Too many fail to follow hand-washing guidelines

May 30, 2009 By William Hageman

Everyone knows how to wash their hands. Warm water, lots of soap, a vigorous and thorough scrubbing, a good drying. Moms pound it into us from the time we're toddlers.

Why, then, don't people follow the rules?

"In many studies, people are able to score very well on their hand-washing knowledge," according to Dr. Anna Bowen, a medical epidemiologist for the in the National Center for Zoonotic, Vectorborne and Enteric Diseases in Atlanta. "But (when) these same people are observed, they don't perform the proper hand-washing behaviors completely or consistently."

So what are we to do? Post large "Remember what Mom said" signs over bathroom sinks? Use stimulus money to hire bathroom police for public restrooms? A good start would be to remind folks of the CDC's hand-washing guidelines (available at

• Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.

• Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.

• Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" twice to a friend.

• Rinse hands well under running water.

• Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.

Bowen notes that even all the publicity about washing your hands to avoid swine flu isn't enough to change behaviors.

"Research has repeatedly shown that health claims do not necessarily motivate people to wash hands, and that in many cultures, a desire to look clean, to be a good parent or disgust at the thought of dirt/germs, are more important motivators."

We decided to try a test of our own. Lurking in a corner of a men's room at a train station, an observer noted how 50 visitors washed their hands. It wasn't pretty.

Only five followed hand-washing guidelines offered by the CDC; 33 washed their hands for less than 20 seconds. Charmingly, two of those just got their hands wet so they could run them through their hair. Maybe worse, 12 avoided altogether.

Then there was the guy who spit in the sink. Someone should tell his mother.


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not rated yet May 30, 2009
"Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer."

If you use the air dryer in a restroom, you have undone any benefit you may have obtained by washing your hands. The air dryer circulates all the air borne bacteria and viruses directly onto your wet, receptive hands.
not rated yet May 30, 2009
Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet.

...and open the door using the towel. In their informal study they found about 25% that did not wash their hands at all. Otherwise you'll be touching the handle that touched the whatever of the previous person...

The best bathroom would have a door that opens out, sensors for operating the flush, the water AND the soap (I recently saw that one in Atlanta airport) as well as the paper towel dispenser. Now the question is - what to do about the locks on the stalls? You need to touch it to lock, then you touch some other area of your body which might have cooties, then you touch the lock again to open - think about it. Well, grab a bit of paper...

JerryPark, not sure if the hot air dryer is bad - would there be more air borne baddies in the restroom than in other places?

BTW, in a hotel room what is the thing that has been found to have the most bacteria? Hint - not the bathroom door handle or flush knob.

Its the remote control.

Then there was the guy who spit in the sink. Someone should tell his mother.

Maybe his mother does that also.
Yeah disgusting, but better than the floor, and at least it's not something that people ordinarily come in contact with.

not rated yet May 30, 2009
Wash your hands after you go bowling! Those finger holes are teeming with bacterial life!
not rated yet May 31, 2009
Brilliant. One one hand (no pun intended) we are told to wash our hands like an obsessive. On the other we are told how being too hygienic results in the increase in allergies we see all around us. Basically, I don't bother and have suffered no problems (or allergies) at all.
not rated yet Jun 01, 2009
dirk_bruere ,
You don't get it, do you? Hand washing after excretion is to protect other people from your germs.

Of course you don't get sick when you don't wash. You just make others sick.
not rated yet Jun 01, 2009
And here I was thinking urine is generally sterile. OTOH, when I shit I use paper or water, not my bare hands, to clean up.

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