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Which is less sanitary: not washing your hands after using the bathroom; not drying your hands after washing your hands?
October 29, 2010 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Which is less sanitary: not washing your hands after using the bathroom; or not drying your hands after washing your hands?

We have a passive-agressive coworker who likes to put up signs in the bathroom reminding people to wash their hands. I told him our office would be better served by reminding people to dry their hands completely after washing them. Do I have a case?
posted by mrgrimm to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well if you don't wash your hands first, you can't dry them.

I can't remember the statistics on men (men specifically) who don't wash their hands after going to the bathroom, but it's enough to put you off handshakes for a good long time.
posted by tel3path at 11:38 AM on October 29, 2010


I have no hard science behind this, but I think not washing your hands is less sanitary than not drying them. Not drying them sounds icky, but not unsanitary. I mean, who wants to grab a wet door handle? Probably won't give you Ebola, but it's gross.
posted by ShadePlant at 11:40 AM on October 29, 2010


Not washing your hands spreads germs and disease.

Not drying your hands spreads . . . water?

You don't have a case.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2010 [31 favorites]


Why do you think that cleaned but wet hands are some how more tainted than dry but covered in fecal material hands?

The main problem with not washing your hands after going to the bathroom is passing on diseases transferred by fecal contamination.

I would also guess washing your hands after going to the bathroom will also decrease transmission of colds and the flu, less because it was after going to the bathroom and more that you just washed your hands.

Water is sanitary, soap washes surface contamination down the drain.

I would rather an office of washed but wet hands than dry but shitty hands.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:41 AM on October 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think you're on shaky ground at best. What part of the washing process kills germs? It's the soap and water part. You apply soap, scrub and then rinse. At this point, your hands are clean. Drying is merely a convenience. Rubbing your hands on paper towels or a roller towel does not further remove bacteria. If anything, it's a chance to reintroduce bacteria.
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2010


For your first question, I'd be inclined to believe that removing contaminants from your hands is more important than removing clean water from your hands.

As for your second question, unless your coworker was advocating that people wash but not dry their hands, you do not have a case.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:44 AM on October 29, 2010


I would say it very much depends on how clean you keep your junk and how intimately you need to touch it in order to do the business. But as others have said, once you've washed your hads they're clean - assuming you've rinsed them off. Then you have water on your clean hands.
posted by Decani at 11:44 AM on October 29, 2010


Not washing your hands spreads germs and disease.

Not drying your hands spreads . . . water?


This. Shaking hands when someone has clean but wet hands feels icky, but doesn't do any damage.
posted by Forktine at 11:46 AM on October 29, 2010


But as others have said, once you've washed your hads they're clean
I think the OP is questioning this premise. If it's not true (clue: it's not), you could imagine leaving them wet would aid transfer of bacteria (and possibly reproduction). I have no idea if this is true though.
posted by caek at 11:48 AM on October 29, 2010


The only reason I think a "dry your hands" sign might be better is that it implies that washing your hands is assumed to be happening. That might make some people feel like it's something everyone does, rather than something that requires nagging, and might then make them more likely to wash their hands.
posted by verbyournouns at 11:53 AM on October 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


How is it passive aggressive to put up a signs reminding people to wash their hands? I ask because it sounds like you're making a mountain out of a molehill.
posted by nomadicink at 11:55 AM on October 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't think your question is as crazy as everyone else seems to, because I have heard anecdotally from friends-of-doctors and friends-of-nurses that the the physical friction of scrubbing and drying after washing is actually what removes most of the microbes. This is often one of the justifications for the preference of disposable hand towels over air-drying machines--the other being that air-drying machines don't dry your hands thoroughly, leaving them damp and warm and therefore breeding grounds for bacteria. If either of these are true (I haven't investigated), then that's a great reason to consider drying a crucial part of the handwashing process, though I don't know if it means that washed, wet hands are dirtier than hands that haven't been washed at all.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:02 PM on October 29, 2010


