Home health Let Your Kids Eat Dirt

Let Your Kids Eat Dirt

by Kelly Crawford

My Dad told me of a report he had heard about the natural immune-building results of kids being exposed to a fair share of germs…namely, eating dirt.  I’ve been feeling this to be true for a while.  We are really lax about germs.  Not that I don’t bathe in hand-sanitizer as I leave our local thrift store, but it’s not uncommon for my children to eat lunch straight from the back yard, skipping the hand-washing all together.  They eat stuff we’ve dropped on the floor, unless the floor is a public restroom 😉  They don’t take baths every day, unless it’s a grimy, summer day.  (They’re kids already…how dirty could they be?)  We don’t live in filth, but germs is just not one of those areas where I freak out.  Glad to know at least part of the medical community is justifying my lackadaisical approach to dirt!

I found a concise article about it at Nourishing Kitchens (and this looks like a great site, btw):

“The current germophobia with all its use of sanitizing hand gels, antibiotic soaps, antimicrobial kitchen sprays, germ-killing sanitizing wipes, pasteurized milk, irradiated food and antibiotic pharmaceuticals may actually contribute to a society plagued by autoimmune disease….” Read more…

I especially liked the acknowledgement, particularly since we are now drinking raw dairy milk, that pasteurized milk, intended to be helpful, actually creates a disadvantage by killing the good bacteria our bodies need.

And I loved this point, quoted from a doctor who advocates the “Hygiene Hypotheses”:

“When we visit the doctor to suppress a lot of things like colds, rather than, in effect, letting nature run its course, we’re making immediate treatment the priority rather than long-term prevention.”

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Karrie January 19, 2010 - 10:19 pm

I am totally with you on this one. Our doctor is like that also. Our doc does worn aboout being careful at public places, but not to freak out. Our doc doesn’t give antibiotics till it is totally and completely nessesary! I’m all for a little bugger on your hand and a bit of dirt in your dinner! 🙂

Karrie January 19, 2010 - 10:20 pm

I just got a big chuckle. Your google add just showed an add for hand sanitizer and lysol while I was writing my first comment! 😀

Kelly L January 19, 2010 - 10:49 pm

Like it so much! And how can anyone take this post to another dimension? LOL

the cottage child January 19, 2010 - 11:12 pm

Oh my gosh – I was to be the germ-freak mom to be – antibacterial everything, wiped out the new baby bathtub with alcohol, lysol in every room. The first day I was home with our new baby – nine years ago today (gah)- our very sweet gentle docile dog jumped up on the sofa where I was holding the baby and slurped her slimy dog tongue across that baby’s face, from ear to ear, jumped down and ran off like SHE KNEW she was in trouble. And that was the end of that. I figured if that didn’t make her sick, I could relax. And while it grossed me out and still does, she never got sick, and rarely does now, even though she and that same dog kiss on a daily basis. EWWW. If only she would just eat dirt!

Civilla January 19, 2010 - 11:16 pm

Funny you should say that, Kelly. My grandmother helped to raise us, and she had to walk with a cane and couldn’t get around well, so our house was neat and picked up, but not exactly deep-clean, since she couldn’t get under the beds, etc., and we were too young to help. I don’t know how to describe it, but it was, like, only surface clean, kwim? It was in the 50’s, so not many people took baths every day, and we didn’t either.

Well, my brother and I look back and remember how healthy we always were and except for the ordinary childhood things and colds, we were never really sick. Our neighbors up the road, however, grew up in a very clean home and they were sick all the time with something: imeptigo, etc. Always. My brother and I laugh that it would be impossible to duplicate the lab conditions in the home we grew up in, because it was not deep-clean, but we were never sick. So, I agree with what you said. Yes, we kissed the dogs, too.

Word Warrior January 19, 2010 - 11:17 pm

Kelly–I’m not holding my breath 😉

cottage child…you are simply hilarious!

