Scrub-A-Dub-Dub Those Hands

Hand washing after restroom breaks may not occur as often as necessary

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Washing your hands after using the restroom is one of the most basic and important rules of hygiene. But that does not mean everyone actually does it — or does it correctly.

A recent study found that only five percent of individuals in a college town washed their hands properly after using public restrooms.

Effective hand washing means using soap, washing your hands for 15 to 20 seconds and drying your hands.

This study also found that 10 percent of individuals did not wash their hands at all. Also, these researchers found women had better hand washing hygiene than men.

"Wash your hands after using the restroom."

The study, led by Carl Borchgrevink, PhD, an associate professor of hospitality business at Michigan State University, looked at hand washing practices in a college environment.

The researchers observed 3,749 individuals in public restrooms to see when, how and how often they washed their hands.

The restrooms were in bars, restaurants and other public locations both on and off campus. About 54 percent of the observations occurred off campus.

Ten percent of the individuals observed did not wash their hands at all after using the restroom.

The rate was twice as high for men: 15 percent of men did not wash their hands at all compared to 7 percent of women.

About a third of the individuals observed (33 percent) did not use soap when washing their hands. Again, women were more likely to use soap: 78 percent of the women used soap compared to 50 percent of the men.

Among the two-thirds (67 percent) who did use soap, 1.2 percent did not dry their hands and left the restroom with wet wands.

The average time people spent washing their hands was six seconds, but it takes 15 to 20 seconds of washing hands with soap to kill those germs, according to the CDC.

Overall, just five percent of the individuals spent at least 15 seconds washing their hands.

The researchers also found that people were less likely to wash their hands if the sink was dirty or if it was later in the day, perhaps because people out in the evenings were more relaxed and less concerned about hand washing, Dr. Borchgrevink said.

In bathrooms with clean sinks, 74 percent of the individuals washed their hands using soap, but only 59 percent of those in bathrooms with dirty sinks washed their hands.

While 12.4 percent of the evening people did not wash their hands, the rate of non-hand washing was 8.6 percent in the mornings and 9.4 percent in the afternoons.

College-aged individuals and younger were a little less likely to wash their hands: 65 percent of them washed their hands, compared to 70 percent of those estimated to be older than college aged.

Signs that reminded people to wash their hands appeared to make a difference because more people in these restrooms washed their hands and more used soap. These signs were in about 64 percent of the restrooms.

"Handwashing in hospitals is standard practice to prevent the spread of germs and has been proven to be one of the most effective practices we can perform," said Chris Galloway, MD, a dailyRx expert. 

"We underestimate the importance of this simple habit in everyday environments and circumstances where the goal is also to prevent the spread of illness and infection," Dr. Galloway said. 

"This study demonstrates that women are more habitual than men, but both sexes have lots of room for improvement," he said. "Use soap and wash for at least 20 seconds and you will be helping yourself and others."

The study was published in the April issue of the Journal of Environmental Health. Information regarding funding and disclosures was unavailable.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 10, 2013
Last Updated:
August 7, 2013