Cleanliness is next to smokiness

I have a metaphysical treatise rumbling in here, probably the result of bugger all sleep for the last few nights. Lack of sleep puts my brain in some very strange places. It’s not complete and won’t be until I’m awake enough to pick the good bits out of the jumble of nonsense. Also I have another early one tomorrow.

Tonight I have a very simple story from the University of the Bleeding Obvious.

Bleach is a cleaning chemical that releases chlorine. Lots of chlorine. Enough to cause burns in skin. Chlorine is a very reactive gas and really pretty damn toxic. That’s why bleach is so effective.

Now, the bottles you get for home use aren’t strong enough to damage an adult unless they drink it or splash it on themselves. Which can happen. I have a few marks here and there… but that won’t surprise anyone. Yes, I use bleach to clean things and I have the scars to prove it. Don’t sniff the end of the bottle and you won’t inhale enough to do serious internal damage.

Those kinds of bottles normally have ‘Keep away from children’ written on them. Sound advice in general. In particular though, the advice refers to the rather less well developed structure of the average greasy little urchin, and the therefore enhanced capability of bleach to damage said urchin.

Including their lungs.

In fact, bleach is now causing pretty much everything that smoking has been blamed for in the past. Except dandruff, scabies, mad cow disease, tennis elbow and wanker’s wrist.

I don’t think it’s bleach itself that is supressing the infant immune system. It’s the liberal application to all surfaces, resulting in a much reduced local bioflora, that then leads to an immune system with nothing much to practice on.

Again, the average adult has lived among filth and squalor at some stage of their lives, or engaged in youthful actiivities in their past involving fireworks and fresh cow dung, and now has an immune system stocked with antibodies against most things.

The use of bleach does not remove the adult’s accumulated immunities. It only affects the child. Which suggests that the effect is not directly on the immune system but on something related to that immune system. Environmental bacteria, fungi and viruses. Those things the immune system needs to experience in small doses so it can learn how to wipe the buggers out if they come in mob-handed at a later stage.

Chlorine gas can damage lungs too. In well-ventilated houses this would never have been a problem but the current trend for multilayered windows and door seals that would work on Mars means that many houses contain most of the same air they had when they were built.

So maybe, just maybe, passive smoke isn’t causing these mysterious illnesses in the offspring of the antismoking Puritans after all.

Maybe it’s passive cleaning.




14 thoughts on “Cleanliness is next to smokiness

  1. I ask myself what concentration they used to kill thousands of troops in the open air during WWI?

    Must have been some heavy duty chlorine going on.


    • using a little knowledge from the wiki, and my own understandings – Chlorine requires a concentration of about 1000ppm to be fatal due to it’s effect on the body (forming Hydrochloric acid in the lungs & destroying the tissue), but it’s also denser than air at ambient conditions, so it works as an asphyxiant by displacing air from wherever the soldiers are – particularly useful in trench warfare!

      Also, it’s a really obvious green colour, so it had a psychological warfare impact as well.


  2. Couldn’t agree more, and what about the rise in cases of asthma? Due entirely to fitted carpets, double glazing, and central heating, I believe. When Ah wor a lad…


  3. I’m not a skilled biochemist but it has always been obvious to me that if you liberally use a household cleaning product that kills 99.9% of all known germs then not only will people gain no immunities but eventually that remaining 0.1% of germs will mutate into something that bites back.


  4. Do people use more bleach these days than they used to? What about all the other new-fangled sprays and cleaners? But I completely agree about ventilation. When I were a lad, our coal fires would guarantee about 20 air changes an hour. Now it’s down to about 0 air changes an hour, and I’m surprised anyone can even breathe. There are two consequences of this. The first is that whatever’s in room air to start with stays in the air. And the second, which follows on from the first, is that people get to hate whatever they keep on having smelling.

    I remember, many years ago, there was a brewery in the town where I lived, and periodically it would release clouds of faintly sweet-smelling gas, that filled the whole town. On first sniff it smelled quite nice. But I can remember that after 3 or 4 days it had become a horrible cloying stench that I couldn’t escape wherever I went. So it was a tremendous relief when the wind eventually came up, and blew it away. I think that the rise of antismoking may have something to do with the smell of tobacco smoke remaining in the air of increasingly ill-ventilated houses. It’s not that tobacco smoke has got a nasty odour (it’s got another distinctive rich smell), but that smelling anything all the time becomes unbearable. And that’s why, no sooner have they banned smoking, people start wanting to ban perfume as well (even though that’s supposed to smell nice). Soon it’ll be the awful stench of frying bacon and baking bread and garlic that they’ll want to ban.