Carmen January 19, 2010 - 11:25 pm

I don’t bathe my kiddos every day. Besides what you’ve stated…who’d have the time?! LOL : )
Great post!

mrs.hester January 19, 2010 - 11:27 pm

Oh the simplicity of growing up rural! My family has never been germaphobes either. If we had a stomach bug or other gross sickness then the puke bucket and related materials were Lysol-ed, but that was about the extent of it! I remember playing in the mud barefoot, splashing in the non-purified/chlorinated creek water, complete with sliding down limestone slabs covered in tiny leeches, and we all survived! In fact, I thank God that I rarely get down with colds or flus!

Word Warrior January 19, 2010 - 11:31 pm


Amen sister. And if you calculated the savings between water, shampoo, soap and laundry (towels) it would be significant with a family our size.

My husband’s grandparents are in their 90’s, growing up during the Great Depression. They still take “sponge baths” during the week and I think only take a real bath once a week. Not that I’m suggesting that’s the preferred method, just that I think we overrate things sometimes. I’ve seen mothers so adamant about a child’s daily bath that they let it rule their schedule. Balance.

Word Warrior January 19, 2010 - 11:35 pm

I guess growing up rural does have a huge impact. Farm life just gets you over a lot of things 😉

mrs.hester January 19, 2010 - 11:44 pm

Oh that it does, and quick! LOL I wouldn’t change it for the world and I fully expect my littles to experience chicken poop when they get here. I will have some Ivory handy though 😉

Elizabeth January 20, 2010 - 6:15 am

I remember eating dirt when I was a kid.

Quinn January 20, 2010 - 7:23 am

Vindication!!! How sweet it is ;D

I’m closely related to a germaphobe and it can be taxing to the morale. Who wants to feel like a dirty momma?

I seem to go about things similarly to you sounds like- except for the dairy, but we’re working on that- and we actually rarely get sick. Less than a handful of colds each year. They last longer now, because we have more people for it to work it’s way through. But we’ve never had the stomach flu! (In 12 years!! Thank God!!!!) I’ve always chalked it up to a good, ‘healthy’ exposure to germs. Always seemed like common sense to me.

Becky January 20, 2010 - 7:26 am

I actually start my children “eating dirt” nearly from birth. I don’t take a full bath/shower for several weeks after giving birth and I breastfeed, so my babies get all those “germs” that are on my body. I have very healthy babies 🙂

Avaya January 20, 2010 - 8:19 am

Agree with you on this. We often over-medicate, and are too obsessed with sanitising our environment with too many chemicals.

As I grew up in a hot country I was bathed everyday. But we didn’t use loads of water due to water shortages. One plastic bucket filled with warm water and a mug to pour water over us was sufficient. Neither did my mum use soap on us every day, she didn’t think it was necessary. We sometimes got a little oil massaged on us instead. Nice! Today, despite the ability to have long showers and deep baths I still use the bucket and mug method sometimes.

We now live in a cold country and here its ok if the kids don’t bathe every day and get a little bit dirty. We’re just firm on a bottom wash after a poo as the idea of just toilet paper makes me shudder 🙂

Word Warrior January 20, 2010 - 9:22 am

Speaking of using soap every day/bath, as Avaya brought up…I’ve thought a lot about that this winter as my skin is very dry. Is it really necessary (or even good, in light of this article) to use soap all over your body so regularly? Not to mention what chemicals are in the body wash or whatever you use (we use our homemade soap, so I don’t worry about this ;-)) that absorb through the skin.

It strikes me as another area where we just do what they tell us to do (“they” being the product commercialism) and never really stop to think if it’s necessary.

Of course certain body parts require soap, don’t get me wrong. But I’m thinking, “how dirty could my legs be in the winter time…do they really need lathered up?

Margaret January 20, 2010 - 9:37 am

It’s hard to admit to in America, but we are not a “daily bath/shower” family. Bath night for the boys is Saturday. During the week, there are as-needed showers or “bottom baths” (sit in an inch of water to remedy a stinky rear end, lol). But especially during the winter, once a week is often just fine. In the summer I just wash them down whenever they get dirty. Dh and I shower as needed. Quite a change from my teenage years when I’d shower at least once a day or even twice.

