Research Reveals Poor Handwashing Practices

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SCA, a global hygiene company and makers of the Tork® brand of away-from-home paper products, took a close look at North American consumer and U.S. college student hand hygiene habits in a new survey.  Commissioned in honor of this year’s Global Handwashing Day, close to 3,000 U.S. and Canadian adults and U.S. college students were surveyed by IBOPE Zogby International to determine handwashing habits, as well as their expectations from businesses they frequent.

While those surveyed showed extra care in some hygiene situations, some bad habits prevail:

- Forty percent of U.S. adults and 53 percent of Canadian adults said they sometimes skip using soap when washing their hands
- Nearly a quarter of U.S. and Canadian adults do not wash their hands after coughing or sneezing
- Nearly 60 percent of U.S. college students never or only sometimes wash their hands before dining in the campus cafeteria
- More than half of U.S. and Canadian adults do not wash their hands after handling money
- Less than 55 percent of U.S. and Canadian adults indicated they wash their hands after activities such as going to the gym or using public transportation
- Less than 1 in 5 U.S. and Canadian adults wash their hands after using their computers at work, with less than 25 percent of U.S. college students admitting to the same habit on campus

 
“Handwashing needs to become something that people think of on a consistent basis throughout the day,” says Donna Duberg,Tork Green Hygiene Council™ (TGHC) member and assistant professor of clinical laboratory science at Saint Louis University. “Simply being aware of the risks associated with poor hygiene can help make a difference in a person or business’ attention to handwashing, and health and wellness overall.”

Soap is Key

While the use of soap may be inferred when washing hands, many in North America are skipping its usage. “Soap is what helps remove bacteria when washing hands,” says  Dr. Allison Aiello, TGHC member and associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “For handwashing to effectively prevent the spread of germs, plain soap should always be used.”

Paper Towels are Effective and Preferred

Drying hands thoroughly also plays a role in effective handwashing, as SCA research shows damp hands spread up to 500 times more germs than dry hands. When using a hot air dryer, more than 65 percent of U.S. and Canadian adults never or only sometimes continue using the machine until their hands are completely dry. With regard to drying methods, U.S. and Canadian consumers showed an overwhelming preference for using paper towels, with more than 70 percent preferring this drying method in foodservice, office and healthcare facilities. In fact, more than 50 percent indicated they have avoided using hot air dryers while in a public restroom for reasons such as they take too long to dry hands or they don’t dry hands completely.

Perceptions on Handwashing Outside the Home

The research also showed that consumers look to the businesses they frequent to be up to par on handwashing habits and accommodations – for both employees and patrons. Specific insights include:

- More than 80 percent of both U.S. and Canadian adults would avoid a restaurant whose restroom they found to be unclean
- More than 70 percent of U.S. adults and 66 percent of Canadian adults would avoid a healthcare facility or office if they found their restroom to be unclean
- Nearly one-quarter of both U.S. and Canadian adults feel their office/place of employment does not provide adequate encouragement for employees to wash their hands – with nearly one in four U.S. college students agreeing in regards to their on-campus facilities
- Nearly 90 percent of U.S. and Canadian adults would think less of a restaurant’s conditions if they did not have proper handwashing tools available
U.S. college students were the most likely to wash their hands after working out at the gym or health center (73 percent) and using their cell phone (nearly 17 percent) than any other group surveyed

 
“Handwashing continues to be one of the most important steps we can take to avoid spreading germs and infections to others, both in our personal and professional lives,” Duberg adds. “Ensuring that there is regular handwashing education and on-site supplies are easily accessible and adequately stocked is essential for customer retention and infection control in any business or facility.” Duberg also encourages businesses to provide hand sanitizing stations, as this promotes hand hygiene outside of the restroom and demonstrates commitment to patron health.

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