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Why Bath Time is Overrated — Kids Need Dirt in Their Lives

This morning I was brushing my daughters hair and caught a whiff of campfire. I buried my nostrils in her brown tresses, and sure enough—the smell was coming from her head. The problem with this? The last time we had a campfire was three dirty days ago.

I worried for a second that her teacher might think that the smell was evidence of some lack of care on my part. But then I got over it, and we went on our way. 

Some moms bathe their children every night as part of their bedtime routine, and I understand why they do it. It calms the kids down, washes away some of the ickiness from the day, and becomes a cue that the day is ending.

I thought this would be the case in our household—until our first child was born. Then I realized it’s not the end of the world if my kids are not freshly bathed all the time. I’m not freshly bathed all the time.

It turns out the experts agree. It may be beneficial to forego a bath every now and then. Parents should think twice before whipping out the hand sanitizer and cleaning off dirt whenever our kids get dirty.

We need dirt. The more a child plays in dirt, the more their bodies come into contact with bacteria that helps with so many bodily functions (2). 

bath time is overrated kids need dirt

“The typical human probably harbors some 90 trillion microbes. The very fact that you have so many microbes of so many different kinds is what keeps you healthy most of the time,” says immunologist Dr. Mary Ruebush, author of Why Dirt is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends (1). 

Researchers have found that bacteria from dirt:

  • Helps build stronger immune systems (1).
  • Improves learning and reduces anxious symptoms (1).
  • Reduces the risk of allergies, asthma, and other autoimmune diseases (1).
  • Is shown to activate neurons that produce serotonin, just like anti-depressants (1).

This doesn’t mean we should never bathe or wash our hands, but if we oversterilize our environment and obsess over cleanliness, the research shows we may actually do more harm than good (2).

By not bathing my kids every day, they get a little more microbe action. And I get a little more time to rest most nights—a win-win for all mother-kind. 

1. The Dirt on Dirt
2. ‘Dirt is Good:’ Why Kids Need Exposure to Germs

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