13 answers

Excessive Hand Washing

Recently, my 6 year old has started washing her hands so often that her hands are chapped and red. In addition to washing at normal times (after the bathroom and before eating, etc), she is washing her hands whenever she feels like she has touched something dirty, which may be her shoe, the counter, or whatever. At the same time, though, she will still wipe her messy face and nose on her shirt sleeve, stick her fingers in her mouth and all of the other normal, yucky 6 year old stuff, so I don't really think that she has OCD.

I am what I like to call "germ aware," and have told her that we wash to get rid of germs to help avoid getting sick. But, she is now overly worried about having germs on her hands. Lately, I am stopping her from washing her hands, until she tells me why she is doing it. If it's not a good reason, then I don't let her, but she gets upset because her "hands feel dirty."

Has anyone else's little one gone through a stage like this?

What can I do next?

Featured Answers

Instead of her scrubbing her hands raw, have you tried antibacterial gel or wipes? They have the gel in pump bottles like lotion or soap. Maybe just a squirt of that a couple times a day will make her feel "clean"?

More Answers

Tell her to use just water unless it is dirt she can see. And explain to her (with the visual of her own hands) that the soap is doing damage to her skin by washing so much and that germs will get in more easily when skin is broken. I would NOT recommend traditional lotion to relieve the chapping either. Read the label - anything with parabens, ureas, petroleum or mineral oil, propylene glycol, sodium lauryl sulfate, or synthetic colors or fragrances WILL DO MORE DAMAGE. Use pure coconut or olive oil to relieve the dryness and help speed healing.

I dont have any advice on the hand washing, but make sure if you offer her lotion that it does NOT contain mineral oil or petroleum as 98% of the lotions over the counter do. Mineral oil/petroleum is a gasoline byproduct & is very smothering on the skin so it cannot breathe. Its like wrapping your body in plastic wrap & is very suffocating.
That will make the chaffing worse, so just wanted to pass it along. If you have any questions or need advice on good brands, feel free to e-mail me as this is part of what I do for a living. Min oil/petroleum are even banned for use in hospitals..

I do this too. I always wash my hands after touching things. Yes, it makes your hands red and sore and even crack and bleed. To Help with this, first make sure that you have soap that is not antibacterial for her to wash her hands with, Just use softsoap or something like that. (Antibacterial soaps are very drying on the skin and also get rid of the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria)Also, put a bottle of "cornhuskers lotion" (you can get this at walmart for not much money) on the counter beside the sink. Tell her to use a LITTLE bit of this lotion after she washes her hands. That lotion does wonders for chapped hands. (A little goes a very long way) Also, avoid the instant hand sanitizers, as they dry out your skin even more and make the chapping and bleeding worse. Telling her she can't wash her hands will only make it worse and make her "need" to wash them all the more.

This could be a phase. Sometimes kids take what we say so literally and overdo it.
My child got really concerned about germs for awhile after health class in 6th or 7th grade. Now I don't think she cares enough and shares food with friends. I wouldn't make a big deal about it. I just say let's not wash our hands so much because you are drying out your skin and it will start hurting.

Hope this helps,

Instead of her scrubbing her hands raw, have you tried antibacterial gel or wipes? They have the gel in pump bottles like lotion or soap. Maybe just a squirt of that a couple times a day will make her feel "clean"?

Hi A.,

My husband has OCD and so does our oldest son. He goes through similiar rituals, believing his hands are dirty - but goes on to do things that cause them to be, etc. A complusive behavior to do something doesn't always have to have a real reason per se....it's just something that they can't control the feeling of. Being ritualistic, or believing that not doing the act may cause bad luck, anxiety, etc are very REAL to them. Some also have sensitizing issues, so they may feel like the slightest bit of anything sticky, dirty, or discolored on their hands is a huge deal.

One thing that helped our son was offering hand-sanitizer. Whenever he felt the urge to wash his hands, he could do so on his own. You can even mix some lotion with it to make it more hydrating - or begin to cut the ratio down, so there's less santizer and more lotion - to soothe the chapping.

