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Baxter’s law of conservation of filth

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There is a natural law, put into words by retired US college teacher Cecil Baxter, that states: “You don’t get anything clean without getting something else dirty.” This profound insight is known in some quarters as the law of conservation of filth.

We tend to assume that once our dirt has disappeared down the drain then that is the end of it. But Professor Baxter reminds us that we are merely redistributing it. And we should be concerned that we send it on to its next destination polluted by all the chemicals we use during our cleaning processes.

We wash our dirty clothes in detergents that contain surfactants, soaps, enzymes, thickening agents, perfumes and “optical brighteners”. We may add water-softening products that contain chemicals such as polycarboxylates. We scrub our cooking pots, crockery and cutlery using washing-up liquids that include similar substances to ease the transfer of the dirt and grease into the washing-up water. We pour away the mucky water, leaving grime that we then attack with a further multi-ingredient product such as a scouring powder or a cream cleanser. Eventually most of the filth disappears down the plug-hole, suspended, emulsified or dissolved in waste water that now also contains a wide range of synthetic chemicals.

And where do these feculent fluids go? They finish up in our rivers, lakes and oceans, or maybe even in our reservoirs of drinking water. The more effort we put into cleaning things, the more we desecrate our environment with the manmade substances with which we adulterate our dirt.

But, as “Hourglass” has pointed out, a little bit of dirt may be no bad thing, since it could help to protect us from conditions such as asthma and allergies.

So, rather than believing that cleanliness is next to godliness, we should accept the maxim that cleanliness is next to impossible. We should be prepared to clean less frequently, to use milder cleaning agents in smaller quantities and to be content to live with at least some of our dirt.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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