Busting well-known hygiene myths

January 27, 2024 — by George Hu
Graphic by George Hu
Many people are unaware of many hygiene myths and realities.
Here I take on the 5-second rule, cotton swabs as a safe way to remove earwax, and the health benefits of brushing your teeth in the shower.

Due to the stress of busy high school lives, it is easy for students to not notice the subtle differences between hygiene myths and realities. Luckily, understanding the differences often takes less effort than people may think. 

Let’s start with the idea that using cotton swabs is a safe way to remove earwax. It’s perhaps not surprising that this is a myth. Swabs could do more harm than good. Using swabs can cause earwax to go further into the ear canal. This not only leads to discomfort, but also can lead to infection, punctured ear drums, and hearing loss. Additionally, having earwax comes with benefits such as preventing the ear from becoming excessively dry. Earwax can also disappear naturally, as it usually moves closer to the outer portion of the ear and then falls out.

Another common belief is that food that has been on the ground for 5 seconds or less is still clean to eat. This, too, is a myth. As soon as a piece of food touches the ground, it gets contaminated with bacteria. Additionally, some foods and some ground surfaces cause more bacteria contamination. For instance, moist foods obtain more bacteria than drier foods. Therefore, it is better to just throw foods that hit the ground in the trash.

Similarly, many people believe toilet seats are living and breathing cesspools (or the equivalent). Thus, their first thought after using a toilet is to thoroughly wash their hands. However, objects like smartphones, keyboards and desks tend to be much dirtier than toilet seats. But yet, few people ever wash their hands after touching any of these objects. To combat the dirtiness of these objects and stay clean, people could use antiseptic wipes to clean them.

Lastly, many people think that tooth brushing in the shower is the same as tooth brushing with the sink. The truth: Tooth brushing in the shower exposes teeth to more bacteria than tooth brushing at the sink. Showering leads to a moist environment, causing the growth of bacteria. Additionally, it’s easier to thoroughly brush your teeth well when looking into a mirror, as you can see where you are brushing and whether or not you are getting to all the needed spots.

The best advice when it comes to hygiene beliefs: Don’t believe everything you’ve been told.

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