A British study of 250,000 people using public restrooms showed that men washed their hands half as often (32 percent of the time) as women (64 percent) did.
When the Brits displayed messages outside lavatories encouraging people to wash up, they found that women responded to sensible and informative reminders such as “Water doesn’t kill germs, soap does.”
Women were also persuaded by information about risk. And the idea that they could have positive control.
Men were a harder sell.
They generally ignored hectoring such as “Don’t be a dope, wash with soap.” They were largely unmoved by peer pressure such as “Is the person next to you washing with soap?” What worked best with guys was disgust. “Soap it off or eat it later.”
Ick. Can you believe that women weren’t persuaded by that? I can’t. I plan to use that warning the next time I excuse myself at a restaurant to wash my hands. My plan may sound rude to those of you with finer sensibilities and less good sense. We don’t think that way in my family. We appreciate helpful vigilance.
I dined out for weeks on what I learned in driver’s safety class. Never carry a bowling ball inside the car. What it would do to your head when bouncing around the auto during an accident doesn’t bear thinking about. Ditto heavy books. And any glass object. Also, never drive behind any truck carrying lumber or pipes. A sudden stop and those pipes are spears crashing through the windshield, rearranging your face.
Just last month, I mesmerized an after-church luncheon with advice on proper tooth care. My comments on flossing were so compelling people put their forks down to listen.
The hand-washing study, which took place July through September, when everybody on earth was already thinking pandemic flu, was pretty scary. Only 62 percent of women washed their hands? Have women completely abandoned the role of exemplars?
But here’s the saddest part: Even the most effective messages persuaded fewer than 10 percent more people to wash up.
Clearly my family is among the few who heed timely warnings.
This study should serve as a rallying call for those of us who take hand-washing seriously. We must be extra careful about our own hygiene. Always at the ready, I will now share my favorite tips:
1. Anti-bacterial soaps are no better than regular soap. You ought to know that by now. And, please, remember your biology lessons: Anti-bacteria means “against bacteria.” Viruses are not bacteria. Flu is a virus.
2. Hand sanitizers do work, but keep them away from small children, gluttons or any other humans who frequently put fingers in their mouths. The alcohol is toxic. Washing is always better. You could also try rubbing in some vinegar or lemon if you’ve got nothing better. Bleach would also do the trick, but that’s perhaps a bit more desperate than we need to be at this point.
3. If there’s no soap, give your skin a rest. Splashing about won’t impress anybody and it won’t kill the creepies.
4. Suit yourself on water temperature. Hot water isn’t any better than cold, according to a recent study. Mildness is the least irritating choice in so many areas of life and, now we are happy to realize, in cleanliness as well.
5. Don’t neglect the backs of your hands and between your fingers. The dank shelter underneath fingernails has received little attention from health officials. I wonder if that’s wise. But since carrying a nail brush might seem onerous to the general public, I’d advise a good soaping of finger tips.
6. How much washing does it take? Sing “Happy Birthday” twice as you scrub. (Under your breath will do fine.)
7. Dry with paper towels instead of cloth that is being re-used. A good idea even at home. Think damp, warm towels incubating in the darkness.
8. In a public restroom, I’m sure you already use a paper towel to open the door as you leave. But have you thought about germs lurking on a faucet handle? One germ-counting study showed that faucet handles had more noxious micro-organisms than any other surface in the lavatory. Toilet seats came out surprisingly clean, if I’m remembering correctly. Not that you’d want to lick them or anything.
That’s it for the tips. Feel free to share at your next dinner party.
Meanwhile, writing this has me feeling slightly OCD. I’m going to get out the alcohol to swab down the phones, keyboards and door handles in my house. You might want to do the same.