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What is rupophobia?

What is rupophobia?

Rupophobia (from the Greek 'rùpos' meaning 'filth' and 'phòbos', 'fear'), also known as nesting syndrome, is a psychological disorder characterised by an obsessive fear of dirt.

It is a phobic, excessive, irrational and unmotivated fear of what is considered dirty, unhygienic or potentially contaminating. This fear may arise when confronted with people, animals, objects or places. Those suffering from rupophobia may have an anxious reaction even to the mere thought of poor hygiene.

Rupophobia is not an exaggeration of behaviour, but a real pathology, quite different from the scrupulousness that many people have in personal and household cleanliness.

Those suffering from rupophobia are obsessed with hygiene and devote far more time to cleaning and personal hygiene than is normal.

In addition to this, they engage in compulsive behaviour. The most common is that of performing obsessive and repetitive cleaning rituals on oneself and one's environment, aimed at avoiding contact with dirt. He also engages in avoidance behaviour, may experience physical symptoms related to panic and his quality of life may be significantly impaired by his phobia.

Difference between rupophobia and misophobia

Misophobia (from the Greek mysos, 'dirt' and phobos, 'fear') is a phobia of dirt similar to rupophobia. However, in the case of misophobia, the fear is particularly related to the invisible and imperceptible contamination of germs and the possibility of becoming infected or ill. Rupophobia, on the other hand, is a fear generically referring to dirt.

Misophobia is also called germaphobia or Pilate's syndrome (who, as reported in Matthew's gospel, washed his hands in order to take responsibility for Jesus' possible death sentence).

In fact, misophobes wash their hands constantly and sanitise everything within their reach. They are also referred to as 'clean freaks'.

Rupophobia and Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the fear of contagion and dirt in all of us and made it difficult to distinguish a person with rupophobia from a hygiene-conscious person.

Prevention behaviour has made fear of dirt something justified and understandable. While preventive behaviour is absolutely necessary, it has been observed that it can trigger various psychological disorders, including rupophobia.

Therefore, nowadays it is important to keep the focus as much on compliance with hygienic sanitation procedures as on one's own mental health.


The causes of rupophobia are not entirely clear. However, as with other phobias, it is assumed that the disorder is multifactorial, i.e. linked to a combination of several factors:

An overly focused upbringing on cleanliness can lead to phobic behaviour towards dirt

A rigid or repressive upbringing, high parental expectations, lack of empathy and emotional attention can lead to a need to keep certain aspects of life 'under control', and this over-control can manifest itself in hygiene

Feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, insecurity and dissatisfaction derived from a dysfunctional family environment can be transferred into a fear of dirt: compulsive cleaning is an attempt to calm them down.

Genetic: A family history of obsessive compulsive disorder is a predisposing factor for the development of rupophobia.

Psychological: Suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder or anxiety disorder can trigger rupophobia

Traumatic experiences: Traumatic episodes, painful memories or discomfort related to dirt can be a trigger for rupophobia

Recent dramatic or stressful dirt-related or general events

Falling ill from having come into contact with something dirty or seeing someone to whom it happened

Having experienced a bereavement, a dismissal or a major change in one's life.

According to a psychosomatic view of the problem, rupophobia could be linked to a fear of one's dark side, or inner 'dirt'. Those who live in phobia, instead of observing their own emotional world, create a psychological barrier for fear of being 'invaded' or 'contaminated' from the outside, finding themselves more easily confronted with the fear of dirt than their own inner self.


The main symptom of rupophobia is an excessive fear of coming into contact with dirt, germs and anything considered unclean or potentially infected.

The phobia is expressed by a sense of disgust, discomfort and revulsion at the phobic stimulus, in this case represented by dirt or even the mere thought that something might be unhygienic.

In less severe cases, The person with rupophobia pays exaggerated attention to order, cleanliness and personal hygiene and often finds himself annoyed, in a bad mood and unable to relax.

In the most severe cases, there is a true obsession with dirt and an inability to think of anything else that is not related to the fear of coming into contact with dirt. Obsessive, compulsive and avoidance behaviour is enacted to avert a sense of catastrophe.

Because they feel threatened by dirt that could be everywhere, those suffering from rupophobia live in a state of perpetual alertness, paying extreme attention to everything they touch, their surroundings and how they move through space. To reduce this state of alertness, rituals aimed at reducing or avoiding contact with dirt are implemented, such as:

  • Frequent, thorough and prolonged personal washing of hands and body

  • Excessive use of soap often results in irritative dermatitis

  • Maniacal cleaning and sanitising with detergents, disinfectants and antiseptics of objects, furniture, clothing and rooms

  • Repeatedly check the cleanliness of what has already been sanitised

  • Reduce contact with any possible soiled objects or contaminants or use gloves and masks to avoid direct contact

  • Avoiding places deemed dirty.

All these behaviours constitute compulsions. After performing the rituals, there is a brief feeling of tranquillity, but the person suffering from rupophobia never feels completely reassured and satisfied with cleanliness, and therefore continues to repeat the rituals.

He often demands that those who live with him adapt to his cleaning rules, perform cleaning rituals and do not touch certain objects, making the family climate very heavy.

In rupophobia sufferers, it is common to find hypochondriac concerns.

A typical symptom of the phobia is anticipatory anxiety, in this case related to the fear of dirt and the inability to clean as one would like. Physical symptoms related to anxiety can also occur, such as Panic attacks; Tachycardia; Difficulty breathing; Sense of oppression and chest pain; Feeling of suffocation; Cold sweating or flushing; Dry mouth; Muscle tension; Feeling of fainting; Restlessness; Crying fits; Tremors or tingling; Nausea and vomiting; Diarrhoea; Sense of fainting or dizziness; Confusion.

The anxiety response may also result in insomnia, depression and serious impairment of daily activities.

Rupophobia and OCD

Rupophobia has several traits in common with obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD: intrusive thoughts, images and impulses that are involuntary and unwanted and manifest themselves obsessively, followed by compulsive behaviour to prevent anxiety or disgust towards dirt.

It is also possible to present compulsive symptoms that are not specific to rupophobia and are aimed at controlling obsessions. In fact, it is common to suffer from OCD and to have a manifestation of obsessions and compulsions that varies in different periods of life. Rupophobia may constitute one of them.

According to some authors, rupophobia is not a simple phobia, but a disorder that includes phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In fact, both the phobic aspect, with symptoms such as avoidance, and the compulsive aspect, with symptoms such as repeated behaviour, are generally present.

How to recognise rupophobia?

The manifestations of rupophobia can vary from person to person. However, there are some elements that are always present:

  • Repeatedly washing and disinfecting one's body, objects and surfaces

  • Avoiding all situations that may have to do with dirt

  • Feeling that one is 'forced' to clean, otherwise something bad might happen

  • Feeling that one's life is dedicated to cleaning and that a large part of one's time and energy is used for cleaning.


The consequences of rupophobia can be very disabling. Some of them are:

Social: Stopping having contact with people (hugging loved ones, shaking hands, etc) and going to public places because they are considered potentially infected, resulting in deterioration of interpersonal relationships and social isolation

Familial: Creating a climate of tension and discomfort in the home due to the imposition of cleaning rituals

Economic: Spending a disproportionate amount of money on detergents and disinfectants

Physical: Incurring more severe dermatological and psychological symptoms

Personal: Feeling that you have no free time for the amount of hours spent cleaning.

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