Microbes: Conclusion and My Personal Opinions – Part IV

Posts in this series on microbes: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

And now, I’m going to explain why I brought up the subject of microbes.

A large portion of my posts are dedicated to homemade, do-it-yourself crafts and necessities. I do it mostly to save money without sacrificing quality, the trade-off being sacrificing personal time and a little effort on my part which I think is worth it. Some of the topics like cooking, aren’t so foreign to the vast majority. But other topics like homemade skin care and housecleaning seem to raise a lot of questions. Mainly, is it better? Does it work? IS IT SAFE?

I brought the subject of microbes to answer the safety question as it is one of the of the main concerns or aversions people have with anything homemade. Understandably so. Some of our concerns with contamination are misplaced and stem from our germaphobic mentality. In a public setting, then yes, it would be prudent to exercise some precautions. But in our very own home, a healthy home is one that co-exists with microbes. Again, I am not advocating living in filth. But we don’t live in a bubble. Trying to engage in a full-on war against microbes can have adverse consequences. So, the goal of homemade, whether it’s cooking, housecleaning, skin care, or some other craft, is still safety but without too much help from man-made biocides. The safety trade-off here means having a realistic expectation of what our homemade goods can accomplish. For example, in the case of housecleaning products, it means that your house will be clean but you won’t even come close to imitating a clinical, almost sterile environment. Not that this should be your goal – you’re not trying to operate on your kitchen table after all. Even in a clean house, bacteria can still spread and cause infections but again, that’s not a bad thing if you view it as exercising your immune system (provided it is not compromised in the first place). In the case of your homemade perishable goods, food and cosmetics, it means a significantly shortened shelf life. With cooking, we are accustomed to this trade-off. We know that the cupcake we bake and leave out on the counter is not going to last as long as a Twinkie. And we use our senses to determine when it’s past its prime and chuck it. Homemade skin care is also a perishable and shares many of the same ingredients you would find in food. However, it seems that we still have unrealistic expectations as to its shelf life and aren’t as accustomed to using our senses to judge when it is past its prime as we do with food. I will address this topic in detail in many future posts. For now, assume that as long as you apply the same mentality to homemade cosmetics as you do to homecooking, you should be fine.

One last point I want to make is that just like microbes, man-made biocides do have their place in our society. In a public setting, for better or worse, the public is more trustful of clinical-like environments and prepackaged, commercially prepared goods. So no homemade goodies to hand out at our kids’ soccer games. But it’s okay. A little bit of man-made biocide in our lives is not harmful. It is the cumulative overexposure that create problems. In the same manner that the dangers of the presence of germs has been blown out of proportion, the toxicity of man-made biocides has equally been overexaggerated. More on this topic in a future post. My point is to minimize, not eliminate, our exposure to biocides. How? By not including synthetic preservatives in our homemade goodies and only using germ-killing household cleaners when necessary, not as part of routine cleaning.

Humans are tough and very adaptable, whether it’s to normal levels of microbes or small amounts of man-made biocides. How else did we come out on top of the food chain and overpopulate the Earth? But if we let science over-intervene, eventually, our bodies and our environment will not be able to keep up with our science.

Everything in moderation.

Posts in this series on microbes: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

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One Comment

  1. Posted October 11, 2009 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    As a microbiologist, I would like to point out that plain old soap kills, or dislodges for disinfection, most microbes very effectively without any help from specific antimicrobials. Rubbing alcohol is extremely effective at killing microbes on surfaces and even damages viruses. The fewer specifically targeted biocides we use, the more the biocides are available for use when we really need them, as during an epidemic.

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