Americans Get Low Marks on Hand Hygiene

Survey Doles Out Grade of C-Minus, Saying Americans Are Losing Ground on Hand Washing

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 19, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 19, 2008 -- It's a simple but powerful message: Wash your hands to prevent the spread of disease. But how many of us heed that message?

Apparently, not enough.

The Soap and Detergent Association is out with its 4th Clean Hands Report, and it gives Americans a C-minus.

That's because some key hand-washing hygiene skills seems to have slipped.

Echo Research conducted the telephone survey of 916 heads of households, 458 women and 458 men, in August 2008 on the association's behalf.

Hand Washing Slipping in America

Some key findings:

  • 85% of participants say they wash their hands after making a bathroom trip. But in 2006's survey, that percentage was 92.
  • 46% of respondents say they spend 15 seconds or less washing their hands.
  • 39% never or seldom wash hands after coughing or sneezing.
  • 39% don't always wash their hands before eating lunch. In 2006, that figure was 31%.
  • 56% of participants knew that regular hand washing is seen as the best way to prevent colds and flu.


In a news release, Nancy Bock with the Soap and Detergent Association says it's time to get on board with hand washing.

"Americans should prepare for the onslaught of cold and flu season," she says. "Cleaning your hands regularly throughout the day can help keep you out of the doctor's office or the emergency room."

The CDC routinely says that washing hands is the single most important way to prevent the spread of illness, including colds and flu.

Teachers Get an A

A group of teachers was separately questioned and seemed to know about hand-washing hygiene.

  • 97% knew that hand washing is considered the most effective way to prevent colds and flu.
  • 49% washed with soap for 15 seconds or more.
  • 91% always or frequently cleaned up before lunch.

Wash Your Hands Properly

Here are some hand-washing tips:

  • Wash for at least 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Let warm water run over your hands before you add soap.
  • Once your hands are soaped up, rub them together until you get lather.
  • Cover the back and front of your hands with soap, even under the fingernails and between fingers.
  • Rinse your hands well under warm flowing water.
  • Use a clean towel or air dryer to dry your hands.

When to Wash?

The Soap and Detergent Association says to always wash your hands before making food, before eating, after going to the bathroom, after petting animals, when your hands are dirty, and when you or someone nearby is sick.

WebMD Health News



The Soap and Detergent Association's 2008 National Clean Hands Report Card.

The Soap and Detergent Association's 2006 Clean Hands Report Card.

News release, Soap and Detergent Association.

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