You may be interested in learning about EFT for treating these kinds of behaviors: http://www.emofree.com/


My daughter went through the same phase. I did buy a Germ-X sanitizer squirt just for her to use whenever she felt dirty. I kept it on the kitchen counter to make sure she wasn't playing with it or using it too much. I'd also get her her own lotion to smell good and then maybe she won't want to wash it off too often, not to waste it. Good luck - it's just a phase. :)

My 22 yo daughter has OCD and this is how it first presented when she was the same age as your daughter. Not to alarm you or anything, just to watch. She also had little things that didn't seem to make sense with OCD...such as, her room had to be spotless, but her bed was never made. She still struggles with chapped hands to this day. She has trouble with transitions...moving from one task to the next. At school, she never liked turning in unfinished work, or work she liked and wanted to keep. I would buy a liquid soap that has moisturizers in it...Softsoap has a milk and honey one that has been better for my daughter lately. My daughter was sneaky about her washing and wouldnt' let me know she was doing it because she knew I would make her stop. So, I would try not to go overboard about it with her. Switch soaps, and get some lotion she likes and teach her to use it. Then, you might try making a game of counting to 10 or singing the ABC's and when the song is over, she's done washing. My daughter's chafing kept moving up her arm as she decided she needed to wash higher and higher up to her elbows. Your sweetie may grow out of this, but I would just watch and be attentive to other signs and then get her help asap. You don't automatically have to choose medication if she does get diagnosed. We had great success with St. John's Wort for a while which is an herbal supplement. There's lots of nuances and ways that OCD can show up and it's often different for each child. If you want to talk more, please feel free to email me. Like I said, my daughter is 22 and so we have been around with it for a long time. Most of all, just love her and let her know that she is okay and perfect just the way she is.

Good luck!

OCD doesnt necessarilymean that they will always wash or do whatever repetitions after everything. it is a difficult disease to diagnose and pinpoint to only one thing. i have a nurse friend that hated touching food. she could not pick up a taco or a burger. she would cut them up and eat with a fork. if any tiny thing got on her hands she would rush to wash her hands. that ishow it started. she was 26 when it started or when we all noticed and pointed it out to her when it got so irritating. then she started touching all door handles 3 times if she missed one time she would got back and go outside and start all over. then she started havign problems with her writinginstruments and she had to use a pen to do her pateint documentations. it got so bad that she had to do all her nursing notes on the computer then add them to the charts and this was before electronic medical records were in place. she just couldnt bear to touch a pen even if we sanitized it for her. but this doenst mean that yoru daughter has OCD. we always thing the worst. maybe she is jsut going through a phase. maybe she saw something on tv or learned at school. i would get a mild liquid soap and maybe put a small bottle in her school pack. school soap is awful. and also a bottle of lotion. sometime sthe more you push kids not to do something the worse they do it.

I know exactly what you are going through - my daughter started doing the same thing at about the same age as your daughter. She has been diagnosed with OCD, however she has many more symptoms besides hand washing! This might be just a stage and she might grow out of it. From my research and experience (and I could be totally wrong!!) This is just what I paid thousands of dollars to learn from a Harvard Doctor! IF it is anxiety or OCD - to push too fast to have them stop what they are doing could actually make them regress. So - my advise would just be to choose your battles wisely and use some of the other advise mentioned like natural moisturizing sanitizers or St. John's Wart until she grows out of this phase. Hopefully this will pass with age. SAM-E has really helped our daughter - however, she is older - I'd check with a doctor before giving a 6 year old anything. Unfortunately, it is hard to find a doctor that is open to Natural supplements - but they are out there!! Feel free to e-mail me if you need advise on some awesome doctors that are in to alternative medicine! ____@____.com

My nephew is the same way, and he is embarassed about it. I talked to my sister in law, and she just lets him wash. I think that it is a phase or OCD- if he does not get to wash, there is a huge fit that takes place. I think that it is a good thing that she is aware of germs and that washing is good. I think that if it is a huge issue- that to your doctor about it...

What about putting a bottle of lotion in the bathroom and instructing her to use that after she washes her hands. Try to avoid power struggles; it's a sure way to turn "nothing" into "something." Or sometimes just a rinse and skip the soap; it will still work to get that dirty feeling off her hands. Good luck.


I see you have had quite a few OCD remarks in here so I wanted to share something a little different. I am 30 years old and don't have ocd and I also wash my hands constantly because they "feel dirty". I guess I just wanted to make sure you know there are people who do that who aren't suffering from any kind of disorder. A few ways I have learned to cope with the chapping is don't use water that is too hot, always dry hands completely after washing and use a quality lotion. This just may be part of her personality and she may outgrow it too. There is a lot of good advice on here but I just wanted to make sure you aren't feeling like there is something "wrong" with her when it may just be a part of her personality. Hope this helps! Good luck! -S

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