Excessive Hand Washing, Sanitizing, Mold Cleaning or OCD

By Cesar Collado

We have all seen or know people we label as “germaphobes.” The clinical term is an actual illness called mysophobia.  We see these “Type A” people continuously wash their hands, use hand sanitizer or wipes to avoid touching items that are commonly touched such as door handles, elevator buttons, hand railings, grocery carts, etc. “Moldaphobia” is a coined term that is actually scientifically named mycophobia. It is the fear of fungus, mold, mildew, mushrooms, etc.  Unfortunately, both labels are often inaccurately used broadly by many people and their purpose is not fully understood.Germaphobes and Moldaphobes

A true “germaphobe” or “moldaphobe” would be diagnosed with an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Obsessions are thoughts, impulses, or behaviors that keep coming back. They are not enjoyable, but rather obsessions that are unwanted and upsetting, causing severe anxiety or distress. To be a true phobia, it must be an extreme, irrational fear resulting in severe anxiety or physical symptoms that cannot be controlled, such as panic attacks. This fear goes beyond wisely avoiding unsanitary conditions and unnecessary exposure to potentially harmful bacteria or mold.

To put this in perspective, phobias are no longer classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, DMS-IV, as anxiety disorders. They have been re-classified in the updated DMS-V Manual as Obsessive Compulsive and Related Disorders.  There are hundreds of phobias that can be diagnosed by physicians. An estimated 1.2% of adults have OCD (2.3% of people experience it in a lifetime).  Of those, 50.6% are classified as serious, 34.8 % moderate, and 14.6% mild.1.Treatment ranges from psychotherapy and cognitive therapy to, in some cases, pharmaceutical medications.

In addition, phobias are widely distributed into several categories.2.  Many people have more than one obsession.  As you can see, “Contamination/Washing” accounts for a small portion of OCD. What can be deduced from these statistics is that the labeling of people as “germaphobes” or OCD is far greater than the actual numbers with a psychiatric condition.

Mold Symptoms, Moldaphobe - Mold Health Issues

The Whole Truth about Bacteria and Mold

Bacteria are microscopic, single-celled organisms that are among the earliest known life forms on earth. There are thousands of different kinds of bacteria, and they live in every conceivable environment. Many bacteria live on and in the bodies of people—on the skin and in the airways, mouth, and digestive, reproductive, and urinary tracts—without causing any harm. Such bacteria are called resident-flora, or the microbiome. There are at least as many bacteria in our resident flora as there are cells in the body. Many resident flora are actually helpful to people—for example by helping them digest food or by preventing the growth of other, more dangerous bacteria for fungi.3.

A study published in May 2016 in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.” estimated that there may be as many as 1 trillion different types of bacteria. Scientists from the University of Georgia estimate the number of bacteria on our planet to be five million trillion, trillion.  “That is a five with 30 zeroes after it.”  Most bacteria are harmless to humans, and many that live in and on the body serve beneficial functions. Certain bacteria, however, have the capacity to cause infectious diseases and conditions. Disease-causing, or pathogenic, bacteria can be categorized based on their shape and staining pattern.4.

Disease Causing and Pathogenic Bacteria

Of all the bacteria that exist, it is estimated that less than 1 percent of the different types make people sick.5.  In history,until the end of the 19th century there was a great risk of dying from some microbial disease before reaching the age of 40 – often in infancy or childhood.  Antiseptics developed in late 1800s decreased epidemics and increased life expectancy. Antibiotics developed from the mid 1900s until now provide an effective weapon against bacterial infections. Nonetheless, bacterial infections are still responsible for many diseases and infections. They cause harm to individuals due to toxicity and invasiveness.

Examples of common bacteria that become infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and E. coli. Antibiotics are the usual treatment. When you take antibiotics, you must follow the directions carefully. Each time you take antibiotics, you increase the chances that bacteria in your body will learn to resist the medication, causing antibiotic resistance. Later, you could get or spread an infection that those antibiotics can no longer cure.

Bacterial Hygiene

For those people who some may consider “germaphobes,” here are some interesting facts about dangerous bacteria contamination in public and private places.

  • There is a difference between being pathologically afraid of germs and being conscious of your surroundings. While you cannot avoid germs on frequently touched places in public, regular washing of hands has been a hygienic practice universally taught for generations before technology provided a better understanding of bacteria. Bacteria, Mold, and Viruses on Door KnobsBeing aware of places that have dangerous bacteria is wise.  Public restrooms, grocery stores, public transportation, fitness equipment, gas pumps, doctor’s offices, schools, phones, airplane trays, restaurants, and keyboards are all touched by many unknown people and deserve caution.  Washing hands, using sanitizer and wipes, and avoiding rubbing eyes and putting fingers in your mouth help avoid unnecessary risks significantly.
  • A study by Michigan State University of people observed leaving the bathrooms, found that only 5.3 % of people wash their hands properly by spending 15 seconds or longer washing their hands, thus fulfilling the requirements of proper Mold Symptoms, Moldaphobe - Mold Health Issueshand washing. The soap you use doesn’t have to be “antibacterial.” For what is considered a “proper” hand wash, the CDC recommends running your hands under clean (warm or cold) water and lathering well with soap while making sure to scrub both the front and back of your hands, in between fingers, and under the nails as best you can before rinsing your hands clean once again. The whole process should last about 20 seconds
  • For those who avoid shaking hands more than Passing germs Shaking Handsthe average person, the concern is warranted. As it turns out,80 percent of all infectious diseases are transferred through direct (e.g. kissing) or indirect (e.g. shaking hands) contact.


