6 Common Handwashing Mistakes

How are people washing their hands incorrectly and what can public restrooms do to encourage better habits?

If asked, most people will say they wash their hands after using public restrooms.  There are many who make the effort, but not everyone does this properly. In 2009, a study was conducted in the United Kingdom by tracking entry and soap use in men’s and women’s rooms.  Only 65% of women and 31% of men washed their hands after using the bathroom.  A few years later in 2013, a similar study was performed in the United States, where researchers covertly observed 3,749 people. A surprising 95% of them were observed washing their hands incorrectly for one reason or another. Washing our hands is known as a “do-it-yourself vaccine” by the Centers for Disease Control as it effectively prevents illnesses from spreading.  Why do so many not perform this like they should, especially in public places where more people and more germs are likely to be encountered?


Six common mistakes made during handwashing include:

  • Washing hands for less than 20 seconds – the average wash is 11 seconds
  • Only rinsing hands with water – no soap!
  • Not drying hands completely
  • Touching restroom surfaces immediately after washing
  • Neglecting to wash both hands entirely (palms are rubbed together but other parts of hands are missed)
  • Not washing hands at all the recommended times, such as only after restroom use and not before eating

What Can Your Business Do?

Tork Intuition DispGo Hands-Free

Providing automatic, no-touch fixtures may encourage more people to wash their hands thoroughly.  A survey found that 90% of people prefer touch-free fixtures to manual ones because they associate restroom surfaces with germs.  Automatic, hands-free fixtures, like soap dispensers, faucets, and air hand dryers eliminate cross-contamination and provide a more sanitary experience that can alleviate these concerns.

Cleaner Restrooms are Better

Cleanliness in the restroom can positively influence individuals.  The researchers involved in the 2013 study noticed that people were less likely to wash their hands when the sinks were dirty.  Making a few adjustments in restrooms, such as swapping out a paper towel dispenser for an automatic hand dryer to reduce trash or implementing an air care system to remove odor can create a fresher environment that encourages good handwashing before leaving.


Include Hand Sanitizer

According to Dr. Gerba, a microbiologist at Arizona State University, placing hand sanitizer dispensers next to the restroom doors is also beneficial.  As so many people do not wash their hands long enough, skip the soap, or do not wash both entire hands, using hand sanitizer on their way out provides an extra layer of security.  Placing hand sanitizer at the door is also a helpful way to keep people from touching shared surfaces in the restroom.  Handwashing could be rendered ineffective if a person contaminates his/her hands immediately after.  Plus, hand sanitizer dispensers can be placed anywhere, making hand hygiene convenient inside and out of the restroom.

Proper Maintenance

In addition to a clean appearance, a restroom that has soap and hand sanitizer dispensers that are well maintained, and plenty of paper towels (if auto hand dryers are not used) may sound like an obvious need, but it is a very common problem.  When asked in a poll, building service contractors said “empty soap and towel dispensers” were one of their most common complaints.  Besides keeping product available, automatic fixtures need working batteries.  Regular service visits to replenish and replace product and batteries will ensure that everyone has what they need at all times.

To put it simply, making hand hygiene a priority in your building will help to encourage more people to take the time to wash their hands the right way.  All of the right fixtures and a clean, sanitary environment will work as subtle reminders that hygiene and health matter in you business.

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