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Contamination OCD

What is Contamination OCD?

Contamination OCD shows up in many ways, and may include: worries about getting sick or dying or getting others sick, as a result of having contact with different things; feeling intense disgust about things that are seen as contaminated. 

Contamination OCD is one way that OCD presents for people. Some people with Contamination OCD worry about getting sick or dying from exposure to things such as germs, chemicals (e.g., bleach, detergent), environmental elements (e.g., smoke, dust), or bodily fluids (e.g., saliva, urine, blood). Others worry about purposefully or accidentally contaminating and getting other people sick.

Some people are not anxious that something bad will happen if they get contaminated, but rather feel an intense disgust reaction towards things that are perceived to be contaminated. This “gross” or “icky” feeling often makes it difficult for people to move on until they resolve the feeling with a compulsion such as cleaning, tapping, thinking a certain word, handwashing, or reassurance-seeking. The reaction is so distressing that people can develop anxiety around feeling disgusted.


Scenario: Hannah is disgusted by the smell of urine; once she smells urine, she feels gross and feels like she cannot think about anything else. The experience is so upsetting that Hannah spends a lot of her time ruminating about when she might feel the disgust reaction again and consequently she tries to avoid situations that may provoke that reaction for her.

Contamination worries can also involve emotional contamination – worries about getting contaminated by people, places, or objects that the OCD deems bad, unlucky, or tainted in some way. People can also feel like they will catch bad luck or karma by exposing themselves to things their OCD labels as bad. People may also worry about catching another person’s personality or physical characteristics through exposure to that person – just like catching a cold through exposure to a person with the flu.


Scenario: Tai notices that his classmate Matt has trouble waiting his turn and often interrupts the teacher. Tai worries that Matt’s disruptive behaviors will somehow transfer to him if he is physically near Matt. Therefore, he avoids being close to Matt and will not touch Matt’s desk or anything else that Matt has recently touched.

Contamination OCD Compulsions

Compulsions are anything that people with OCD do to relieve the anxiety and distress brought on by their intrusive thoughts (i.e., obsessions, worries). The variations of compulsions are endless and vary from person to person, which makes it impossible to include examples of all possible compulsions in this guide. Below is a selection of Contamination OCD compulsion examples to help provide sight into the different ways compulsions can present themselves.

Examples of Contamination OCD Compulsions:

Avoidance of objects, people, or places that are considered contaminated.


Thinking a safe word/image or praying when feeling contaminated.


Cleaning things considered contaminated.


Handwashing, hand sanitizing, or showering when feeling contaminated.


Asking other people to follow one’s contamination compulsions.

(e.g., Telling house guests they must wash their hands before touching things in the home)


Making sure that clean items do not touch unclean items.


Researching information to relieve worries.

(e.g., “Can using too much laundry detergent make you sick?”; “What is the probability of catching a disease by using a public restroom?”)


Needing to repeat an action if a contaminated thought occurs.


Checking for symptoms of illness.

Help for Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD can be overwhelming, and it can also significantly interfere with one’s daily life and well-being, however, it does not have to stay this way. Contamination OCD, along with all types of OCD, can be successfully treated with exposure therapy (i.e., gold-standard OCD treatment) and other acceptance-based interventions. Recovery from OCD is a journey with ups and downs, but it is worth it. With the right tools, information, and commitment to the process, recovery is possible. 

We hope that this guide has helped you to better understand Contamination OCD.

You do not need to live a life overwhelmed and controlled by OCD. Equipping yourself with practical information for treating OCD and learning how to respond to OCD in an effective way can be life changing. Oftentimes, people unknowingly engage in actions that feed the OCD cycle

If you would like to learn more in-depth information about OCD treatment and recovery, you are welcome to read our Educational Guides on exposure therapy and other acceptance-based interventions for OCD:

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