Why Dirty Kids Are Healthy Kids

14/11/2011 09:42 | Updated 22 May 2015
Why dirty kids are healthy kidsRex

I have a confession to make, one which may shock you. One which may have you reaching for the phone to the health and safety police, or more likely, holding your noses in disgust and reaching for some soap and water.

My kids have not had a bath since Sunday evening – that's four whole nights ago. In fact, for the last six months, they've only been bathing twice a week, maximum.

When I revealed this to a mum of one of my seven year-old son's classmates, she reacted as if I'd just dropped a stink bomb in her handbag.

'Are you being serious?' she said.

'Totally,' I replied.


She didn't say any more, but what I'm sure she was about to say was: 'Surely your kids stink? Surely they're UNCLEAN?'

Let's hang a sign round their necks and parade them through the streets, ringing a bell and chanting: 'Unwashed! Unwashed!'

Well, I'm pleased to report that my three children, aged nine, seven and four, may be a little on the grubby side, but they are pictures of glowing health. In fact, I can honestly say that in the six months since I adopted this 'Let's Skip Bath time Because I'm a Skinflint and I Am Lazy' regime, my kids have never been healthier, or happier.

Parents throughout Britain have long thought that letting our kids get a bit dirty won't do them any harm. When I was growing up, my brothers and I would play hide and seek around the bins in the alleyway at the back of our house and use lumps of coal as balls in a game of catch. Each evening, my mother would soak a flannel to wash our 'bits and pits', and that was it, until Sunday night – because Sunday was bath night. Our one and only bath night.


Now scientists have confirmed that what our parents knew by instinct was right all along. Kids who come home looking like Stig of the Dump are less likely to develop allergies in later life. This is because their immune systems become exposed to a greater variety of bacteria than kids whose parents obsessively scrub them to within an inch of their lives every night.


Researchers from the University of Copenhagen spent 12 years studying 411 children from birth. Professor Hans Bisgaard said: 'What matters is to encounter a large number of different bacteria early in life when the immune system is developing and "learning".'

This news isn't just a relief to many of us parents, but music to our ears. I decided to stop the obsessive Bath Every Night regime a few months after I became a housedad.

'A bit of dirt won't hurt them,' I reasoned.

And other parents agree. Mum-of-three Kate Gunn admits to having a very casual approach to her children's contact with dirt.

'I remember going to my first toddler group in a dirty, dusty church hall and my daughter dropped her box of raisins all over the floor,' says Katie, from Co. Wicklow, Ireland. 'The other mothers watched in horror as I allowed her to pick up each of the raisins, pick the dust off and then put them in her mouth. Funnily enough I haven't been back there since!

'Then the other day I found a dreadlock at the back of my three year-old's head. I have no idea how long it has been there – we don't actually wash his hair we just let the natural oils do their thing, which clearly doesn't extend to sorting out dreadlocks!'

But there's a serious point to this, as Katie explains: 'I don't agree with the way, as a society, we have become massively obsessed with cleanliness. The chemicals in the cleaning products are often worse for our children than a little dirt. Part of a child's job is to get dirty, so it's reassuring to know that science actually back this up."


In her book, Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends, immunologist Mary Ruebush says failure to let kids get dirty can actually harm them in the long run.


'The failure to expose your children to normal environmental things causes the immune response to turn inward on itself, she explained. 'So the development of allergies and what we call auto-immune disease is clearly related to the increase in cleanliness in our society.

'As a parent, I would simply say, 'Relax.' Mother Nature has built children in order to absorb germs in the environment. The human species has not been on this planet for as long as it has without having an unbelievable, miraculous immune response.

'So let your child be a child. Dirt is good. If your child isn't coming in dirty every day, they're not doing their job. They're not building their immunological army. So it's terribly important.'

What do you think?

Do you do bath time every evening?

Or do you prefer an occasional but good scrub?

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