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Wondering what constitutes bad hygiene, or trying to figure out if your hygiene habits are lacking?

Take a (minty fresh) breath, and rest assured that some supposed bad hygiene traits are actually NBD — like peeing in the shower, for instance.

That said, some poor hygienic traits can be harmful or even a sign of more serious issues.

Skimping on hygiene might seem like NBD, and it isn’t if we’re talking about the occasional day you don’t brush your teeth until noon. But it matters when it affects your life or that of the people around you.

In the most extreme cases, when left unattended, poor hygiene can breed disease that can affect you or others.

For example, not washing your hands after you use the toilet, handle food, or touch dirty surfaces can spread bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These can lead to infections and diseases, like food poisoning, gastroenteritis, cold and flu, and hepatitis A — just to name a few.

Poor dental hygiene can lead to tooth decay and gum disease, which can also affect the heart.

Not bathing can result in a skin condition called dermatitis neglecta and secondary infections.

An obvious lack of hygiene can also affect a person’s work and social life. Some companies have a hygiene policy in place for the protection of employees and company image, especially if you have a public-facing role.

If you work in the food industry or in healthcare, proper hygiene is detrimental to the safety of everyone you’re in contact with.

Bad hygiene can be broken down into two categories: personal hygiene and environmental hygiene.

Here are examples of both kinds.

  • Poor personal hygiene:
    • not showering often
    • not brushing teeth
    • not washing hands before or after handling food
    • not washing hands after using the toilet
  • Poor environmental hygiene:
    • not regularly cleaning areas that breed bacteria, like the kitchen and bathroom
    • leaving garbage sitting out
    • not cooking or storing food properly
    • not doing laundry often (clothing and sheets)

Here are some signs that are indicative of poor hygiene in yourself or someone else:

People are quick to pass off poor hygiene habits as laziness, but poor hygiene can be a sign of a disease, such as Alzheimer’s, or a mental health condition, like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For some, lack of access to clean water, soap, or cleaning supplies can make proper hygiene more difficult to achieve.

Here are some easy ways to practice good hygiene:

  • Brush your teeth twice a day. Doing it when you get up and before you go to bed makes it easier to get into a routine. Remember: You only need to brush for 2 minutes for a good clean, so you can do it even if you’re short on time.
  • Wash your body daily. A quick shower or bath is all you need, as long as you cover the important parts (Think: pits and private bits). If access to water is limited, use a damp cloth or sponge to wash your genitals, around your anus, under your arms, between any skin folds, and under your breasts.
  • Wash your clothes and bedding regularly. Doing laundry once per week is sufficient, whether by machine or hand. If you need to re-wear clothing, a quick wash in the sink and hanging it to dry for the next day works fine. Keeping your body clean lets you extend the time between washing clothing and sheets.
  • Wash your hands often. If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that washing our hands goes a long way in keeping us healthy and reducing the spread of illness. Remember to wash your hands before and after contact with shared, or potentially unsanitary or contaminated surfaces to protect yourself and others.
  • Wipe properly after going to the toilet. Wiping properly after going to the toilet will keep underwear clean and unpleasant odors at bay. Always wipe front to back to keep bacteria away from the urethra to avoid urinary infections. Body wipes or a bidet work, too. (Though keep in mind that wipes can make life hard for sanitation workers. So if you don’t need them, it’s best to stick with TP). If pain or a disability makes it hard to wipe, consider a toilet paper aid.
  • Wash your hair at least every 3 days. Most people don’t need to shampoo their hair more than daily. How often you should wash depends on how oily or dry your hair is, how much you sweat, and how much product you use. Every 2 to 3 days is fine for most people, but feel free to experiment by extending the time between washes. Bouncy shampoo commercial hair is nice, but a healthy scalp is the priority.

Practicing good hygiene doesn’t have to be time-consuming or require expensive products. A few tweaks to a person’s routine can help prevent bad hygiene.

Since poor personal and environmental hygiene can be a sign of an underlying condition, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional if you’re concerned about your hygiene or someone else’s.


Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.