For close to a month now, my 13 year-old sister has been obsessively washing her hands. In the past week it has gotten so bad that she won't keep her hands together and would sit on the couch, staring into space all day. She won't touch clothes she has worn or school books, claiming they're dirty.

We saw a doctor (a general practitioner) who adviced we motivate her to wash her hands less frequently among other tips. She would listen to my parents tell her these things then go back to her own ways. She is stubborn.

Should I recommend my parents we see a psychiatrist? I'm the oldest and my father discusses this with me. We don't know what to do anymore. I would greatly appreciate any advice regarding what to do in such a situation. I can't stand seeing this happen.

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    Has she displayed any compulsive behaviors in the past? Does she experience obsessions as well? Is there a new stressor in her life? Are her grades falling because she won't touch her books? Is it disrupting her life significantly? These are all questions a good physician would ask. Washing hands obsessively if it doesn't adversely affect her life is not a reason to see a psychiatrist. If it is adversely affecting her life, yes, a psychiatrist should be consulted. This is a comment, not an answer, because there are too many questions unanswered. Feb 4, 2018 at 10:07
  • I'd try to figure out why this behaviour suddenly started a month ago, instead of trying to get her to stop. There is a reason why she's doing this, and if you find the reason, you might get an idea how to help her to stop it. Maybe they discussed germs in science class at school and she was disgusted watching tiny creepers under the microscope. Or maybe something happened to her that made her feel dirty. Whatever it is, if you find out, you're in a much better position to deal with this. Feb 18, 2018 at 17:06

3 Answers 3


It may be that the reason for your sister's behavior is because she is afraid of germs, also called mysophobia. It is actually common that mysophobia starts to manifest in teenage years, and for most people it goes away by itself (see note below). Other symptoms for mysophobia are:

  • Compulsive hand washing
  • Excessive use of disinfectants and antibacterial soap
  • Fear of physical contact with others
  • Extreme fear of getting sick
  • Reacting with extreme fear to media reports of new diseases
  • Fear of certain locations, such as doctor’s offices and airplanes, where germs or sick people might be present or confined (source)

Does your sister manifest any of the above, besides compulsive hand washing? Is the hand washing severely impacting her everyday life?

As other wrote, it is by definition hard to reason with somebody who has a irrational fear. Nevertheless, there might be some steps to take at home before deciding to take her to a (mental health) professional. (source)

Step 1. Educate the child on how to protect herself against germs.

Step 2. Provide the child with control over germs. Give him the steps he can take to reduce his chances of being harmed by germs. Teach him how to eat healthy by consuming items such as fruits, vegetable, whole grains and lean proteins. Help him get regular exercise. Teach him about how exercise builds his immune system's ability to fight off any unwanted germs.

And finally,

Step 3. Have the child talk to a mental health professional who specializes in exposure therapy. According to HelpGuide.org, exposure therapy is done by exposing the child within a safe and controlled environment to the situations or objects she fears. The exposures will usually happen over time and will build up in intensity as the child is able to handle more.

Note: I recently read an article about common fears or phobias by age. I will try to find the source and add it later.


OK, with a 13 year old compulsive handwasher, you could be dealing with someone who just likes really clean hands and may be stressed out, or OCD.

First see if something has her severely stressed. Bullying, poor body image, trouble with homework, etc, could have her in a bit of a panic and feeling like she's not in control, washing her hands is something she can control so she'll do it. Helping ease the stress and teaching her how to deal with it effectively should make her stop the nervous hand washing.

If that's not the case, as anongoodnurse said in the comments, is the handwashing interfering in her daily life? If it is, your parents should bring her to a doctor to get assessed by a professional. Hopefully it turns out she doesn't have OCD, but it's best to know so that it can be dealt with effectively. Trying to deal with a potential mental illness using just the net is not a good plan.


The only advice I can give is: explain to her the idea behind washing of hands.

Maybe she thinks that bacteria is always there and all of it is bad for her. I think if she understands why people wash their hands she'll do it when so is needed. Being over obsessed by something isn't particularly bad when this something is good for health in my opinion but it should make a problem in any case.

Ask her why she does it, try to figure out the problem and only then will you be able to come up with things.

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    If a person has compulsive behaviors, reasoning doesn't help (only momentarily/temporarily.) Feb 4, 2018 at 21:02
  • 1
    But it could be a step in the process of identifying compulsive behaviors, and might be a good next step.
    – zugzwang
    Feb 4, 2018 at 22:55

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