Obsessive Cleaning and Other Compulsions from OCD

Obsessive Cleaning and Other Compulsions from OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD, is a debilitating mental illness that relates to a patient using repetitive behaviors to take control and reduce the stress of persistent thoughts. Homeowners may colloquially and jokingly refer to themselves as having OCD when they have an excessively organized or clean house, but those who really suffer from the disorder struggle with severe anxiety on a daily basis. Their obsessions and compulsions can manifest in a way that negatively impacts their jobs, their personal lives, and their families. Luckily, after aggressive therapy and sometimes regular medication, many people have learned to live with this very difficult illness.

Signs and Symptoms

Some people might think that someone with OCD will always have an immaculately clean house. This is definitely not always the case. Sometimes, those suffering the disorder will live in absolute filth. Actually, for a long time, Hoarding Disorder was considered a subset of OCD until the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) recognized it as a separate illness. The symptoms of this disorder have two parts: First, the victim suffers from repetitive and seemingly uncontrollable thoughts or obsessions (which could include anything from a fear of hurting others to a fear of germs to unwanted sexual thoughts), and second, the victim engages in repetitive behaviors or compulsions (such as repeated washing, checking, or counting). These obsessions cause real anxiety, and the compulsions are often extremely time-consuming (the DSM V recognizes “time-consuming” as taking up more than an hour per day). Because this can translate into a variety of behaviors, whether that be washing one’s hands 30 times in a row, checking the locks on the doors 10 times in an hour, or counting every cup in the house every morning, a layman might have trouble recognizing the disorder for what it is. Because these compulsions take so much time, personal relationships, and sometimes even home cleanliness, suffer.


The direct cause of OCD is still somewhat unknown, which is unfortunate because about 2 to 3 million adults in the U.S. suffer from it. Researchers have suggested, however, that the physical qualities of those with OCD differ in some ways from control groups. OCD does run in families, so genetics may play a role. Also, it seems to be related to brain structures that use the neurotransmitter serotonin. Either way, the onset of OCD happens most often in late childhood, the teenage years, and early adulthood.


As with most other disorders in the DSM V, in order to be considered a disorder, the behaviors would need to be impacting the individual’s normal routine, occupation, or social relationships. Almost everyone has experienced an obsession or a compulsion once in their lives, but the person with OCD differs in that the problem has persisted with negative effects on their life. Also, the symptoms should not be related to the side effects of any drugs or to any other mental or physical illness the person may have. To be diagnosed, the individual would want to talk to a therapist or psychologist and describe their symptoms. The diagnosis should also note whether or not the person is cognizant of the reason why they are completing the compulsive behaviors.


Without treatment, people suffering with OCD can get worse steadily, but with it, OCD can be a lot more manageable. Full remission is unlikely; this is something the person will continue to live with. However, symptoms often are reduced dramatically. Most commonly, those with OCD will attend therapy or group therapy. The most common approaches are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mediation-based therapy, or emotion-regulation therapy. If symptoms are severe enough, medication may be recommended. Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most often used. In order to be successful, the person trying to take control of their illness will most likely want the help and support of family members and friends.