A Simple Guide to Washroom Hand Hygiene
3rd May 2020
Hand washing is one of the easiest and most effective tools at our disposal for preventing sickness and disease and ensuring that we are clean and hygienic. When it comes to visiting a washroom or public toilet, it’s more important than ever that we are aware of our hands and keeping them as clean as possible.
However, despite the fact that all of us know precisely how important it is to keep our hands clean and could pass with flying colours on the theory, we are shockingly bad in practice. In fact, some studies estimate that as little as 5% of people are washing their hands correctly after visiting the toilet.
Whether it’s not washing for long enough, not washing correctly or simply not doing at all, it’s clear that many of us need a constant reminder that “cleanliness is next to godliness” especially when it comes to washroom hygiene.
Why should we wash our hands after using the washroom?
There’s a common misconception when it comes to washroom hygiene that the reason we wash our hands is because we’re coming into contact with our own bodies. And while yes, those areas will certainly contain more germs than something like your shoulder, it’s not actually you that’s the problem.
The real danger when it comes to hand hygiene is everything you may come into contact with between entering and leaving the washroom. One study found that on average, public bathroom surfaces could hold 500,000 bacterial cells per square inch per hour of use.
Much of these germs originate from the toilet area itself where fecal bacteria finds itself on our hands either through contact with a contaminated surface or through splashback from the toilet itself. This bacteria then gets spread to surfaces such as locks, handles, taps and soap dispensers.
While this bacteria isn’t necessarily life threatening, it can lead to health problems such as diarrhea, colds and bugs. In fact, research suggests that just washing your hands after the toilet can reduce the likelihood of diarrhea by 23-40%.
That’s not to say that you should rush out to buy a hazmat suit on the off chance that you may need to frequent the public facilities. But it’s good to be aware of the surfaces you’re probably coming into contact with, what sort of germs they may hold and how many other people may have touched them before you.
What is the correct hand washing method?
Being aware of washing your hands after visiting the toilet is one thing, but knowing how to do it correctly is entirely another. All your best intentions and new year’s resolutions of killing germs and being the healthiest may all be in vain simply because you’re cutting corners when it comes to the practice. However, by following these simple steps, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to stop that harmful bacteria in its tracks and leave it in the bathroom where it belongs.
The NHS recommends the following process for handwashing to ensure that the maximum amount of bacteria is killed:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Make sure to cover all areas, including palm to palm, in between your fingers, around your thumbs and the back of your hands.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. A popular method for timing this is by humming or singing Happy Birthday to yourself twice from beginning to end.
- Rinse your hands well.
- Dry your hands.
It may seem as though washing our hands should be second nature, but by not cleaning all those nooks and crannies where bacteria can live, it only increases the risk of illness contamination. Perhaps singing to yourself at the sink seems a little excessive, but if it keeps you healthy, it’s certainly worth it.
What do I do if there is no soap?
It’s pretty much a universal experience at this point that at some point in your life you will rush to a public bathroom only to realise that the dispenser has run out of soap. In these situations, hand sanitiser is certainly a better alternative than no handwashing at all, but it does not kill all bacteria, so finding a sink with a soap dispenser as soon as possible is advisable if you want to keep your hands as clean as possible.
However, if you are the kind of person to carry sanitizer on your person for these sorts of emergencies, make sure that you are purchasing a hand sanitiser that is at least 60% alcohol. This will be clearly displayed on the label. The exact same method for hand washing applies to sanitizing your hands; ensure you cover the entire surface, taking about 20 seconds to ensure all the surfaces are suitably clean.
Are hand towels more hygienic than dryers?
Every germ-conscious person’s dream is a contactless washroom. Toilet seats that open on their own, automatic flushes, automatic sinks and soap dispensers and of course, hand dryers. However, while using a fancy hand dryer and leaving your hands nice and dry in seconds may feel like a very hygienic experience, technology may not actually be in our favour this time.
While it is true that the less surfaces we touch in a washroom, the less likely we are to pick up bacteria, drying your hands under a hand dryer may even increase the number of bacteria on your hands, or at the very least, spread them around the washroom itself. Hot air dryers, with their high temperatures and slower force, are the worst offenders when it comes to this, with one study reporting that 10 seconds of use resulted in more bacteria on the hands than not using a dryer at all.
Jet air dryers are certainly more hygienic, but if you want to ensure that you are removing as much bacteria from your hands as possible, a good old fashioned paper towel is your best friend. This method particularly aids in removing bacteria from the fingertips, which is very difficult to achieve with contactless methods. It may take a little more effort to get rid of all the moisture from your hands, but paper towels are an important final step in the hand washing process.
Hand washing is one of the best and easiest weapons at our disposal when it comes to tackling the spread of disease and unwanted bacteria or germs. Regardless of whether you feel your hands are clean enough or not, hand washing after a trip to the toilet is an essential part of your routine. Not only does it prevent the spread of bacteria, but it also encourages us to see handwashing as an essential hygiene habit that we should be doing throughout the day.
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