Is Frequent Hand Washing a Sign of OCD?

OCD - Sriramakrishnahospital

During the past few years, we all have started washing our hands more frequently than usual due to the fear of the spread of Covid-19. But have you ever noticed yourself while washing your hands? Have you been washing your hands too much and quite frequently? When does a simple thing like washing your hands become a symptom of something more serious, like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?Let us explore the difference between OCD and healthy hygiene habits. 

What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsession) that trigger repetitive behaviors (compulsions) aimed at reducing anxiety. These thoughts and behaviors can be time-consuming, disruptive, and cause significant distress. Contamination OCD, a specific subtype, develops in an excessive fear of germs and contamination. People with contamination OCD may have intrusive thoughts about getting sick or spreading germs. These thoughts force them to engage in repetitive cleaning and hygiene rituals, often including excessive hand washing

What are the key aspects of OCD?


These are unwanted, intrusive thoughts. Images, urges, that cause anxiety or distress. In contamination OCD, obsessions might revolve around germs, dirt, or the fear of getting sick. 


Repetitive behaviors or mental acts performed to reduce anxiety caused by obsessions. Frequent hand washing, following specific cleaning routines, or avoiding certain objects (doorknobs, public restrooms) can be compulsions driven by contamination OCD. 


OCD causes significant distress, interfering with daily life, relationships, and work. 

What are the signs of OCD with washing hands?

While maintaining good hygiene is important, hand washing driven by OCD goes beyond a simple desire to be clean. Here are some key factors that differentiate OCD-related hand washing from regular hygiene:

  • Frequency and duration:

Hand washing becomes excessive, often exceeding recommended guidelines and lasting for unreasonable durations. People with OCD might wash their hands until dry, cracked, or bleeding. 

  • Ritualistic behavior:

Hand washing may follow a specific order, pattern, or number of repetitions. Individuals with OCD might feel compelled to wash hands until a specific “feeling of clean” is achieved, a feeling that can be fleeting or unattainable. 

  • Distress and interference:

When hand washing interferes with daily activities, work, or social interactions due to the time it consumes or the anxiety it reduces, it could be a sign of OCD. 

  • Loss of control:

The urge to wash hands becomes overwhelming, and resisting it leads to intense anxiety. This loss of control over the behavior is a hallmark of OCD. 

What are the signs that include cleaning OCD conditions?

  • Feeling of fear or disgust over certain substances or objects including illness or dirt
  • Urge to change clothes frequently 
  • Avoiding certain people or places assuming it to be infected or dirty 
  • Urge to wash your hands or or shower frequently
  • Damaging the skin due to over cleaning
  • Following a particular routine to wash your hands or shower

What are the other ways OCD can develop?

OCD can present itself in various ways beyond contamination fears. Here are some common ways:

  • Order and symmetry:

A need for things to be arranged in a particular order or symmetrical fashion.

  • Checking:

Repeatedly checking doors, appliances, or locks to ensure they are locked and secure.

  • Intrusive thoughts:

Consistently disturbing ideas about using violence, hurting oneself or other people, or acting inappropriately. Reach out to the best psychiatrist doctor in Coimbatore  if you are looking to seek help for OCD.

Mental compulsions:

Counting,  repeating words silently, or praying excessively to reduce anxiety. 

When should you seek medical help for OCD related compulsive hand washing?

If frequent hand washing is causing significant distress, impacting daily life, and feels uncontrollable, seeking professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist is important. They can diagnose OCD and develop a treatment plan. 

Treatment for OCD usually involves a combination of:

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): 

This therapy helps individuals identify and change thought patterns that fuel obsessions and compulsions. Exposure and response prevention, a specific form of CBT, gradually exposes individuals to feared situations without engaging in compulsive behaviors. 


Certain medications are recommended by a psychiatrist to help regulate brain chemicals involved in severe OCD symptoms. 

How does compulsive cleaning affect the daily lives of individuals?

Because cleaning routines can take up an entire day, compulsive cleaning can cause disruptions in a person’s social, academic, and professional lives. Individuals suffering from a compulsive hand-washing habit, for instance, may dedicate several hours in a single day to cleaning their hands, resulting in red, injured, and irritated skin. This could include frequently using hand sanitizer in between trips to the sink and cleaning each finger under each nail individually. These people might also take additional precautions to avoid coming into contact with a towel or napkin. This behavior can often lead to isolation and eventually depression and anxiety.

This obsession with cleaning and personal hygiene can be a major cause of stress and diversion. Some find it difficult to leave their homes because they worry about being contaminated or infected by external influences or because they believe they have not cleaned their house thoroughly. 

What are the tips to maintain healthy hygiene tips with OCD?

Here are some tips for practicing healthy hand washing habits with OCD:

  • Follow CDC guidelines:

Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the restroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose or touching surfaces in public places. 

  • Focus on technique:

Proper hand washing includes scrubbing all surfaces, including between fingers, under nails and wrists. 

  • Moisturize: 

Frequent hand washing can dry skin. Use gentle moisturize to prevent irritation. 

  • Be mindful of anxiety:

If hand washing becomes a source of anxiety, focus on practical benefits of hygiene rather than intrusive thoughts. 

Important Takeaway:

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help significantly to overcome OCD. Among the various approaches to address OCD hand washing include stress management, dietary changes, and medical treatment. You can always ask for help from your family members for help. Consult the best psychiatrist treatment in Coimbatore to seek immediate help for OCD. 


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