AskDefine | Define hygienic

Dictionary Definition

hygienic adj : tending to promote or preserve health; "hygienic habits like using disposable tissues"; "hygienic surroundings with plenty of fresh air" [syn: hygienical]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. Pertaining to hygiene; clean, sanitary.



Extensive Definition

Hygiene refers to practices associated with ensuring good health and cleanliness. Such practices vary widely and what is considered acceptable in one culture may be unacceptable in another. In medical contexts, the term "hygiene" refers to the maintenance of health and healthy living. The term appears in phrases such as personal hygiene, domestic hygiene, dental hygiene, and occupational hygiene and is frequently used in connection with public health. The term "hygiene" is derived from Hygieia, the Greek goddess of health, cleanliness and sanitation. Hygiene is also a science that deals with the promotion and preservation of health. Also called hygienics.

Personal hygiene

The following are examples of personal hygiene as practiced in many cultures.



  • Frequent washing of hands and face.
  • Washing hands after using the toilet.
  • Holding a tissue over the mouth or using the upper arm/elbow region when coughing or sneezing, rather than a bare hand. Alternatively, washing hands afterwards.
  • Not touching animals before eating, or washing hands thoroughly between animal-touching and eating.
  • Suppression of objectionable habits, such as nose-picking, touching pimples, biting fingernails etc.
  • Not sharing toothbrushes, razors, towels, combs, hair brushes, and other personal objects.



The related term personal grooming/grooming means to enhance one's physical appearance or appeal for others, by removing obvious imperfections in one's appearance or improving one's hygiene.
Many animals groom themselves and each other. Grooming in humans typically includes bathroom activities such as primping: washing and cleansing the hair, combing it to extract tangles and snarls, and styling. It can also include cosmetic care of the body, such as shaving and other forms of depilation.

Food and cooking hygiene

Main article: Food and cooking hygiene. See also Food safety.
The purposes of food and cooking hygiene are to prevent food contamination, the transmission of disease, and to prevent food poisoning. Food and cooking hygiene protocols specify safe ways to handle and prepare food, and safe methods of serving and eating it. Such protocols include
  • Cleaning of food-preparation areas and equipment (for example using designated cutting boards for preparing raw meats and vegetables). (Cleaning may involve use of chlorine bleach for sterilization.)
  • Careful avoidance of meats contaminated by trichina worms, salmonella, and other pathogens; or thorough cooking of questionable meats.
  • Extreme care in preparing raw foods, such as sushi and sashimi.
  • Institutional dish sanitizing by washing with soap and clean water.
  • Washing of hands after touching uncooked food when preparing meals.
  • Not using the same utensils to prepare different foods.
  • Not sharing cutlery when eating.
  • Not licking fingers or hands while or after eating.
  • Not reusing serving utensils that have been licked.
  • Proper storage of food so as to prevent contamination by vermin.
  • Refrigeration of foods (and avoidance of specific foods in environments where refrigeration is or was not feasible).
  • Labeling food to indicate when it was produced (or, as food manufacturers prefer, to indicate its "best before" date).
  • Proper disposal of uneaten food and packaging.

Medical hygiene

Most of these practices were developed in the 19th century and were well established by the mid-20th century. Some procedures (such as disposal of medical waste) were tightened up as a result of late-20th century disease outbreaks, notably AIDS and Ebola.

Personal service / served hygiene

Excessive hygiene

Excessive hygiene practices may cause allergic diseases. Some parts of the body, e.g. the ear canal, or inside of the vagina are mostly better left alone for the body's own cleaning systems.

Hygiene hypothesis

In medicine, the hygiene hypothesis states that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents, and later a lack of exposure to helminths as adults, increases susceptibility to allergic diseases .

External ear canals

The ear canals have a perfectly functioning cleaning system of their own, and don't normally need assistance. In fact, attempts to clean the ear canals may only do the opposite, since earwax, carrying debris and other material towards to opening, is pushed back inwards.


