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Hand Washing Frequency Dips in U.S.

Only 77% Lather Up in Public Restrooms, a 6% Decline From 2005
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 17, 2007 (Chicago) -- Are we becoming a nation of dirty liars?

Researchers who discretely observed men and women in public restrooms found that only 77% washed their hands with soap and water -- a 6% decline from 2005.

But not many people are admitting to slipping up: In a separate telephone survey, 92% of Americans claimed they always lather up in public restrooms.

The findings were reported at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).

Men Blamed for Slipup

The blame lies squarely with the men, says Brian Sansoni, a spokesman at the Soap and Detergent Association, which cosponsored the survey with the ASM.

The percentage of men observed washing their hands fell from 75% in 2005 to 66% in 2007. In contrast, hygiene habits basically stalled among women: 90% washed up in 2005, compared with 88% in 2007.

Why Americans are more complacent than in the past “is the million dollar question,” Sansoni tells WebMD. “But Americans, especially guys, need to step up to the sink.”

(Do you always wash your hands before leaving the restroom? Why or why not? Fess up on WebMD's Health Café message board.)

Chicago: The Cleanest City

For the observational study, the researchers monitored the hand washing habits of 6,076 adults at six public bathrooms in four major cities from Aug. 17 to Aug. 25 of this year. The sites were the same as in the 2005 survey: Atlanta's Turner Field, Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium, New York's Penn and Grand Central train stations, and San Francisco's Ferry Terminal Farmers Market.

Among the findings:

  • Chicagoans appeared to have the best hand hygiene: 81% of men and women lathered up. New York followed, with 79% washing up, followed by Atlanta (75%) and San Francisco (73%).
  • Male sports fans have some of the dirtiest hands: Only 57% were observed washing their hands at Turner Field in Atlanta, the lowest figure at any locales.
  • On the other hand, women hit a home run at the home of the Braves: 95% were observed cleaning their hands -- the highest figure at any locale.

WebMD Video: Now Playing

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Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing