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Are Women Better Than Men When it Comes to Hand Washing Practices?


The restroom hand washing behaviors of 3,739 people were unobtrusively watched and documented in a study recently by Michigan State University.  Though hand washing compliance rates appear to have increased in recent years, the report demonstrates we continue to fall short of the ideal - especially amongst men. 



The CDC recommends 15-20 seconds of vigorous hand washing with soap and water to effectively kill germs, but it seems both men and women average just 6.27 to 7.07 seconds respectively.  In fact, the report states, "Only 5.3% of the sample washed their hands for 15-seconds or more." 


These results are even more disturbing when you consider that 50% of all foodborne illness outbreaks are a result of people either failing to wash or insufficiently washing their hands.  The researchers suggest that hand washing with soap can reduce diarrheal diseases risk by more than 40% and that hand washing intervention could save one million lives annually.


Despite all the public awareness however, it seems most people, "take hand washing for granted and do not consider how essential hand washing is in the prevention of infections and disease."  The report states that most people, "Fail to wash their hands when they engage in activity that would warrant or require hand washing," and that "...people generally overstate the degree to which they washed their hands."


Hand hygiene behaviour

The research also indentified a gender bias in hand washing practices as women were consistently observed to wash their hands more frequently than men. 


In a 2003 study by the American Society for Microbiology, it was observed that 83% of women washed their hands after using the restroom, but only 74% of men did the same.  It seems this is not unique to the US, as demonstrated in a British study conducted in highway service station restrooms, using electronic sensors to measure compliance.  It was found that 65% of women and 35% of men washed their hands.  


Men it seems need more encouragement than women to engage in proper hand washing behavior.  Though most men and women do wash their hands using soap, 35% of men use just water (no soap) compared to 15% for women.


Occupational Dermatitis

The good news though, is that the hand washing rate increased in a number of studies when messages designed to encourage hand washing were displayed.  "The public needs to be continuously encouraged to engage in proper hand washing practices.  In addition, careful attention to restroom environmental conditions and signage may help increase compliance.  Given the established gender biased, consideration should be given to the content of the message targeting men and women."


What do you think?  Would men and women respond differently to gender-targeted hand hygiene reminder messages?  Please cast your vote along with comments and we'll share the results in the coming weeks.


About Patrick Boshell

Patrick Boshell, Marketing Director, Deb CanadaPatrick Boshell is the Marketing Director for Deb Canada and the managing editor for Deb Group's Hand Hygiene, Infection Prevention and Food Safety blog.  He's been actively involved in the Canadian commercialization of several Deb innovations includingOptidose InstantFOAM Hand Sanitizer for healthcare and GrittyFOAM Heavy Duty Hand Cleaner for manufacturing and industrial applications.  


Patrick is responsible for many of the most popular articles featured in this blog and is an advocate for making hand hygiene contagious in the workplace.  He is a social media enthusiast using tools such as LinkedIN and Twitter to help educate the importance of effective hand hygiene and skin care to a global audience.  To connect with Patrick, please contact him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.




