Why Do Some Americans Skip Washing Their Hands?

Top complaints about public restrooms are clogged or unflushed toilets; an old, dirty or unkempt appearance; and unpleasant smells, according to the latest Healthy Handwashing Survey.

In 2009, as the H1N1 virus (also known as the swine flu) was hitting the U.S., washroom accessory and partition manufacturer Bradley Company launched its first Healthy Handwashing Survey™. Back then, only 45% of Americans said they elevated their hand hygiene in response to seasonal virus outbreaks.

Over the past 15 years, Bradley has continued to survey more than 1,000 adults about their handwashing habits, concerns about seasonal viruses, and the state of public restrooms.

It should come as no surprise that handwashing diligence hit all-time highs in 2020 and 2021 as COVID-19 was spreading. Since then, handwashing frequency has gone back to pre-pandemic times. Specifically, in the spring of 2020, Americans were washing their hands an average of 10.5 times per day compared to an average of six times a day pre-COVID.

Healthy Handwashing Survey, hand hygiene
(Source: Healthy Handwashing Survey, Bradley Company)

For its most recent annual Healthy Handwashing Survey, Bradley queried 1,003 American adults about their handwashing habits, concerns about seasonal viruses, and their use of public restrooms.

Overall, Americans implement handwashing on an “as needed basis,” according to the survey. For example, 74% wash their hands more frequently or more thoroughly in response to seasonal virus outbreaks and 54% increase their handwashing activity when they’re sick.

In addition, 77% make it a point to wash up when on a road trip or in an airport and 67% wash more when they have travel coming up.

Healthy Handwashing Survey, hand hygiene
(Source: Bradley Company)

“Regular handwashing throughout the day helps remove germs and viruses that can cause sickness,” says medical microbiologist Michael P. McCann, Ph.D., professor and chair of biology, Saint Joseph’s University. “Hand hygiene is a simple and easy thing to do and shouldn’t be overlooked.”

For facility managers, participants’ opinions on the current state of public restrooms is of particular interest. The survey found that while many Americans (43%) believe the condition of public restrooms has improved over the past 15 years, 35% say they haven’t noticed any change one way or another.

Unfortunately, a majority of survey respondents (68%) report they’ve had a particularly unpleasant experience in a public restroom due to the facilities. Top complaints are clogged or unflushed toilets, an old, dirty or unkempt appearance and unpleasant smells.

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It’s good news that the majority (89%) of survey respondents said they suds up 89% of the time after using a public facility.

Unfortunately, this means 11% are exiting the restroom with unwashed hands. The majority of those who skipped the cleansing step cited a lack of soap or paper towels, while others claimed nonworking sinks hampered their efforts.

To combat those negative issues, Americans would like restrooms to be cleaner and more well-stocked, have touchless fixtures throughout, and offer a good supply of paper towels, even if there are hand dryers.

You can learn more about the handwashing survey results here.


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