Monday, June 17, 2013

Self righteous hand washing

In honor of my little sister taking her nursing boards today, I thought I'd do a post about a pet peeve of mine: hand washing.  Well not hand washing exactly, but rather those who get worked up in to a foamy lather* when others don't do it.  Let me explain

I'm a fairly avid reader of advice columns, and there is a genre of letter that pops up every few months that goes something like this "Dear _____,  my coworker doesn't wash their hands and it makes me wretch and think they're a disgusting human being.  How do I confront them?"

Now these people are never hospital/patient care type employees, they tend to be just regular office workers.  What gets me so annoyed is that I have worked in patient care, and when I got my nurses aide license I even had to wash my hands in front of a state inspector.  Washing your hands is not easy and almost everyone does it wrong.  That's what annoys me about these letters.  Unless they're very meticulous, these people are likely not even being very effective themselves...and even if they are doing it effectively, nearly everyone else they work with is doing it wrong. Also, as someone who carries hand sanitizer around just to avoid having to insufficiently wash my hand in a public restroom, I get annoyed at people who think water = clean.

I thought about this today because I heard about a large scale study that vindicated my feelings:  95% of people do not wash their hands properly.  Properly means with soap, lathering for at least 20 seconds.  If you want to be good enough to get your nurses aide license, you also better use a paper towel to shut the faucet off, and angle your hands downward when you rinse to make sure you're not spreading germs up your wrists.  People are so bad at this that many hospitals now recommend that hand washing only be used to remove stuff that may have gotten on your hands, and that hand sanitizer is what should be use to disinfect.

I like studies like this because they are very useful for reminding people that our self-assessment does not always match reality.  My guess is that a very high percentage of people believe they are washing their hands correctly.  It's like how everyone believes they're an above average driver.

Anyway, best of luck to my favorite little sister, may you be several deviations from the norm (in the passing direction of course).

*See what I did there?


  1. I don't get your point. I am an above average driver!

  2. I actually have data that I am an above average driver. Which must mean, Dad, that the rest of the family is dragging down our average!

  3. I'd still rather shake the hand of someone who washed up after peeing on said hand versus the chap who sauntered up still warmly dripping. It's better, even if it's not good enough.