Any study on Infection Control worth noting.
Posted @ Tuesday, June 18, 2013 11:37 AM by Stevie
What's your take on the survey question? "Would men and women respond differently to gender-targeted hand hygiene reminder messages?"
Posted @ Tuesday, June 18, 2013 11:40 AM by Patrick Boshell
It is a fact, we human people are scared of what we can see and less scared (if not not scared at all) of invisible and not-systematically-dangerous things.  
Life on heart would be impossible without microorganisms in us, on us, and in our environment; a significant number of them being symbiotic rather than just saprophytic, or pathogenic. Despite the fact that this is relatively well known, most people have a vague idea of what microbes are and consider them all as potentially harmful. However, on the other hand, it is also true to say that when people are not ill, or not in contact with somebody infectious, then there is no apparent risk and washing hands becomes optional.  
To my mind, the only way to obtain better compliance to hand hygiene, is to keep educating, teaching and warning about the risks of infectious diseases. 
Now, I am a man and I wonder why there is such a difference between men and women regarding hand hygiene: men do not respect the basics of hand hygiene as much as women do. Why?  
I have a theory; women are by nature more mature than men!
Posted @ Tuesday, June 18, 2013 2:31 PM by Dr Pierre GRASCHA
Hi Pierre,  
There was actually a study that recently confirmed men mature at 43, but women actually mature 11 years earlier.  
Men it seems need lots of encouragement but unfortunately the report did not get into age as a requirement. Wondering what impact it might have on adult hand hygiene behaviour and if anyone has come across any studies?  
Thanks for comments.  
Posted @ Tuesday, June 18, 2013 3:45 PM by Patrick Boshell
Great article - another point... we are taught from a young age to wash our hands, yet are we taught to wash them correctly?
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 9:22 AM by @cleaninghub
I wonder if part of this connects to how "other" focused men and women tend to be.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 3:12 PM by Silvia
Some states are planning a campaign to distribute visual posters for all restrooms in any food establishments. Check with your local health Dept.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 3:17 PM by Steve Bassani
Interesting to read that "50% of all foodborne illness outbreaks are a result of people either failing to wash or insufficiently washing their hands."
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 3:45 PM by Lance Hill
Are women better than Men. Period? :)
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 3:46 PM by rebecca
Thanks Steve, 
Hopefully they are considering that men and women do respond differently and require gender specific hand hygiene reminder messages. 
Please let us know when some of these posters start to come out and we'll be sure to share. 
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 3:49 PM by Patrick Boshell
OK so why don't men wash their hands? I can understand people not doing it for 15 seconds since it may seem too long (have they not heard the happy birthday reminder?)...but what is the barrier to men not washing their hands?
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 7:35 PM by Gail
No idea ,never stood in ladies loo's to check !
Posted @ Wednesday, June 19, 2013 7:44 PM by Doug
Yes I agree it also what I found in my hospital
Posted @ Thursday, June 20, 2013 8:12 AM by Anjum
This may be an evolutionary issue. Afterall, men's juices do not lend themselves to nest or seeing the future. In evolution, males cured immediate needs of food, shelter and protection. There needs to be an understanding of this and early continuous education is the key. In short, we think we are free but just like the 1960s litter campaigns, we must be slaves to good hygiene. INCLUDING resting and not spreading disease WHEN SICK.
Posted @ Thursday, June 20, 2013 10:43 AM by Rik Heller
Well to start of, my wife always tells me that women are better (ok I did secure my meal for tonight).  
I guess that there is a cultural inheritance which gives women an advantage, traditionally women did do a lot with food and health and since the end of the 19th century there was an image of healthy and clean transferred to women.  
I did find some pics that mainly focus on girls, pics from toys and books  
look how white her gown is and take a good look at her hands  
see nurse barbie in action and hey how about that guy, is he a doctor?  
Well isn't she a good nurse and look at that guy, long sleeves and a tie, he must be a doctor (short novel know in the Netherlands as a lady's novel)  
Nurses keep the hospital clean and safe  
Look at her hands  
And the hospital little helper  
see her hands?  
and this one?  
Nurse nancy to the rescue  
See her arms  
And yes nurse are dressed in white  
Men were often depicted as doctor with tie and long sleeves, girls as nurse, most of the time without sleeves and focus on clean and healthy.  
In my opnion these childhood images did create a mental images and I often think that people try to live up to that personal mental image
Posted @ Thursday, June 20, 2013 2:15 PM by Henk
Well, according to the published study women are much more likely to wash their hands after using the toilet facilities. However, when it comes to time spent washing hands, women are not much better in the length of time taken to wash. 
I can't address why women don't wash their hands after using the toilet facilities. As for men, I have some experience from which to offer the following. 
Let’s get right down to the crux of the issue: anatomy. It’s a fact of life that women and men eliminate feces in the same manner; but urine, well, that is another process and that is the issue clear and simple. Men urinate more often than they defecate and it would be of importance to the cited study to know what the reason for going into the bathroom was. 
Here is why: In general, men are of the mistaken opinion that since their hand or hands contact only intact skin when they urinate they are not exposed to urine as women are since women’s hands are much more likely to come into contact with urine during the wiping/drying process. Men don't use tissue after urinating. But men fail to connect the dots: splash-back from urine hitting the back of urinals can contaminate hands and clothing; hand contact with skin that has been in a warm, dark, and moist surrounding where bacteria such as tinea cruris and tinea corporis thrives; and contact with the flush handle that has been touched by hands that only God knows where they’ve been. Most men will wash their hands, albeit improperly, after a bowel movement. They don’t after they urinate. 
Quite frankly, most men are stubborn and bad bathroom habits are hard to break. But for the same reason – stubbornness – once men learn the proper way of doing something and the reason for doing it, and what’s in it for them, they will adapt, adopt, and retain what they have learned. If for no other reason than that they are stubborn. Some would argue that point, but then one can only hope it is true. As Red Green used to pray: "Lord, I'm a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess."
Posted @ Thursday, June 20, 2013 2:17 PM by John Scherberger
Ok, I can own up to having visited several ladies washrooms in the past, quickly adding to survey and improve hygiene and handwashing facilities - probably the most challenging I can recall so far was the Royal London Hospital, before they started the new building it wasn't somewhere I'd want my family admitted to, even if that was only something very minor!
Posted @ Thursday, June 20, 2013 6:44 PM by Des Fulcher
Thanks for the honesty. That is exactly the argument I have heard from men -- that they are just touching intact skin so why do they have to wash after urinating. I hope stubborn works to effect a change.
Posted @ Friday, June 21, 2013 1:07 PM by Gail
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Posted @ Monday, December 16, 2013 5:31 PM by Angel
A common practice is to sing "Happy Birthday", while washing your hands. Not only does this take 15 seconds and your hands are well washed, you are in a better mood from singing this song.
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