The other day, our grandchildren came in from playing outside all afternoon–dirt and mud covering every inch of their feet, legs, trunks, hands, arms, faces, and even their hair. They were smiling and giggling with no concern for their hygiene or appearance. Obviously, a bath was in order for all.

This incident triggered a memory of one of the “Parts of Ten” chapters from our book Obsessive Compulsive Disorder For Dummies. We were inspired to write that chapter because those with OCD so often worry about becoming ill from the slightest contact with dirt. At the same time, few people know very much about dirt, whether they have OCD or not.

Here’s five items (from out book chapter) that you may not know about dirt:

  • Dirt generally evokes negative connotations such as disgusting, filthy, unsanitary, corruption, or obscene. Yet soil, which is also dirt, has a positive meaning. Soil consists of hummus and bits of disintegrated rock and most crops need it to grow. So in spite of all of those negative connotations, we need dirt to survive.
  • Dirt isn’t dead. Dirt is teeming with life. Sometimes as many as 100,000 worms live in a single square yard of dirt. But you can also find fungi, bacteria, algae, protozoa, and other forms of life in dirt.
  • A little dirt is probably good for you. Kids who grow up in unusually sanitary, pristine environments actually have a higher risk of allergies, autoimmune diseases, and asthma than kids who have pets, large families, and attend daycare. Of course, we’re not recommending squalid conditions, but maybe knowing this information can help ease up on having a spotless home all of the time.
  • Dirt isn’t what it used to be. Humans have systematically leached nutrients out of soil without replacing them. The effects on agriculture, especially in poor countries haven’t been good.
    Kids eat a little dirt with almost no ill effects. You know that kids stuff almost anything into their mouths. Toddlers manage to consume about 500 mg of dirt quite frequently. Assuming the dirt isn’t laced with pesticides, lead, gasoline, and such, they do so safely without harmful effects.
  • On the other hand, a few kids compulsively eat substances that are not food. This problem is called pica. If you see your child frequently consume items like leaves, hair, plaster, paint, stones, string, cloth, or animal droppings, that’s cause for real concern. Some of these kids eat dirt, but in much greater quantities than other kids.

The bottom line message is that we need dirt and a little dirt is both natural and likely helpful. Excessive filth is bad for you, but most things–even cleanliness–when taken to the extreme usually end up causing harm.