More people are reporting handwashing – will this trend continue?

Handwashing is an important part of disease prevention.

A person washing their hands.

Handwashing is one of the most important personal hygiene behaviors that can prevent the spread of disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that handwashing with soap and water could result in the prevention of 50% of the deaths caused by diarrheal disease. During a global pandemic, there has been heightened awareness of the importance of handwashing, so let’s look at some data about handwashing behavior and frequency. 

In a 2010 observational study sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute (formerly known as the Soap and Detergent Association), 85% of adults washed their hands in public restrooms, compared with 77% in 2007, the highest observed percentage since these studies began in 1996. 

Frequency of handwashing is another aspect. A global pandemic from a novel coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2 that is associated with the disease COVID-19 has resulted in many people washing their hands more frequently than in the past. A study by Barber and Kim conducted in late March 2020, indicated that adults reported washing their hands more frequently than in the past since the onset of the pandemic. Another study by the Bradley Corporation published in April 2020, found that 90% of adults reported washing their hands more frequently and 78% reported washing their hands six times a day or more compared to 37% that reported that same frequency in the past. 

So, Americans have been doing better with handwashing hygiene since the pandemic, but will this trend continue? The future is hard to predict; however, a survey done by the American Cleaning Institute found that 75% of those surveyed planned to continue to wash their hands frequently with soap and water and 57% plan to continue to use hand sanitizers frequently.  Unfortunately, the annual Healthy Handwashing survey done by the Bradley Corporation in January 2021, indicates that as the pandemic continues, the rate of hand washing six or more times a day has dropped to 57%. 

A review of about handwashing practices would be incomplete without a timely reminder of how to properly wash hands:

  • Wet hands and add soap.
  • Scrub the front and back of hands, between the fingers and under the nails, for 20 seconds. (Don’t forget your thumbs!)
  • Rinse all the soap off your hands.
  • Do not turn off the faucet yet.
  • Dry your hand preferably with a disposable paper towel. Then use that paper towel to turn off the faucet.

Finally, remember to wash your hands frequently. Michigan State University Extension recommends washing hands:

  • After using the restroom.
  • Before cooking or eating.
  • After handling raw meat, poultry or seafood and especially before preparing produce or ready-to-eat items.
  • After smoking.
  • After changing a diaper.
  • After returning home from shopping or other activities out in public.
  • Whenever hands get soiled.

For more information on taking care of your health, visit MSU Extension's Food & Health website.

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