Why ‘Neat Freaks’ May Not Have the Safest Hands

When talking about hand hygiene, we speak about consistency, following process and standards, and strictly adhering to guidelines and protocols. Study after study shows us that adherence with proper hand hygiene can reduce risk factors for everything from the common cold to more serious and devastating conditions like MRSA.

But when is too much not a good thing? It got us thinking about the psychology behind so-called “neat freaks” and “free spirits”.

As with pretty much anything, if taken too far, handwashing can go from positive to a negative. But when ignored, it can lead to serious health risks and sickness.

Let’s examine some of the pros and cons of both personalities and how they relate to health and hygiene.

Often employing elaborate routines, neat freaks, who strive for control and perfection, may wash their hands up to five times more than the average person,  according to Dr. Jeff Szymanski, Ph.D. While such habits help avoid the risk of infections, excessive hand washing can also increase your risk of developing an irritating hand rash.

This can be especially problematic in fields like healthcare, where open wounds can lead to a higher risk of germs entering open wounds, so proper skin care, which includes using the proper products and moisturizing, is essential.

Compulsive hand washing could also be a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder, a disease that affects one percent of the population (ADAA, 2016), and is often associated with conditions such as a fear of germs.

But contrast the neat freaks with free spirits, who want little to do with control.  According to PsychologyToday.com, free spirits lack conscientiousness, act on impulse, and care nothing about appropriateness. While free spirits are different from neat freaks in the sense that they may not have a mental illness, their care-free personality, specifically in regards to cleanliness, could be spreading germs unknowingly.

So the next time you are out with a group of colleagues, neighbors, or friends that might contain a neat freak or free spirit (or both), perhaps consider both the full health benefits and risks of being one or the other.

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