However, I do think that putting up a sign about hand-washing OR hand-drying in the bathroom of a non-food-service establishment where adults work isn't a good or useful idea, even if it's neutrally-worded. Sure, there are people who don't wash their hands after bathroom visits and that's kind of icky, but those people are unlikely to change their behavior based on a sign, and the folks who already do wash and dry their hands are just going to be annoyed and insulted.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:07 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I also don't think the OP's question is crazy - I don't have time to find cites right now, but I am PRETTY DAMNED SURE that damp hands pick up/transfer a bazillion times more microbes than dry hands. I'll betcha hand-dryer manufacturer websites might have the info... being hella biased and all. ;-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:19 PM on October 29, 2010


How is it passive aggressive to put up a signs reminding people to wash their hands?

It seems like a quintessential example of passive aggressiveness.

The note was obviously posted (he has said as much) because he noted that some people do not wash their hands after using the bathroom.

If someone doesn't wash his hands, and you think that's a problem for your office/work environment, you go to the person and you tell him he should wash his hands.

Putting up signs (anonymously) to accuse people of not washing their hands after using the bathroom is a great example of passive aggressiveness.

If you have a problem with someone, and you solve it by posting a sign for everyone to see, yeah, c'mon.

Re: the drying, I think I remember this recent study from Bradford University that has been reported this fall.

Why drying is as important as washing

A quick review of coverage indicates that the study does not imply that wet, washed hands are more contaminated than dry, unwashed hands.

...

I think a better sign would be "Taking a piss doesn't make your hands dirty, but washing hands saves lives. Use the opportunity."
posted by mrgrimm at 12:23 PM on October 29, 2010


There was a claim recently that drying your hands by rubbing them under a normal hand dryer increases the number of bacteria on them. They recommended drying your hands with as little friction as possible.

(The study was commissioned by a manufacturer of high speed air dryers, so you might need to take it with a pinch of salt.)
posted by matsho at 12:27 PM on October 29, 2010


Some documentation from an admittedly very-biased source...
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:27 PM on October 29, 2010


Random things around your office that are also full of germs & bacteria:

Doorknobs
Computer keyboards
Phones
Pens and pencils
Shoes, if you're the kind of person to take them off and put them on during the day
Everything in a common kitchen
(and don't forget money, which is quite possibly the filthiest thing on the planet)

Basically, anything that people regularly touch is contaminated. Drying or not drying your hands is not going to make a significant difference vs. washing up after you do your business.

Also, why does this bother you so much?
posted by mkultra at 12:33 PM on October 29, 2010


I agree with rhiannonstone, super annoying! We have a woman that does this kind of thing too. There was an incident last week where someone had left a teabag in the sink after making the office cuppa-round and instead of popping it in the bin an angry note was put up instead. She ended up going home early crying her eyes out (quite a common occurance) because someone removed the note and put the teabag in the bin.
You cant win, these people will be like this whatever you do so just ignore it (and remove the note muhhaarrrr)

Sorry going off on one there. Of course unwashed hands are bad and washed wet hands are a non-issue, i think you are just being wound up by this prat.
posted by aqueousdan at 12:36 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is the problem that people aren't washing their hands, or that they aren't drying their hands afterward? The note is meant to address a known issue: people don't wash their hands.

If you're having trouble in your office with people who wash their hands but do not dry them afterward, then feel free to put up a sign.
posted by ErikaB at 12:43 PM on October 29, 2010


My partner once recalled a time at university when they put a sample from their fingers onto an agar plate before and after washing their hands. She said the results were a lot worse after washing due to removing the oils from the surface and exposing the grot underneath than when they were unwashed. How reliable this is, especially after handling certain downstairs bits and bobs *ahem* though, I wouldnt know.
posted by aqueousdan at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2010


I don't even understand why you are so concerned. For one, I view a sign about hand washing to be less passive aggressive but more a friendly reminder. In hospitals, these signs are all over the place. Even if you still consider it passive aggressive, this might be one of the only times where it's actually fine... in a work setting, who wants to go around telling someone how they've seen that specific person not washing their hands? I think it'll be very uncomfortable and embarrassing for both parties, and should generally be avoided unless you know the person well.