My mom’s a doctor, but her motto is “They’re going to eat a pound of dirt during their childhood, so don’t fret about it.”

Mrs W January 20, 2010 - 9:46 am

Haha as a mom of toddlers it is usually ME that doesn’t get a shower every day. My husband says it’s gross, but nobody else notices.

Leslie Viles January 20, 2010 - 9:50 am

In the book THE MAKER’S DIET by Jordan Ruban, he points out that many current antibiotics come from microbes in the soil, including streptomycin and vancomycin. A few years ago, after reading this book, I encouraged my kids to get out and get dirt under their fingernails. They have always been very healthy anyway (most of our trips to the MD are for stitches and x-rays), but I think even more so now!

Kim M January 20, 2010 - 10:51 am

Oh I am so glad I am not the ONLY ONE who feels this way! I have had this theory that we are sanitizing the good germs away for a long time. I have mentioned my theory to people and they just give me this blank stare.

I think it has even affected drinking water. We have a well that we are wanting to get hooked back up to our house (it needs pipe repair).

Do you know what several people around here have said? “The water works frowns on that.”

Rachel Falaschi January 20, 2010 - 10:52 am

We have the day old rule around our house (as opposed the the 3 second rule for dropped food.)j/k! My toddler often finds dropped food under her chair, on the kitchen floor, etc. and has no problem popping it in her mouth. We have two large St. Bernard dogs that sleep in the house at night, so dog hair abounds. My mother thinks it’s gross, but my kids are healthy! I also heard somewhere that early exposure to animal dander and hair cuts down on children becoming allergic to animals. I can’t quote a source because I don’t honestly remember where I heard/read that, but it sounds good to me! I remeber playing in the dirt as a kid and my children are always covered in it from digging holes in the yard/garden from spring till fall. In the winter they have exposure to the stuff the dogs bring in and only bathe once a week. 🙂

Kim M January 20, 2010 - 11:23 am

Oh I just thought of something! You can back it up Biblically
Matthew 15 ;-D Where the disciples are scorned for not washing their hands and to this Jesus said …….
10Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ “

Charity January 20, 2010 - 12:06 pm

About using soap when you “wash”…..All three of my children have terrible eczema and very sensative skin, as do my husband and I. Just yesterday at my baby boy’s check up the dr said “water is good, soap is bad”. Soap is very drying and and the chemicals in it are awful for your skin. We too use homemade “soap”, but for our wee ones just some warm water does the trick! 🙂

Tricia January 20, 2010 - 1:03 pm

Great post and great points, Kelly and everyone. I agree, with the exception of washing hands before eating. Though it’s true about germs, there are things like parasites and their invisible eggs that are better washed off before eating. And to further back up your point about the downside of over-cleanliness, did you know that now they’ve discovered that some bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics even though they haven’t been exposed to any antibiotics? It happens through the bacteria being exposed to common disinfectant! http://ow.ly/YFje

Anti-bacterial soaps are unnecessary and counter-productive, too, as are sponges treated with germicide, etc., etc!

I use baking soda, vinegar (not together), and hydrogen peroxide (sometimes together with the vinegar) for my household cleaning! Also, for many things, just plain water. I do not buy, use, or have in my house commercial disinfectants, and that includes bleach.

Quinn January 20, 2010 - 1:31 pm

I was thinking similarly to you earlier Kim M as I thought on this post- except the verses that I thought of were in Matthew 23.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.Thou] blind Pharisee, cleanse first that [which is] within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men’s] bones, and of all uncleanness.Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

To be considered a “good parent” these days, so much emphasis is put on external things- cleanliness, new fashions, etc. Even when good behavior is emphasized, it’s simply for appearances. Matters of the heart are tossed to the side. I’d rather have my children look and smell like Pigpen (which they don’t I feel the need to add 🙂 ) and be little men and women which seek the Lord and follow His ways than be squeaky clean poster children who are inwardly are black as coal.

Civilla January 20, 2010 - 2:45 pm

Yes, I read somewhere, too, that early exposure to animals will make children resistant to dander allergies. I believe that to be true.

