Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD is one of the more common types of OCD. Contamination obsessions aren't just limited to dirt, germs and viruses, although those are the most common. Almost anything can serve as a contaminant. Sometimes just the thought of the contaminant is enough to cause anxiety and distress. In other words, it's not necessary to come in contact physically with the contaminant to feel the anxiety, disgust and panic that comes with OCD.

Common Obsession Content

  • dirt and germs

  • bodily fluids and waste

  • viruses and illnesses

  • household chemicals and cleaners

  • animals including fur, fluids and waste

  • sticky substances and residue

  • garbage

Common Compulsions

  • hand-washing that is excessive and/or ritualized

  • cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, items or clothes

  • protecting a clean/contaminant-free space

  • avoidance of touching things or people

  • looking up information for reassurance

  • asking family, friends and doctors for reassurance

The Problem with Seeking Certainty

OCD comes with urges to engage in compulsions, either mental or behavioral. These compulsions are in pursuit of 100% certainty that the feared outcome will not happen. For example, washing your hands with more soap and vigor may be in an effort to be 100% certain that all the germs from a handshake are washed off. There are two problematic pieces here: firstly, there's no way to know for sure if everything is off your hands that was collected during the handshake and secondly, relying on handwashing for certainty in order to get relief from anxiety only feeds OCD. The more you rely on the compulsions to feel better, the stronger the OCD gets because certainty is illusive and temporary at best.