Also, if the problem is people not washing their hands, then YES, a sign gently reminding others to wash their hands addresses the problem. Why would you hang a sign reminding people to dry their hands? Unless the problem is that people are washing their hands but not drying them, then you don't have a case. Besides, I would think most people who wash their hands are good with drying them at some point, because others can detect wet hands and it's icky, so nobody wants to be the person with wet hands. However, nobody can detect you didn't wash your hands, so it a much more severe problem.

I can maybe see your case that drying hands after washing is better than not drying hands after washing (reasons being 1. grossness of wet hands, 2. spreading moisture where bacteria can grow more easily, 3. Most importantly, people will end up wiping their hands on their dirty clothes, which negates hand washing a bit--but still better than fecal matter on hands!). But that's not the problem...the problem is people not washing. Why don't you just have a reminder asking people to "washing and dry" their hands? Problem solved. You are making a mountain out of a molehill.
posted by lacedcoffee at 12:46 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Random things around your office that are also full of germs & bacteria:

While it is true that there are substantial numbers of bacteria on everything (including paper towels) most of these bacteria are harmless. Bacteria in faecal matter tend to be less benign.
posted by atrazine at 12:47 PM on October 29, 2010


[folks, please stick to the question and don't start side discussions about the OPs office environment, or your personal opinions about bathrooms. Thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2010


Related: Can Soap Get Dirty?
posted by 100watts at 12:51 PM on October 29, 2010


Sorry, meant to add that the article is about hand washing in general, not just soap.
posted by 100watts at 12:53 PM on October 29, 2010


I have heard anecdotally from friends-of-doctors and friends-of-nurses that the the physical friction of scrubbing and drying after washing is actually what removes most of the microbes

This is not true. It's the physical friction of scrubbing WHILE WASHING that removes most of the microbes. (And I'm someone who is about to graduate nursing school, not just a friend-of-friend-of-a-nurse.)

So sure, if you splash your hands with a little water and call that "washing," and then don't dry your hands, perhaps the water will facilitate transfer of bacteria from your hands to the doorknobs/keyboards/whatever else you touch. But if you actually wash your hands appropriately and thoroughly (wet with water, add soap, later and rub for 15-20 seconds - which seems like a really long time if you're not used to it, then rinse), whether you dry them or not should not make a big difference. The majority of people who do claim to wash their hands after using the bathroom aren't doing it right anyway, so perhaps a more effective sign would be one that instructs in proper technique, like this guy from the Massachusetts office of health and human services.
posted by vytae at 12:53 PM on October 29, 2010


Washing your hands cleans them, drying them keeps them clean.
posted by Gor-ella at 1:02 PM on October 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's some science on the different methods of drying, from Mayo Clinic Proceedings:
[PDF WARNING]
Effects of 4 hand-drying methods for removing bacteria from washed hands: a randomized trial.
The conclusion of the article: "the results of the current study suggest that there are no differences in the efficiencies of removing bacteria from washed hands when hands are dried using paper towels, cloth towels, warm forced air, or spontaneous evaporation."
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:03 PM on October 29, 2010


You have a case inasmuch that a sign gently reminding people to dry their hands after washing them might get more people to actually wash their hands as well, without implying that they are filthy unhygienic pigs.

Besides, wet hands are gross and wet doorhandles are awful.
posted by HFSH at 1:13 PM on October 29, 2010


I always wash my hands, and dry them on my (clean) shirt. Problem?
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:41 PM on October 29, 2010


In the faculty bathroom where I teach is an actual official (i.e. mass produced and hung by the administration) sign about the importance of drying one's hands.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:48 PM on October 29, 2010


From reading your followup and seeing what you've checked as "best" it sounds like you're asking this: "Would a 'please dry your hands' sign be less passive-aggressive than 'please wash your hands'?"

