Compulsive Cleaning: An Interesting Case of OCD

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Not many people know about compulsive cleaning disorder, but it can lead to serious consequences. Compulsive cleaning is the act of repetitively washing your hands or tidying up in an attempt to relieve stress. It’s not really considered a mental health disorder on its own, but when it impacts daily life and causes distress for the person afflicted with it then it becomes more than just a bad habit.

For example, if the person is washing his hands with the thought that his hands were dirty, and he was washing his hands repeatedly (compulsive behavior) saying “my hands are still dirty, not clean (obsessive thought)”, we can say that he is obsessed with cleanliness. This disorder causes people to go into an avoidance mode–avoidance of relationships, other activities, and/or feelings associated with the cause of this mental storm.

What is Compulsive Cleaning?

Compulsive cleaning disorder is a condition in which people can feel so much anxiety and discomfort when not obsessively cleaning their homes, that they spend 8-9 hours a day on “cleaning rituals.”

What are the Symptoms of Compulsive Cleaning ?

These are important symptoms if the following behaviors are repeated obsessively:

  • Taking the clothes off right in front of the door.
  • Going to the bathroom as soon as you get home. Asking other people living at home to do the same.
  • Cleaning the house every day for hours.
  • Taking a bath for over an hour.
  • Washing hands constantly.
  • Taking a bath many times in a day.
  • Washing the laundry over and over again.
  • Washing dishes with bleach.
  • Cleaning of every packaged product taken from outside.
  • Washing toys every day.

Causes of the Disorder

Compulsive cleaning disorder can be attributed to many reasons. There are many hypothesises including genetics, environmental factors, and especially stressful events. To understand more about this condition, one must know a little bit about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is a mental illness in which a person has trouble controlling their recurrent thoughts and/or behaviors even when they make no sense to them. It’s not an easy problem to live with and the only way to overcome it is through psychotherapy. A therapist will be able to help you deal with your obsessions through effective techniques such as exposure therapy where you gradually get used to the idea that your fear may not come true, or thought-stopping where you learn how to stop negative thoughts.


Compulsive cleaning disorder emerges without disturbing the person. People who we call meticulous, obsessed with the order of things, symmetry, and control, are more likely to experience it. Therefore, it is very important to consult a specialist as soon as some of the previous symptoms are observed. Unless taking precautions, the disease may manifest itself in other types and in greater severity. For example, we know that people who clean the house for 1 hour a day do not leave the house at all if they are not treated.

Some improvement in the behavior can be observed in the people who decided to take help in six months. However, more permanent improvements of behavior also require a longer treatment period. Research has shown that the benefit of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the disorder is very high. This disorder is a treatable condition. A person who has a compulsive cleaning disorder can return to normal life through therapy.

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Aaron Beck

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About Author

I am studying in Florida about Dialectic Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I'm doing research on Neuro-Emotional Technique (NET), Cognitive psychology, Metacognitive Therapy.

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