Science Corner

Is the Five Second Rule Real?

Is the five second rule real? - graphic of person next to germs

I’m a little big gross.  Maybe more than a little, but I’m all for the 5-second rule, or even a 5-minute rule, for that matter.  The 5-second rule has been proven to be entirely invalid in terms of germs waiting to attach themselves to an item that’s fallen on the floor, but my question would be what’s wrong with a few germs?  If I drop some food into a clean-ish area of the floor that doesn’t have any major visible icky spots, I’m absolutely eating that food off the floor.

I’m also not a big hand-washer unless there’s a good reason to – and yes, using the toilet is always a good reason, even I’m not that gross.  There’s a bit of a method to my madness there, though.  I have eczema on my hands, which gets worse when my skin is drier. More handwashing means drier skin, regardless of how much hand lotion I use.  When my eczema is worse, I have open sores on my hands, and that’s not a particularly hygiene-friendly situation.  If I’m eating food with my hands, I don’t feel any urge to wash them beforehand unless they’re clearly dirty.

I’m sure I’m not the only pet owner who gets up close and germy with their pets.  Guinea pigs are like rabbits, in that they eat a certain type of their own fecal pellets in order to properly digest them and get all the nutrients out.  That means, like dogs and cats, mouth and bum are meeting on a regular basis..  Yet I don’t hesitate at all to kiss my piggies.

Hygiene hypothesis

I wrote a while back about a documentary that reported research results supporting the hygiene hypothesis.  The idea is that if we don’t exercise our immune system by exposing it to germs, it gets hypervigilant and starts attacking things it shouldn’t, like the foods we put in our body.  That hypervigilant immune system can also turn on the body itself, causing inflammatory conditions, which may in turn contribute to the development of mental illness.

One of the arguments some anti-vaxxers make is that vaccines overwhelm the immune system.  By the time they’ve reached immunization age, children’s immune systems are ready and able to work.  There’s no indication that the immune system gets overwhelmed, and the hygiene hypothesis would suggest that working the immune system by generating a response to vaccines is actually a good thing.

Being germy is important in terms of our gut health, a part of the body where we have thriving colonies of bacteria that help us along with the digestive process.  People spend rather large amounts of money on things like kombucha and probiotic supplements to get happy germs.

Reasonable precautions

Of course, there are precautions we should take when it comes to hygiene. Hand-washing in healthcare environments is crucial for preventing the spread of infection.  During cold and flu season, regular hand-washing can prevent you from picking up other people’s germs. Hand-washing in food preparation areas is also key for preventing infections from organisms living on raw meat.

What about the role of antibacterial soap and cleansers?  Well, for one they don’t work better than proper handwashing with normal soap.  The real issue of concern what the whole slew of antibacterial products is that they can contribute to the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

Anyway, I say be a little gross now and then, aside from the essentials of toileting and food prep.  It’s more fun anyway, and who knows, it might even be good for you.

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29 thoughts on “Is the Five Second Rule Real?”

  1. We’ve gone cleanliness crazy! That’s why there’s so many infections about and being prescribed antibiotics at a drop of a hat. Our immune systems are shot to bits.

  2. I remember a story someone told me once. This mother would bathe and sanitize and dress her baby toddler a hundred times a day. One day he was sick again as usual and the doctor came out. He gave the little one a look, took his dummy pulled it through the sand and put it back into his mouth and told the mom she is killing the little one. He has to play and get dirty and get a good bath at night. We should not live like pigs, but to sanitize everything always is not good. I so agree with you.

  3. I’ve always thought this way! Why be so concerned with germs? They are everywhere! To be honest, there have been very few toilet seats I’ve been hesitant to sit on with my bare butt, and I’ve eaten questionable food with no issues at all. I’m a very healthy woman. If I do get sick, it’s when my kiddo brings home some crazy funk from school. I am a little weird about touching doorknobs in public restrooms, though- I prefer to keep my paper towel in my hand to open the door. Other than that, I’m generally very gross- and it works in my favor!

    1. Funny that in an Uber-clean world, there are still people that don’t wash after toileting, so the paper towel for the public washroom door makes sense.

  4. What’s funny is that we’re breathing air and drinking water that has been through billions of cycles. Nothing is really pure. I laugh at these women who open bathroom doors with a paper towel because of people who don’t wash their hands, but yet they touch their office doors, mail, and a million other things multiple strangers have touched. Which ones haven’t washed? Who knows!

  5. Good point on the whole over-dryness thing with hand washing, especially with the likes of eczema like you have. I do wash my hands quite a lot, probably too much these days, but I do agree there’s a need and purpose for germs and problems can arise with being overly clean and hygienic. x

  6. I completely agree! I feel sad for people who obsess over cleanliness, because it probably takes a lot of mental energy to be so worried over it. I always wash my hands after going to the bathroom, and I try to remember to do it before I prepare food, but it’s just too much energy to worry about it ceaselessly.

    One thing I have noticed, though, in regard to germs, is that it’s very, very bad for me to take ice skating classes in October/November. The rink is shared with mostly children. Even though the adults do our own thing over to the side of the rink, every single year that I sign up for classes then, I get sick. And I know it must be from those germy children. Huh.

    Great blog post! Fun topic!

  7. My mom looks at me in horror anytime I eat off the floor. I do it whenever I drop stuff, unless my dog gets it first. I am convinced eating off the floor is one of the main reasons why I never get sick. I really enjoyed this post. I agree with everything you said. Mud is good! Dirt is good! Being hyper-vigilant about germs can negatively impact your health. Great post. 🙂🙂

  8. I totally agree with you. Being too clean just screws with our immune system. I didn’t know it can affect our mental health though. That’s interesting to know.

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