Who washes their hands for 20 seconds after peeing?

There was a shocking – then on reflect, odd – story in the NYT a few days ago about a new study showing that 95% of people don’t wash their hands correctly after going to the bathroom.

But there’s a bit of a problem.  The “correct” way is ridiculous.

20 seconds. That’s how long you’re supposed to wash your hands for: 20 seconds.

I can’t imagine any does that.  And in fact the survey showed that only 5% of women did, and it wasn’t clear how many men (as the full survey isn’t published online).

Washing hands via Shutterstock

Washing hands via Shutterstock

This is one of those rules, that like the 55mph speed limit, might just do more harm than good.  Many people thought the 55 limit simply encouraged lawlessness.  People generally didn’t obey it, so all it did was get people accustomed to the notion that laws are optional, and at best, flexible.  And it taught them this lesson nearly every single day of their lives.

I think a similar thing is going on with this “20 second hand wash.”  I can’t imagine anyone doing that.  I just did a little test, here at my desk, and timed myself “washing my hands.”  I did what I would consider a thorough washing of the tops and bottoms of my hands, and the fingers too, and it came to a whopping 10 seconds.

So I decided to look into this further.  Let’s start with the Mayo Clinic.  They say that “frequent hand-washing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness.”  And I’ve heard that, especially during flu season.  Sadly, Mayo’s prescription isn’t any easier. It’s the old “20 seconds,” and they add that you should wash your wrists (who does that?) and under your fingernails (fingernails? every time you wash them?).  Then you’re supposed to turn off the faucet with a towel.

Oh, and if you think you’ll just use some of that automatic-drying alcohol hand-gel instead, think again.  You have to rub that stuff on for 30 seconds.

I don’t know about you, but I give up.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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