  • Practicing proper hygiene during food preparation is a necessary practice for family wellness. Wash you’re cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with hot soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next food. Use plastic or other non-porous cutting boards.Separate foods (meats).  Wash produce thoroughly for bacteria, virouses, mold, and pesticides.

In addition, there are millions of bacteria that exist in our bodies.  Gut health is critical to maintaining wellness. Good bacteria that colonize our respiratory and digestive systems help maintain balance in our bodies. Good bacteria break down foods, balance in our immune systems, protect cells from invading pathogens, and also promote healing of damaged tissue.  Poor diets and lifestyles consisting of processed foods, sugar and simple carbohydrates, lack of food diversity or whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, too much alcohol, smoking, lack of physical activity, and not getting enough sleep can all compromise the residential gut flora and contribute to infection, autoimmune disease and weight gain.

Mold is Everywhere but Not Everyone Needs to be a “Moldaphobe”

While indoor mold infestation has been in the news much more over the past two decades, very little is understood about the “indoor microbiome” to the same degree as the bacterial understanding in our bodies.  While progress has been made, there remains to be a significant gap between understanding mold in our environment and the human physiological impact that mold and their mycotoxins can have on human health.  The CDC and the World Health Organization (”WHO”) agree that living or working in a moldy building can result in the risk of respiratory diseases.

There are estimates that there may be up to 300,000 species of mold on earth.  Most are harmless and mold is ubiquitous in our environment; thus, by design, healthy bodies have the capacity to encounter and prevail over normal mold exposure indoors and outdoors.  Mold infestations indoors, however, create health risks that require attention. Indoor mold requires a moisture source and organic material to grow.  Because most molds are ascomycetes, they produce countless spores that can become airborne and behave like seeds, forming new growth of mold colonies when encountering the right conditions.7.

In an enclosed environment with high levels of mold, there is an increasing the risk of allergic reactions similar to seasonal allergies. When mold is exposed to excessive water damage or dampness and matter, such as building materials and building furnishings, it can become very dangerous. The molds fostered by dampness and modern building materials tend to be mycotoxin-producing, like aspergillus, penicillium, and stachybotrys. When water damage exists or a mold is found, the source of moisture must be repaired ASAP; and the mold source must be remediated properly or it can cause dangerous living conditions for inhabitants.  This does not include small amounts of mold, such as mildew in a shower, which can be conveniently and safely cleaned regularly.

In particular, there are certain populations of people that should be concerned with any water damage or excessive moisture combined with mold.  People who have any of the following physical criteria, should avoid moldy indoor environments to preserve their health:

  • Previous health issues due to mold exposure;
  • Chronic sinusitis, allergies, or respiratory disease such as asthma;
  • People with autoimmune diseases or compromised immune systems, such as
    • Infants and elderly,
    • Pregnant women,
    • Any patient treated for a serious chronic disease which weakens the immune system (cancer, transplant;
  • Mold sensitive patients, including those tested for mold allergy antibodies from an immunoglobulin diagnostic or those testing positive for HLA-DR genetic susceptibility;
  • Anyone experiencing unexplained cognitive dysfunction. While mold may not ultimately be the cause, it is an order of magnitude less complex and expensive to take mold off the table and potentially aid the diagnosis. You can read more about “Taking Mold off the Table” HERE.

For these populations, mold can become a burden, cause several troublesome and seemingly unrelated symptoms (chronic fatigue, brain fog) or cause chronic debilitating illness.

Mold Hygiene

If your home is sick or has had water damage, and mold negatively impacts your health, or someone in your home has a compromised immune system, practicing mold hygiene is essential to maintaining your health.  To stay well and to allow your body to heal from mold exposure, my doctor prescribes “clean air, clean water, and clean food.” The following mold hygiene steps are part of that prescription:

  • Checking your home periodically for moisture and water leaks. You can read more about the steps to check your home for moisture HERE;
  • If mold is identified, properly cleaning and removing the mold taking safety precautions (mask, gloves, non-toxic cleaners);
  • If the mold is isolated to a specific area, contacting a mold remediator or carefully remediating yourself following safety precautions. You can read about DIY mold remediation of small areas by Catherine at Moldfreeliving.com HERE;
  • Properly cleaning produce and cutting surfaces for both mold and bacteria;
  • Drinking properly filtered water. Some tap water contains chlorine which can kill good bacteria and result in fungal overgrowth in the gut, such as candida.

For those who consider themselves “Moldaphobes,” they can try these safe and non-toxic solutions from Micro Balance Health Products:

If you would like the convenience of mold wipes for everyday practical use and to carry with you, you can learn “how to make your own convenient microbial wipes” from Catherine at Moldfreeliving.com HERE.

If you have questions or something you would like to share, please comment on this post.

  1. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.shtml Updated November 2017.
  2. Williams, Monica Ph.D. “About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” New England OCD Institute.
  3. Bush, Larry MD, et. al. “Overview of Bacteria.” Merck Manual Online
  4. Liles, Valery. “A List of Bad Bacteria” Livestrong.com
  5. Medline Plus. “Bacterial Infections.” US National Library of Medicine.
  6. Abrams, Linsey. “95% of People do Not Wash Their Hands Correctly.” The Atlantic. June 11, 2013.
  7. “Facts About Mold” AIHA.org

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