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Insight into OCD Washers and Cleaners

written by: Debbie Roome • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 1/23/2011

Obsessive compulsive disorder is commonly associated with excessive washing. Read on to learn more about OCD washers and cleaners and why they feel compelled to perform cleaning rituals.

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    OCD and Obsessions about Contamination

    OCD washers and cleaners suffer from obsessions about contamination. When questioned, they may admit to fearing sickness, germs or infection. However, others cannot pinpoint what they fear – just that contact with a variety of substances makes them feel dirty and anxious. Many of these substances are unusual and not what people would expect. Here is a list of some of the perceived contaminants:

    • Urine and feces
    • Sweat and other bodily secretions
    • Blood and semen
    • Broken glass
    • Chemicals
    • Radioactivity
    • Unwell people
    • Dirty people
    • Animals

    Some people with OCD fear contamination from more abstract things such as others thoughts, words, colors and places where crimes have been committed.

    Sufferers spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid places where they might touch these contaminants. They often have the assumption that a tiny drop of a substance will expand and contaminate large areas including a whole room.

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    OCD and Compulsions about Decontamination

    Compulsions are the cleaning behaviors that OCD sufferers employ to try and decontaminate themselves. The most commonly known of these is excessive hand-washing and showering. A person may wash their hands fifty times a day or more and showers often last over an hour although this may be stretched to several hours in extreme circumstances.Their skin normally suffers from the incessant washing and damage may occur if harsh antibacterial soaps and wipes are used. Typical effects are red, cracked skin that may bleed.

    A person with OCD may endeavor to create a clean space in their home. This is done by repeated washing of bedding, clothing, curtains, floors and windows. These cleaning rituals can take large chunks of time out of a sufferer’s day. Unfortunately, the cleansing effect does not last long and as soon as the person feels contaminated, they are compelled to start the cleaning and washing cycle all over again.

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    Treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

    People with this disorder can find a measure of relief by seeking treatment. This typically takes the form of cognitive behavioral therapy alongside medication. One or the other can be used on its own but a combined approach gives a greater success rate.

    Medication is in the form of serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors which are also known as SSRIs. These drugs enhance the activity of serotonin, the brain chemical involved in this disorder.

    Cognitive behavioral therapy may seek to expose the person to the contaminants they fear and provide the support they need to refrain from starting the washing and cleaning rituals to decontaminate themselves. Medications make this process easier by reducing the anxiety that causes the compulsions.

    OCD washers and cleaners can be helped and with ongoing support and treatment, can live a life that is relatively free from controlling obsessions and compulsions about contamination.

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    Resources

    http://www.ocfoundation.org/EO_Contamination.aspx

    http://www.anxietycare.org.uk/docs/whatisocd.asp