How Is Cleaning Connected To OCD?

Most people know someone who likes their surroundings to be neat, and people who go to great lengths to keep their homes and offices clean are sometimes labeled as "clean freaks". Others may tell them that they have OCD, or they may describe themselves that way too. 

However, OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a real mental health disorder that can impact every aspect of a person's life. Learn more about the symptoms of OCD, how it may be connected to cleanliness, and more. 

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Symptoms of OCD

People with OCD often suffer from obsessive thoughts, sometimes about bad things that might happen to themselves or others. These obsessions are intrusive and often form a cycle of thinking that is difficult to break. 

For people with OCD, obsessions often create compulsions, which are actions a person performs to calm their anxiety or eliminate their obsessive thoughts. Such obsessions and rituals can make everyday life more difficult, and families of people with OCD may struggle to help their loved ones deal with their fears and anxieties. 

Some common symptoms of OCD include:

  • Having unwanted thoughts, sometimes about violent or sexual topics

  • Being unable to tolerate uncertainty 

  • Wanting their surroundings to be orderly and symmetrical 

  • Asking for reassurance from others frequently

  • Following strict routines

  • Habitually cleaning

  • Frequently counting things or repeating the same phrases out loud.

These are just a few examples of how a person's OCD may present. Some people with OCD will have very mild symptoms, while others may be so severe that they cannot function in everyday life.

Approximately 50% of OCD¹ cases are considered serious, while the other 50% are mild or moderate.  OCD is often diagnosed in children and is considered a lifelong disorder that can vary in severity over time. The lifetime prevalence of OCD among adults in the United States is 2.3% of the population. 

Do all people with OCD prefer extreme cleanliness?

Obsessions can have a wide range of subjects, and some have to do with cleanliness and hygiene. Some people with OCD have fear of germs or diseases, chemicals, dirt, dust, or other contaminants that can pose harm. 

Aside from cleanliness, people with OCD may have the following obsessions:

  • Responsibility: the fear of being responsible for causing harm to another person due to not acting responsibly enough.

  • Violent: the fear of acting impulsively to harm themselves or someone else or fear of seeing violent images in their mind.

  • Sexual: the fear of acting impulsively to impose sexual harm on others.

  • Religious: the fear of offending religious figures or performing blasphemous actions, as well as a preoccupation with morality.

  • Perfectionism: the fear of not performing tasks perfectly or making mistakes or concerns about forgetting information.

  • Identity: pervasive concerns about one's sexual or gender identity.

  • Other: other obsessions and fears that don't fall under other categories, such as fear of death, relationship obsessions, and more.

People with OCD may have one type of fear or a mix of the above categories. Not every person with OCD has an obsession with cleanliness or order.

Understanding that a person's OCD can create obsessions outside of cleanliness can help family members and loved ones better understand the condition and provide the support the person with OCD needs to overcome its challenges. 

Treatment options for people with OCD

OCD can often feel like an all-consuming condition, making people feel as though treatment is hopeless. There are a few viable treatment options that can help people suffering from OCD, such as:

Cognitive-behavior therapy

Cognitive-behavior therapy, or CBT, is a type of psychotherapy effective for people with OCD. CBT explores your thought patterns and behavioral habits that may contribute to your anxieties and fears due to OCD, and it can help you better observe them and break those patterns. It may also involve exposure response prevention, or ERP, which consists of facing fears in small doses and gradually increasing them to work on healthier coping strategies. 

If CBT and ERP are too big a first step, your doctor may recommend an antidepressant to lessen anxiety. When combined, CBT and medication may be more effective for those with OCD than they are as individual treatments. 


When it comes to medication for OCD, the most common type used is antidepressants, such as fluoxetine, sertraline, and paroxetine. These medications are also used to treat anxiety, and they can help you better regulate your emotions and fears. 

These medications can have side effects, such as drowsiness, nausea, sleep problems, loss of libido, and more. You can always talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your concerns, and they may be able to recommend other medications to manage your symptoms. 

Support groups

Living with OCD is often difficult for the person with the condition and their family members, but it can help to talk to others who are going through the same things. Your doctor or therapist may be able to recommend support groups² that can allow you to talk to others with OCD to share experiences and strategies while bonding about the difficulties of living with OCD. Many mental health centers also offer day programs and group therapies that can also prove helpful. 

The lowdown

Even though OCD is regularly associated with cleanliness and people who are "neat freaks" in popular media, OCD is a condition that presents many difficulties for those suffering from it. When people call themselves obsessive or "OCD" because they like a tidy area, it can downplay the experiences of those with OCD. 

If you believe you have OCD, or you have been diagnosed and are struggling to manage your symptoms, it may be helpful to reach out to your doctor or therapist for an evaluation. They can make treatment recommendations or alter your current treatment plan to better suit your needs and manage your symptoms. OCD can make you feel defeated, but there are ways to overcome it.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Discover which clinical trials you are eligible for

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