The skin has a natural layer of fat, which protects the skin from e.g. drought. When washing, unless using aqueous creams, etc., with compensatory mechanisms, this layer is removed, leaving the skin unprotected. By this mechanism, excessive washing may eventually trigger eczema.

History of hygienic practices

Elaborate codes of hygiene can be found in several Hindu texts such as the Manusmriti and the Vishnu Purana. Bathing is one of the five Nitya karmas (daily duties) in Sikhism, not performing which leads to sin according to some scriptures. These codes were based on the notion of ritual purity and were not informed by an understanding of the causes of diseases and their means of transmission. However, some of the ritual-purity codes did improve hygiene, from an epidemiological point of view, more or less by accident.
Regular bathing was a hallmark of Roman civilization. Elaborate baths were constructed in urban areas to serve the public, who typically demanded the infrastructure to maintain personal cleanliness. The complexes usually consisted of large, swimming pool-like baths, smaller cold and hot pools, saunas, and spa-like facilities where individuals could be depilated, oiled, and massaged. Water was constantly changed by an aqueduct-fed flow. Bathing outside of urban centers involved smaller, less elaborate bathing facilities, or simply the use of clean bodies of water. Roman cities also had large sewers, such as Rome's Cloaca Maxima, into which public and private latrines drained. Romans didn't have demand-flush toilets but did have some toilets with a continuous flow of water under them. (Similar toilets are seen in Acre Prison in the film Exodus.)
Until the late 19th Century, only the elite in Western cities typically possessed indoor facilities for relieving bodily functions. The poorer majority used communal facilities built above cesspools in backyards and courtyards. This changed after Dr. John Snow discovered that cholera was transmitted by the fecal contamination of water. Though it took decades for his findings to gain wide acceptance, governments and sanitary reformers were eventually convinced of the health benefits of using sewers to keep human waste from contaminating water. This encouraged the widespread adoption of both the flush toilet and the moral imperative that bathrooms should be indoors and as private as possible.

Islamic world

Since the 7th century, Islam has always placed a strong emphasis on hygiene. Other than the need to be ritually clean in time for the daily prayer (Arabic: Salah) through Wudu and Ghusl, there are a large number of other hygiene-related rules governing the lives of Muslims. Other issues include the Islamic dietary laws. In general, the Qur'an advises Muslims to uphold high standards of physical hygiene and to be ritually clean whenever possible.


Contrary to popular belief and although the Early Christian leaders condemned bathing as unspiritual, bathing and sanitation were not lost in Europe with the collapse of the Roman Empire. As a matter of fact, soapmaking first became an established trade during the so-called "Dark Ages." The Romans used scented oils (mostly from Egypt), among other alternatives. Also, contrary to myth, chamber pots were not emptied out the window and into streets in the European Middle Ages—this was instead a Roman practice. Bathing in fact did not fall out of fashion in Europe until shortly after the Renaissance, replaced by the heavy use of sweat-bathing and perfume, as it was thought in Europe that water could carry disease into the body through the skin. (Water, in fact, does carry disease, but more often if it is drunk than if one bathes in it; and water only carries disease if it is contaminated by pathogens.) Modern sanitation as we know it was not widely adopted until the 19th and 20th centuries. According to medieval historian Lynn Thorndike, people in Medieval Europe probably bathed more than people did in the 19th century.

Academic resources

  • International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, ISSN: 1438-4639, Elsevier
hygienic in Bulgarian: Хигиена
hygienic in Catalan: Higiene
hygienic in Czech: Hygiena
hygienic in Danish: Hygiejne
hygienic in German: Hygiene
hygienic in Spanish: Higiene
hygienic in French: hygiène
hygienic in Hebrew: היגיינה
hygienic in Dutch: Hygiëne
hygienic in Japanese: 衛生
hygienic in Italian: Igiene
hygienic in Latin: Sanitatis cura
hygienic in Polish: Higiena
hygienic in Portuguese: Higiene
hygienic in Russian: Гигиена
hygienic in Simple English: Hand washing
hygienic in Slovak: Hygiena
hygienic in Swedish: Personlig hygien
hygienic in Chinese: 衞生

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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