Do you wash your hands every single time?

Why does washing your hands after going to the bathroom sometimes feels like such a job?

There’s the whole pumping of the liquid soap, lathering, and if you’re really thorough, drying, which also requires pulling out shreds of paper towel or finding a corner of a hand towel that’s only semi-damp. If you do it right, it could take as much as 20 seconds and could involve vigorous scrubbing (see? work) of wrists and under fingernails.

Whether this is a valid explanation or there’s some other compelling reason that public bathroom goers cut and run, apparently way too many (in my opinion) people (mostly known as: men) aren’t taking that half-a-minute or less to wash up.

The American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute conduct recurrent studies on hand-washing behaviors of people at sport stadiums, train terminals, and other places where public bathrooms are located. The researchers covertly observe whether or not people wash their hands before exiting restrooms.

This year’s study showed that the likelihood that a person in a public bathroom washed up depended on gender, place, and city. What they found isn’t devastating but definitely makes me want to go on a disinfecting spree.

At Turner Field, home of the Braves in Atlanta, only about 66% of men scrubbed up. This compares to 98% of women who washed their hands at that park. New Yorkers did a bit better, with bathroom attendees at Pennsylvania Station and the Grand Central Terminal soaping up 80% of the time. Chicago and San Francisco washroom users were the most likely to wash, with 89% taking time at the sink.

When the stats are combined for both men and women, the average rises for healthy hand-washers. Overall reports in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Atlanta reveal that 85% of people follow through with soap and water when they use a public facility.

While these numbers increase slightly for at-home bathroom visits to 89% and while they are the highest seen since the studies began in 1996 (H1N1 education is credited for this), I still think the number of people completing the job could be higher.

I don’t want one single person who has just stepped out of the loo without lathering his hands to shake mine, handle my lunch, or lend me a pen.

Before we post five or ten thousand more signs with cartoons detailing the imperative nature of washing thoroughly before returning to the game/work/table, let’s get (anonymously) honest about how often we’re following through ourselves.

Be honest: How often do you REALLY wash your hands after going to the bathroom?

  • Every single time. No exceptions. Seriously. I even carry emergency hand sanitizer in my purse.
  • Most of the time. Unless I’m in a hurry. Or there’s a line at the sink. Or it’s Thursday.
  • Halfsies. But I take lots of vitamin C, so I’m good.
  • Occasionally. Mostly after I’ve gotten into something pretty gunky.
  • Never. And I’m good with that. Just please don’t tell my mother.