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92% of People Say They Wash Their Hands After Using the Bathroom, But How Many Are Telling The Truth?

Updated on December 16, 2016

Handwash Disease Away

The US Centers for Disease Control says proper and frequent handwashing is “the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.” But, researchers in a study for the American Society for Microbiology found when it comes to public restrooms, only 77% of people wash their hands after using the restroom. And if you’re a guy, watch out, one-third of the men spied on didn’t bother to lather up, compared to only 12% of women. Some studies show there are, on average, 229,000 germs per square inch on faucet handles that see frequent use, and about 1,500 on a square centimeter of a person’s hand. The easiest ways for germs to get into your body is through your eyes, mouth and nose; the average person touches these areas with their hand about 200 times per day.

Proper Washing Technique

But even when people take the time to wash their hands, they're not doing it properly, and leaving thousands of germs behind. The key to effectively killing germs is to make sure you cover the entire surface area of your hands. A little splash of soap and water on your palms isn’t going to do much. You should be scrubbing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. During that time, you should be focusing on

  • Backs of hands
  • Between every finger
  • Several inches past your wrist
  • Under fingernails

When you have finished washing, rinse all the soap off your hands and use a towel to turn the faucet off. You used your dirty hand to turn the faucet on, so you don’t want to contaminate clean hands by touching the dirty surface. If you are using a public restroom, be sure to open the restroom door with a paper towel as well. Remember all the people mentioned at the beginning of this article that exit the restroom sans washing—ew!

Frequent Washing

Washing your hands after you use the restroom is a great habit, but it’s not the only time you should be washing them. Be sure to clean up after:

  • Blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
  • Before eating or handling food
  • After handling trash or trash receptacles
  • After changing a diaper or helping a child use the restroom
  • After handling money
  • After playing with a pet

The list may seem like you need to wash your hands every time you touch something new, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. And in this case, sorry could involve a lot of trips to the bathroom.

Bad Habits Lead to Disease

Not washing your hands enough, or infrequently, can lead to a number of illnesses, including:

  • Common cold
  • Flu, which can lead to pneumonia and is the 8th leading cause of death in America
  • Diarrhea

Improper hygiene can also lead to food-related illnesses like:

  • Salmonella
  • E. coli Infection

The CDC estimates 76 million Americans get sick from food-related illnesses each year.

Regular Soap vs. Antibacterial Soap vs. Alcohol-Based Gel Sanitizers

Regular Soap--the most effective way to remove germs is with warm water, soap, and the knowledge of how to wash your hands correctly.

Antibacterial Soap--using antibacterial soap is going a little overboard, and may lead to bigger germ problems in the future. The American Medical Association and the CDC don’t recommend the use of antibacterial soaps as some scientists warn bacteria could become resistant to regular soaps and turn into “super bugs.” Antibacterial soaps also take at least two minutes of sitting on the skin to fully activate, so unless you plan on scrubbing for several minutes, antibacterial soaps offer no additional germ protection.

Alcohol-Based Gel Sanitizers—No-water gels should only be used when soap and water aren’t available. They are effective at killing 99.99% of germs, but some doctors argue when hands get wet, the water reactivates bacteria that weren’t washed off earlier. When choosing an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, make sure it is at least 60% alcohol.

Check out this podcast to find out how to ensure you’re “Living in a Clean and Healthy World.”


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      kathy 6 years ago

      thank you for information.

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      lalaland 6 years ago

      i'm doing my science fair project on this!!!! it was super helpful!!!!

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      tata 8 years ago

      Wow! U r so true. thanks, this helped a lot.