed, according to the package information. And that includes also those that have every right to be there. This cleansing gives way to all kinds of invasive microbes that we do not want to have there. Often, it is fungi and bacteria that frequently come with infections. Therefore, it makes sense not to intrude into the well-balanced skin microbiome and thus keep the endogenous defense against pathogens. Apart of infections that can be brought under control comparatively easily, also skin cancer is reported as a possible consequence (4).

Choosing between Covid-19 and multi-resistant germs is a choice between a rock and a hard place

Another highly critic factor is that constant disinfection is paving the way for multi-resistant germs. It is a bit like with antibiotics: if the detergent is not applied appropriately it does not kill the germs properly and makes them return even stronger (5). According to the product information, “appropriate” application means keeping a surface or your hands wet in the fluid for about 5 minutes. This is more than unrealistic for everyday life. The problem of multi-resistant germs might soon be found not only in hospitals but expand to our day-to-day life.

Article recommendation: The dangers of antibiotic resistance

So, we should all have an interest in not exchanging a rock with a hard place and not dealing Covid-19 for multi-resistant germs. A thorough cleaning of surfaces and skin with water and soap cleans away dirt sufficiently – and dirt is the breeding ground for germs. At the same time, soap destroys the cover of many viruses and bacteria and eliminates them in this way. And mechanical elimination is the better option to chemical alternatives that we cannot foresee in all possible consequences and which work only in a form of application that is not realistic in the daily routine (keeping surface wet for 5 minutes to eliminate all germs).

Who is to blame?

The institution that is influencing the public behavior most during this pandemic, is undoubtedly the Robert Koch Institute (RKI, Germany). If you check their homepage regarding disinfection, however, you only find that routinely disinfecting of surfaces in public or private space, including frequently used areas, is not recommended – also during the current Covid-pandemic (6). Apparently, this is not the origin of the disinfection mania.

Our next theory was that restaurants and pubs would use the guidelines of the respective federal states, which are legally responsible for that matter in Germany. Consequently, we checked the requirements of the Bavarian government regarding event hygiene and restaurant hygiene. And the surprising result was: there is no obligation for disinfection. On the contrary, the specifications talk about adequate and sufficient sanitary facilities, liquid soap, disposable towels, and hand disinfectants “if necessary”. Here, too, disinfection is seen as on-top or maybe second-best solution in case proper cleaning is not possible otherwise.

To make a long story short, we were not able to find a culprit that imposed disinfection measures to keep one’s skin and all surfaces throughout Germany germ-free. So, we suppose that it is just marketing strategists that saw their window of opportunity and placed disinfectant products cleverly. And at the same time, this is the solution of the problem: disinfection is not imposed on us by scientists or the government, but only product marketing people. And we as customers have every right not to follow and change the offer by our consumer behavior. Let us not be driven by marketing campaigns but stay mature buyers.

And when you enter a shop or restaurant, remember that disinfection is not an obligation. Of course, in the end it is always up to the owner to decide under what conditions he or she lets someone enter the premises. But most owners do not insist on disinfection and are open to discuss on the matter.

Lisa Keilhofer
Lisa Keilhofer

Lisa Keilhofer studied at the University of Regensburg. She works in internationalization and as a freelance editor.

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