“A, B, C, D, E, F, G…” Humming or singing aloud the “ABC” song in our collective heads helped most of us remember our alphabet as young children. Did you know that even as an adult there’s a good reason to sing (or hum) the ABC song?
No joke, it’s a metric for quality hand-washing practice. Good handwashing takes 15 to 20 seconds equal to the amount of time it takes to sing that childhood ditty.
A recent Michigan State University study revealed that out of 3,749 people observed in public restrooms, 33% did not use soap when washing their hands, and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all.
This is based on researchers’ observations in a study led by Carl Borchgrevink, associate professor of hospitality business. Only five percent washed their hands long enough to kill germs.
The study also found that:
- Fifteen percent of men didn’t wash their hands at all, compared with 7 percent of women. When they did wash their hands, only 50 percent of men used soap, compared with 78 percent of women.
- People were less likely to wash their hands if the sink was dirty.
- Hand washing was more prevalent earlier in the day. Borchgrevink said this suggests people who were out at night for a meal or drinks were in a relaxed mode and hand washing became less important.
- People were more likely to wash their hands if a sign encouraging them to do so was present.
I asked Beau Ellenbecker, MD, a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine, if handwashing is still important to good health. Yes, he still highly recommends handwashing.
As a matter of fact, his three-and-half-year-old son sings the ABC song while washing his hands. “I think it really helps,” Dr. Ellenbecker said. “I can hear him sing while I’m in the kitchen. I know he washed his hands.”
Does it make any difference if the soap in the dispenser is foam or liquid? “Not to my knowledge,” Dr. Ellenbecker said.
But Dr. Ellenbecker did offer some cautionary words about expecting too much from those very convenient alcohol-based sanitizers many of us carry.
“Using a sanitizer is not always as effective as washing your hands with soap and water,” Dr. Ellenbecker said. “You can clean your hands with soap and water to minimize the bacterial load. If you have dirty hands, an alcohol-based sanitizer does not remove dirty matter that may be carrying bacteria under it.”
So an alcohol sanitizer wash is not equal to 15 to 20 seconds of hand washing with soap. A sanitizer is a good follow-up to a vigorous handwashing. However, if you only have a sanitizer available, use it.
Last of all, I asked Dr. Ellenbecker if there was any point to washing your hands without soap.
“If you have physical soiling of the hands,” he said, “than at least washing with water would help remove the dirt. Not as much bacteria would be removed, however.”
If I haven’t already made my point that handwashing is important, even in today’s high-tech world, here is one last factoid from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Handwashing is the single most effective thing one can do to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, according to the CDC. Failing to sufficiently wash one’s hands contributes to nearly 50 percent of all food-borne illness outbreaks.”
The CDC offers these guidelines for washing your hands:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
Convinced? The CDC website also offers videos and more information.