OCD and Excessive Cleaning

Posted by Phil Cardenas on Apr 05, 2014

The term “germophobe” gets tossed around a lot, but when does an understandable desire to avoid unhealthy situations become a problem? Mental health professionals become concerned when that desire manifests itself in patterns of thought and behavior that become ritualistic or interfere with everyday functioning.

In the Neil Simon comedy classic “The Odd Couple,” two middle-age roommates with very different attitudes toward cleanliness were pitted against one another. Sportswriter Oscar Madison was a consummate slob and his friend Felix Unger was a “neat freak.” But was he “OCD”? No. Felix had a lot of issues, but OCD wasn’t among them.

Excessive cleaning and OCD come together when washing and cleaning behavior result in obsession with cleanliness and compulsive acts of decontamination. These can involve a variety of actions and reactions such as avoiding touching other persons, excessive hand-washing, or compulsive cleaning of inanimate objects such as shoes or credit cards.

Only an experienced therapist can determine when a preoccupation with cleanliness becomes symptomatic of OCD. If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be experiencing OCD, Beyond OCD, a non-profit organization devoted to better understanding and treatment of OCD, has an OCD Self-Screening Test that can help give you insights into your thoughts and behaviors. If the test indicates you may want to pursue further diagnosis and treatment, the Beyond OCD website has several resources to guide you through the process, including an article on finding the right therapist.

For more insight into cleanliness issues and OCD, read “Stronger Than Dirt: OCD and Contamination” by Fred Penzel, Ph.D. in the Expert Perspectives section of the Beyond OCD website.

One in 40 adults in the US has OCD and we want you to know you’re not alone. Beyond OCD is committed to offering OCD sufferers and their loved ones the latest information on the disorder. To learn more about OCD and its treatment, visit our web site at BeyondOCD.org. It’s there to help you get the information you need to go beyond OCD.


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