Researchers discreetly watched 3,749 people, 60 percent of them women, after they used public restrooms in a Michigan college town. In total, 10.3 percent did not wash their hands at all, and 22.8 percent used no soap. The rest of those observed did use soap, but only 5.3 percent washed for longer than 15 seconds, soap or no soap.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), proper washing means rubbing vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Men did worse than women — almost 15 percent of them did not wash at all, compared with 7.1 percent of women. Of note, people were more likely to wash their hands properly if there were motion-detection faucets, a clean sink or a sign encouraging the practice. Researchers also pointed out that having even discreet observers probably increased the likelihood of hand washing.
“Forty-eight million people a year get sick from contaminated food,” said the lead author, Carl P. Borchgrevink, an associate professor at Michigan State University, “and the CDC says 50 percent would not have gotten sick if people had washed their hands properly. Do as your mom said: Wash your hands.”
What is the right way to wash your hands?
- Wet your hand with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Try humming “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end twice to be sure.
- Rinse your hands under running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.
When should you wash your hands?
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After handling pet food or treats
- After touching garbage