Only 5 percent of us wash hands correctly, research says

June 10, 2013
Hand washing is the single most effective thing one can do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Credit: Michigan State University

Remember Mom's advice about washing your hands thoroughly after using the restroom? Apparently not.

A new study by Michigan State University researchers found that only 5 percent of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections.

What's more, 33 percent didn't use soap and 10 percent didn't wash their hands at all. Men were particularly bad at washing their hands correctly.

The study, based on observations of 3,749 people in , appears in the Journal of Environmental Health.

"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.

Hand washing is the single most effective thing one can do to reduce the spread of , according to the . Failing to sufficiently wash one's hands contributes to nearly 50 percent of all

It takes 15 to 20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to effectively kill the , the CDC says, yet the study found that people are only washing their hands, on average, for about 6 seconds.

The video will load shortly
A study by Michigan State University researchers found that only 5 percent of people who used the bathroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that can cause infections. Credit: Michigan State University

Borchgrevink and colleagues trained a dozen college students in data collection and had them observe hand washing in restrooms in bars, restaurants and other public establishments. The student researchers were as unobtrusive as possible – by standing off to the side and entering results on a smart phone, for example.

The study is one of the first to take into account factors such as duration of the hand washing and whether people used soap.

Specific findings include:

  • Fifteen percent of men didn't wash their hands at all, compared with 7 percent of women.
  • When they did wash their hands, only 50 percent of men used soap, compared with 78 percent of women.
  • People were less likely to wash their hands if the sink was dirty.
  • Hand washing was more prevalent earlier in the day. Borchgrevink said this suggests people who were out at night for a meal or drinks were in a relaxed mode and hand washing became less important.
  • People were more likely to wash their hands if a sign encouraging them to do so was present.

Borchgrevink, who worked as a chef and restaurant manager before becoming a researcher, said the findings have implications for both consumers and those who operate restaurants and hotels.

"Imagine you're a business owner and people come to your establishment and get foodborne illness through the fecal-oral route – because people didn't wash their hands – and then your reputation is on the line," he said. "You could lose your business."

Explore further: Specialized messages increase likelihood of male hand washing

Related Stories

Specialized messages increase likelihood of male hand washing

January 11, 2013
The CDC reports that 77% of males wash their hands when leaving the restroom. Recent research, published in the journal Human Communication Research, found that this figure increased to 86% among men who were primed with ...

Hand me a towel, it's more hygienic

June 5, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Next time you wash your hands, it is worth remembering that it is more hygienic to dry your hands using paper towels than electric air dryers, according to a QUT-led study.

Patients shy away from asking healthcare workers to wash hands

November 12, 2012
According to a new study published online today, most patients at risk for healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) agree that healthcare workers should be reminded to wash their hands, but little more than half would feel ...

Patients' health motivates workers to wash their hands

August 30, 2011
Can changing a single word on a sign motivate doctors and nurses to wash their hands?

Recommended for you

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Safety of medical devices not often evaluated by sex, age, or race

July 25, 2017
Researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Francisco have found that few medical devices are analyzed to consider the influence of their users' sex, age, or race on safety and effectiveness.

Why you should consider more than looks when choosing a fitness tracker

July 25, 2017
A UNSW study of five popular physical activity monitors, including Fitbit and Jawbone models, has found their accuracy differs with the speed of activity, and where they are worn.

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

daggoth
not rated yet Jun 10, 2013
The problem is that in the restroom, when you have three or four people waiting to use the sink, you don't really have 20 seconds to "vigorously" scrub hands. The issue isn't so much what people do or don't know, but what is socially accepted.
Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2013
In the military the jape was - what are you washing your hands for, 'that' should be the cleanest part of your body! That said, I have become a chlorhexidine fan.
marble89
1 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2013
A completely touch free hand washing fixture would be great. One that dispensed soapy water with one gesture, rinse water with another and blow dry with a third gesture. Or the sequence could be preset ...
alfie_null
5 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2013
My understanding is the point of washing (and using soap) is not particularly to kill germs, but to wash any newly introduced ones off your skin. If you try for some process that sterilizes your skin, you invite undesirable side effects.

I'm curious as to where that "50 % of foodborne illness" figure comes from. And if that implies efforts should be concentrated in situations involving food handlers.

I agree with marble89. Touch free is important. Including stall doors and restroom doors.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.