    But all that may be needed is better ventilation.


  5. 45 years ago…my midwife did not believe in sterilizing feeding bottles etc., just advised me to wash them in “the hottest water your hands will tolerate”, which I did. She also said “what’s the point of sterilizing everything when the first thing your husband will do when he comes home from work (oh – those were the days!) will be to pick Baby up, and you cant sterilize him, can you?” (although that did happen – later…). Baby fine, no problems at all. Cousin’s baby born two weeks before mine, everything sterilized, Baby always had something wrong with him. So I do believe that immune systems need to practice on the little bugs to prepare them for later on, as you say.

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  6. I got into so much trouble with my mum over bleach once. It was the day she went into labour with my little sis. This would make me 21 months old. I remember she went for a lay down with the baby and so I was left alone, free to wander our flat. Actually, I wasn’t alone, there was a big, black fly buzzing in the kitchen. It was very noisy and I was concerned it would disturbing mum and the baby sleeping (my memory is that Juju was new born, but apparently not, according to mum’s memory banks).

    It was crafty that fly, settling too high for me to catch, so I decided to entice it down …


    – Dad’s battered enamel breakfast dish
    – Mum’s cooking spoon


    – milk
    – bleach
    – washing up liquid
    – tea bags
    – sugar cubes

    METHOD: Mix and stir.

    I was having a lovely afternoon concocting and chatting to the fly, who didn’t come down once. Then dad arrived home, red faced and breathless from running up all our stairs (there were a lot) causing mum to come out of the bedroom. That’s when the trouble started. To be honest, I was more upset that mum didn’t understand I was doing it for her and the sleeping baby, than the smack received. The fly really didn’t like his smack.


  7. Instant tear gas (Without the smoke); Mix a gallon of water with a hefty slosh of Jeyes fluid and household bleach. Did it once by ‘accident’. I had a tough cleaning job and nothing else seemed to work. Never again.


  8. The answer on the ventilation front is fairly straightfoward in modern sealed houses. You stick a large blower in the attic – this sucks out of the loft, bathroom and any room with an open fire. It exhausts outside (via a heat exchanger). Incoming air comes in through the heat exchanger and is pulled into all the other rooms of the house.

    This maintains a decent number of air changes, gets rid of smells and accumulated damp – and doesn’t lose much heat in the process.

    The fancy ones have heat pumps attached either to extract heat from exhaust air (for hot water), or to provide heating/aircon. But you really don’t want to see the price tag on those.

    With that said, I’m a big fan of using bleach to clean, but not having a well ventilated house is a muppets move


  9. My grandson has been caught eating cat shit out the litter tray, raw liver out the cats dish, live slugs from out the garden, just a few things off the top of my head.

    Surprisingly he ails very little, there has been local epidemics of measles, chicken pox, german measles and mumps. He hasn’t caught a thing.

    My dad was seeing a woman back in the 80s, she had a young girl who must be well into her 30s by now. She was one for antibacterial this and wiping down with bleach, boiling water to put into the fridge to make juice for the little un etc. Any thing that was going around, they caught it.


    • What’s wrong with raw liver?

      I never eat it any other way.

      And no. I am not being ironic/sarcastic/taking the piss. I eat liver raw. ALWAYS.

      Cooking it just destroys the taste.


  10. To be honest, you can get a fairly good effect merely by keeping a pet dog. Something fairly small so it doesn’t eat much or take up much room, but with sufficient spark not to tolerate mishandling by kids, plus some hunting instinct. A Jack Russell cross Chihuahua will do fairly well, especially if it is allowed to hunt. Kids like going a-hunting with their dogs, and a cat-bell on the dog’s collar will give all but the dimmest rabbit chance to leg it; as for the daft bunnies, well that’s how evolution works.

    What you get from the dog is a continual input of harmless bacteria into a house, and an incentive to keep the place cleaned fairly well. Any kid in such a household gets a steady amount of immunological target practice, and (if you’re smart enough to ensure the dog sleeps downstairs) you gain a living burglar alarm and pest destroyer.

    Humans have lived with dogs for long enough to have partly co-evolved with them. Both species more or less understand each other, and neither (if kept properly) are harmful to the other.


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