Contamination OCD - Symptoms and Treatment | BrainsWay

Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD is a commonly misunderstood disorder. Learn what contamination OCD is, its primary symptoms, possible treatments, and about improving the quality of life of those who face it.

What is Contamination OCD? Symptoms and Treatment

Contamination obsessive-compulsive disorder (or contamination OCD) is often portrayed as an excessive desire to clean and avoid germs. However, in reality it includes deeper dimensions that go beyond this stereotype, causing it to be a misunderstood and often disruptive form of OCD.

Read further to learn what contamination OCD is, and the impact of primary symptoms. Finally, learn about several effective ways to get relief and improve quality of life.

Contamination OCD

What Is Contamination OCD?

OCD as a whole is a mental health disorder defined by repetitive, intrusive thoughts that are called obsessions. These obsessions cause significant distress, which individuals try to relieve by performing repeated acts, called compulsions. These compulsions are specific behaviors that eventually become disruptive and all-consuming, as well.

Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD is a subtype of OCD, characterized by obsessions about their fear of becoming contaminated, contaminating others, or spreading germs. Contamination compulsions often involve excessive hand washing, cleaning, and sterilizing behavior.

These fears may have a basis of realistic concern, such as viral or bacterial illness, visible dirt, or toxic materials. But fears of contamination can also stem from magical thinking, including beliefs that names, mental images, or specific locations can contaminate them.

So, what causes contamination OCD? The answer is yet unclear, but several factors have been shown to play a part in its development: they include genetics, differences in brain structure and functioning, and the individual’s environment. Taking a contamination OCD test may help patients understand their symptoms and consider getting treatment.

Mental and Emotional Contamination

Mental contamination can occur when a person feels internally dirty and distressed despite having no physical contact with anything perceived to be contaminated. Memories, thoughts, and feelings can trigger this reaction.

Emotional contamination is the fear of being contaminated with the negative traits of an individual or place. Superstitious beliefs and distressing emotions may play a role in labeling these threats. For example, an individual may consider an object contaminated because it evokes a negative emotion such as guilt or shame.

Symptoms of Contamination OCD

While contamination OCD is the most common subtype of OCD, the mechanisms of OCD are similar across all of its subtypes, with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors continually operating in a disruptive cycle that causes distress.

With contamination OCD, an exaggerated disgust reaction is often a significant driver of its symptoms. Disgust is a natural reaction meant to protect humans from poison and contaminants. It also promotes avoidance behavior and physical reactions such as nausea.

Obsessive Features

Obsessions present with no warning and are sometimes graphic or disturbing in nature. The individual feels disgusted and distressed from these thoughts and cannot control them. Obsessions about dirty surfaces, spreading illness, or being contaminated by another person’s presence are common with contamination OCD.

Compulsive Features

Compulsions are repetitive, time-consuming mental or physical behaviors that an individual feels driven to do. Their purpose is to reduce anxiety or distress caused by obsessions, but relief is often temporary because of how disruptive and stressful the compulsions become. Contamination OCD may result in excessive hand washing, cleaning, and avoiding anything perceived to cause contamination.

How to Treat Contamination OCD

Several treatments are effective for OCD symptom relief, helping individuals learn how to cope with contamination OCD and improve their quality of life.


Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Sertraline (Zoloft) are two selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (or SSRI) antidepressants shown to give symptom relief for OCD. Clomipramine is an older tricyclic antidepressant that is also effective, but this medication is likely to have significant adverse effects, including changes in one’s heart rate.


Exposure and response therapy (ERP) helps individuals learn how to overcome contamination OCD through gradual exposure to their contamination fear triggers. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy based on modifying how emotions, thoughts, and behaviors interact in relation to OCD symptoms.

Deep TMS™ for OCD

Deep Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (Deep TMS) is a noninvasive, FDA-cleared treatment for various mental health conditions. Magnetic fields reach deep within the brain to stimulate regions associated with OCD symptoms. This safe and effective treatment has few adverse effects, and no significant recovery is necessary after treatment sessions. Most importantly, Deep TMS can provide much-needed relief and improved quality of life when other treatments have not been helpful.

Mental contamination ocd

Coping and Living with Contamination OCD

Contamination OCD can be a challenging condition to live with. While it may feel overwhelming at times, several effective treatments provide hope for better well-being and fewer symptoms.