Hand Washing Ain’t a Science It’s an Art

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Like Zen, war, and origami, not to mention motorcycle maintenance, hand washing is an art, it ain’t a science.

What’s so complicated about washing your hands, you might well want to know. That’s like a koan, a Zen riddle; there’s nothing at all complicated with washing your hands.

But, despite this fact, most people don’t wash their hands correctly or for enough time.

As Carl Borchgrevink, an associate professor at Michigan State University’s School of  Hospitality and Business, says hand washing isn’t exactly an arduous chore.

Yet, it’s one that often gets neglected, leading to the spread of germs, diseases, and potentially, death. Handling one’s sandwich after also handling oily auto parts, or many other objects, might at the least make you feel sick to your stomach, and gross out your fellow employees.

Why is it that people neglect to wash their hands?

Different people give different reasons. Some say that they’re in too big of a rush; other people, like some men, might be just stubborn, and not want to do something that someone else thinks is “best” for them.

Borchgrevink led a study that showed only 5% of people washed their hands enough to kill infection and illness causing germs after using the bathroom. Of those who did wash their hands, 33% didn’t use soap, and 10% totally skipped washing their hands.

With the help of 12 research assistants, Borchgrevink visited a number of restrooms in the college town of East Lansing. They observed more than 3,700 bathroom-goers  and they split up the group by using educated guesses into two groups: :colleg-age” and “non-college-age.”

They observed, among other intriguing behaviors, that members of older generations washed their hands more often and for longer periods of time compared with the younger group.

Also, in general, men didn’t seem to put as much time and effort into their hand washing as women.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN often recommends that people do as he does when he washes his hands before surgery to make sure you’ve washed your hands long enough. To ensure that he washes his hands the required 20-30 seconds, he sings “Happy Birthday to You” to himself.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand washing is the single most effective thing a person can do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases. The agency says that failure to sufficiently wash hands contributes to nearly 50 percent of all food-borne illness outbreaks, .

The CDC says that it takes 15 to 20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to effectively kill germs, but people only wash their hands for an average of about 6 seconds, according to the study, published recently in the Journal of Environmental Health.

If the correct hand sanitizing techniques are not used, grime, dirt and bacteria that would typically be sent down the drain stays on the hands and increases the host’s likelihood of becoming seriously ill.

Education and consistency are the keys to getting people to consistently wash their hands properly, according to  Karen Francois, a physician at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to care or think about it much that they might be spreading germs to others, and/or infecting themselves.

According to Borchgrevink, clean facilities and signage maximizes the chances someone would choose to send grime and germs down the pipes. He also believes that social pressures might work, too.

He doesn’t think that people are acting maliciously when they don’t wash their hands, but the effect can be the same:

“I don’t think they’re maliciously not washing their hands. I just think they’re just not realizing the impact.”

Whether or not you believe that  washing your hands is an “art” or a “science,” really doesn’t matter. The important lesson to take away from the recommendations or the CDC, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and others, is to wash your hands long enough  and become consistent in doing so.

Written by: Douglas Cobb

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