File this under gross news: Only five percent of people wash their hands the right way after they use the bathroom, according to an observational study recently published in Journal of Environmental Health.
In the study, trained observers from Michigan State University documented the hand-washing habits of 3,749 people in local public restrooms. What they found: Ninety-five percent of bathroom users didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wash their hands for 15 to 20 seconds, the length of time the CDC recommends to kill infection-causing germs. Even worse: A third didn't bother to use soap, and 10 percent skipped washing their hands altogether. Ewww.
At least the worst offenders werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t in the ladiesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ room: Fifteen percent of men didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wash their hands at all, compared to the seven percent of women who skipped the sink. And only half of all men used soap, compared to 78 percent of women.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“People think their hands are cleaner than they are,Ã¢â‚¬Â says lead investigator Carl Borchgrevink, PhD, associate professor at Michigan State UniversityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s School of Hospitality Business. But the truth is, no matter how neatly you do your business, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tough to leave the bathroom with clean handsÃ¢â‚¬”mostly because itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a high-traffic place, he says.
Depending on the type of bacteria living on the bathroom door, toilet handle, faucet, towel dispenser, and other communal surfaces you touch, icky germsÃ¢â‚¬”think E. coli and staphylococcusÃ¢â‚¬”can be incredibly easy to pick up. And once these bacteria get into your system (whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s from your touching your mouth or your sandwichÃ¢â‚¬”which ends up your mouth), they can cause infections or viruses, says Robert Klein, chief of the division of infectious diseases at St. LukeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and Roosevelt Hospitals in New York City.
Your best defense is to lather up the right way, immediately after you use the restroom. That means using soap, which helps bacteria float off the skin, and scrubbing and rinsing thoroughly, which ensures that the buggers end up down the drain, says Borchgrevink. To really get rid of most of the bacteria, the entire process should take 20 secondsÃ¢â‚¬”about the length of time it takes to sing Ã¢â‚¬Å“Happy BirthdayÃ¢â‚¬Â twice.
Think youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re in the clear because youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re a hand sanitizer junkie? While alcohol-based formulas will kill surface bacteria, they donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t fully remove residue from food or other filthÃ¢â‚¬”and they also donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t touch the bacteria below the surface of that residue. Meaning? Hand sanitizer should be your backup plan; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s smarter to suds up in the sink when you can.
photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock More from Women's Health:
Your Step-by-Step Guide to Hand-Washing
6 Ways to Have Good Gym Hygiene
Your Purse Is as Germy as a Toilet