Amy January 20, 2010 - 6:13 pm

It seems we are pretty normal around here then…my kids eat their share of dirt, don’t take meds for every sickness, and don’t overly bathe. So why is it that we seems to get the stomach flu EVERY fall and spring? I thought that maybe I need to go a little OCD where germs are concerned…but maybe not? I am at a loss as to how some families can go years w/o getting the stomach flu, while we seems to get it too often (we just got over it and with 6 people in the family- it takes a while). Ugh!:)

Carmen January 20, 2010 - 10:35 pm

Amy, I wondered the same thing. We have 10 people in our family (my mom, myself, my hubby and 7 kiddos). One of us is sure to catch something and then spread it around. So I’m thinking that now, compared to a few years ago when our family was smaller, the probability just got bigger. Anyone else have a theory?

Carmen January 20, 2010 - 10:37 pm

Oh, and let me just ask so that I can feel justified… 🙂 I’m not a horrible mom because my kiddos 7 and under take one bath a week and an occasional one in between if they need it? My older ones, however, bathe more frequently…it’s a must! Just checking! 🙂

Carmen January 21, 2010 - 7:29 am

I must add that that bathing schedule is for wintertime. Summer is a whole different thing. 🙂

Kristen January 22, 2010 - 3:53 pm

Oh, you betcha! My middle one had a mud goatee every time he went outside when he was a toddler. I also caught him with a live snail in his mouth once. We probably get 1-2 colds a year in this house, never bad enough to lay anyone up!

Kelly L January 22, 2010 - 7:22 pm

Charity, both my husband and daughter have problem skin. I use tea tree oil on their scalp and skin when it breaks out in eczema. (You can drop it into bathwater and let them soak). Otherwise, I use a tea tree oil shampoo and bar soap for them (Trader Joe’s). Warning: Don’t get it in your eyes, and don’t put straight TTO on the skin of little ones, mix it with Vit E oil, olive oil, jojoba oil, ect.

Amy, maybe supplementing with GOOD bacteria pills will help your body fight it off. Also, Vit D deficiency is very common in the US due to overuse of sunscreen (although don’t get me started about that). We take Vit D supplements or stay in the sun (we live in Vegas so it is not too hard) to stave of flu and virus. One study actually showed a correlation between Vit D deficiency and illness. Incidentally, if you live in the middle part of the country North of the bottom states in the East middle in the West, the sun rays’ angle is insufficient to provide your body with the necessary Vit D. So supplementation is advised. OK, now I’ve revealed myself as a crazy. Although, just as God provided for the spiritual consequence of sin through Jesus Christ, I believe He has also provided for the natural consequences of sin via herbs and vitamins, not withstanding prayer, of course. OK, enough from the peanut gallery.

Charity January 22, 2010 - 9:49 pm

Kelly L, thank you so much for the eczema tip. I’m willing to try about anything as bad as it gets with the wee ones. Oddly enough my baby boy’s (eczema) was worse this summer but both my little girl’s is worse in the winter. Maybe we all need a tea tree oil soak 🙂

Kelly L January 23, 2010 - 11:04 pm

My doctor, who is not a nature freak, even accepts and recommends Tea Tree Oil. I am hoping God will show you what is best for your family.

Elizabeth January 29, 2010 - 1:02 pm

My mother always had strong feelings about NOT being overly clean. I was never expected to wash my hands before meals and it was totally permissible to eat something that had fallen on the floor. On the other hand, she was very strict about nightly baths! I would have loved to not take a nightly bath because I thought it was really boring. But when I look back on how filthy I got on a daily basis, I have to sympathize with her strict bath schedule.

It never occurred that people wouldn’t bathe their kids every day. I’m not judging, mind you. It just never crossed my mind that skipping a bath was even an option!

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Jessie January 23, 2017 - 7:18 am

My kids doctor is sth like you described also. He does worn about being careful at public places, but not to freak out. I’m all for a little child on your hand and a bit of dirt in your dinner! hehe


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