If this is your question then: No, not really. Any hand-made sign in the bathroom telling me what to do in the bathroom is passive aggressive.

A professionally made sign, possibly one with that references the local health codes is acceptable, but any and all hand made signs in the bathroom are, by default, from busybodies. (Even if they're not.)
posted by Ookseer at 1:56 PM on October 29, 2010


You win too, Ookseer! But then I'm likely misusing the "best answer" functionality (when I should be using favorites).

Gor-ella probably gave the best overall answer to my actual question, although I'm not totally sure it's been definitively answered.

I was actually looking for an answer to whether unwashed hands (of a standard control variety) were less sanitary than washed hands that were not dried well.

The answer appears to be mostly yes, with some circumstantial situations that might make wet hands worse.

Apologies if I confused my intent with my tagging/marking and possibly ambiguous question.

I also used the term "less sanitary," but that seems sorta vague. A better phrasing might have been "which is healthier," but that too is fraught with implications.

In the faculty bathroom where I teach is an actual official (i.e. mass produced and hung by the administration) sign about the importance of drying one's hands.

Yeah, as mentioned, I'm with Ookseer here. If mgmt wants to put up a sign, fine. If random Joe the Plumber does, that's not OK. (I'm not sure why I cede so much to authority here.)

But again, that was not the point of my question.

My question is which is less healthy: unwashed hands or slightly wet hands touching everything in the office.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:10 PM on October 29, 2010


Seeing that you're in CA, here's a standard handwashing sign from the California Department of Public Health.
posted by platinum at 2:13 PM on October 29, 2010


If your hands are still wet when you (and everyone else with wet hands) begin touching light switches, door handles and whatnot, the beneficial effect of washing is neutralized before you can say *ick*.
So dry, clean hands are best, whereas dry-dirty versus damp touch-all-the-things hands is probably pretty similar, on average.

[Putting up signs about hand-washing! Bwah.]
posted by Namlit at 2:42 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Random things around your office that are also full of germs & bacteria:

The Mythbusters did an episode about this. Basically, they concluded that the bathroom was actually one of the cleanest places in a typical home or office, thanks to the fact that it gets cleaned so frequently. On the other hand, the kitchen was crawling with nasty bacteria.

In other words, washing your hands after you pee isn't necessarily a good idea because you just peed, but simply because it's a good interval at which to scrub the grime you've picked up elsewhere off of your hands.... Unless you're making a mess, in which case, I really don't want to know about it.

I also wonder if groups of people who do not wash their hands regularly (backpackers, people without reliable access to running water, etc) have any higher incidence of illness or disease than those of us in the civilized world.

posted by schmod at 3:21 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once you have washed your hands they are clean......until you either turn off the sink, touch a door handle, or touch anything else that gets touched before someone actually washes their hands. I prefer to hit up the hand sanitizer at my desk after leaving the bathroom just to be sure.

I think you should put up a sign that says "Yo Imma let you finish, but Cameron Diaz was the best hand washer of all time......of all time!!!!!"
posted by jasondigitized at 7:10 PM on October 29, 2010


There was a study out a few years ago showing how much bacteria gets added back to your hands by drying them -- they all added some. So, yeah, it's actually more sanitary to leave your hands wet.
posted by delmoi at 1:21 AM on January 11, 2011


If your hands are still wet when you (and everyone else with wet hands) begin touching light switches, door handles and whatnot, the beneficial effect of washing is neutralized before you can say *ick*.

...

So, yeah, it's actually more sanitary to leave your hands wet.


The debate rages on. I await the definitive conclusion with much interest!

Until then, I just piss on the sign and wash my hands of it.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:40 AM on January 12, 2011


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