Thank back to your last trip to the restroom. How long did you spend washing your hands? Do you think you washed your hands correctly?
As you might infer from the title of this post, there’s a pretty good chance you didn’t get it quite right.
A recent study (PDF) by researchers with Michigan State University found that just 5% of us wash our hands well enough to kill germs that can cause illness and infection. [Tweet this.] One third (33%) of the 3,749 subjects observed didn’t use soap and 10% didn’t bother washing their hands at all.
“These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate,” said Carl Borchgrevink, associate professor of hospitality business and lead investigator on the study.
Understandably, when you simply ask people if they wash their hands after visiting the restroom, the vast majority claim they always wash their hands (96% according to a 2010 Harris Interactive study - PDF). When the same study observed restroom behavior directly, researchers found 85% of people washed their hands; but how well?
The Michigan State study looked at hand washing behavior a little more closely, following whether subjects used soap or not and the length of time spent washing. When you consider the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations to use soap and scrub for at least 15 seconds, you can see how they concluded only 5% of us are washing effectively.
As you can see, most of us only scrub for about six seconds, which isn’t long enough to kill the germs on your hands that can make you sick. Poor hand washing behavior is said to contribute to nearly half of all foodborne illness outbreaks. In short, it’s worth a few extra seconds of your time to avoid getting sick.
While you’re at it, be sure you’re using soap. According to this study only 50% of men and 78% of women used it, and water alone won’t get rid of the germs. Both groups can do better.
We asked FMH Infection Preventionist Gail Sonnenberg for a few more tips to use when you visit a restroom. Her top three:
- Don’t talk on your cell phone while in the bathroom stall (there are many reasons this is a bad idea).
- Don’t place your briefcase, purse, laptop bag, or any other item on the restroom floor; you’ll carry the germs to other surfaces. While we’re on the subject, don’t put your purse on the kitchen counter. That’s a great way to contaminate your next meal.
- Ladies, if you’re going to put on makeup after using the facilities, wash your hands before you touch your face.