HygieneFilter: should I always use soap when washing my hands?
September 3, 2008 5:56 AM   Subscribe

HygieneFilter: must I always use soap when washing my hands?

My view is, I take a shower every day, hence my hands are cleaned everyday, because I use them to soap-up the rest of my body. Soap on hand = clean hands.

So, no need to wash my hands with soap before/after usual daily tasks, only if I get my hands dirty (before&after eating a burger, after fixing a pipe, before cuddling a baby, after cuddling a dog). For other daily tasks, I tend to rely on a rule of thumb of a good wash up with water and an inversion of the 42 seconds rule (ahem).

Case in point: the g/f saw me just washing my hand (w/o soap) after a quick pee, and insisted on my using soap (not just water) everytime from now on.

While I know it's more hygienic to soap-up rather than just water-up my post-loo hands, I always felt I was able to tell when my hands needed more than just watering, and thus was able to go about my duties faster

I know she's right about it, obviously, but am I that much wrong about my asumption?
posted by XiBe to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Urine is sterile. So even if you did get some on your hands while peeing, no germs were deposited on your skin, and the anti-bacterial action of soap is unnecessary. The same is true in other situations like most food prep. On the other hand, soap cuts grease and is useful if washing up after eating a hamburger by hand, or other greasy tasks.

So, you are not that much wrong about your assumption.

However. This doesn't seem to be the kind of thing you want to get into an ongoing battle over with the g/f. If she's happier if you wash with soap and water, wash with soap and water.
posted by beagle at 6:04 AM on September 3, 2008

I have a female friend who never washes her hands after just peeing, citing that pee is sterile. Well, thats fine, but it is still gross and personally, whether it is sterile or not, I would prefer if I didn't have to handle things her pee-hands touched it. LOL

apart from that side story, I'd agree with beagle. it would add maybe 2 seconds to just wash with soap, and it would save you a whack of arguments/discussion with your girlfriend. Your call which is better.
posted by gwenlister at 6:11 AM on September 3, 2008

This exact topic has been covered over at the Straight Dope.
posted by Grither at 6:12 AM on September 3, 2008

Oh, and he comes to the following conclusions, so you don't have to click-through and read an entire article if you don't want to:
"The lesson to draw from this, however, is not that you can go forth dripping (yuck), but rather that just because you didn't pee on your fingers doesn't mean you can skip washing up."
And as a followup to someone asking why he doesn't get sick after performing certain sexual acts with his wife:
"Thus the apparent paradox: you can frolic with your honey all you want, but you still have to wash your hands after using the pot."
posted by Grither at 6:23 AM on September 3, 2008

(And the reasoning is that it has to do with bacteria on your penis, and not bacteria from your urine that you may or may not splash onto your hands while peeing)
posted by Grither at 6:24 AM on September 3, 2008

The feeling is, not the *pee* per se, but that you've touched your nasty bits, and now nasty-bit cooties are on your hands.

Now, she (hopefully) touches and allows your nasty bits in her nasty bits and mouth, so what, exactly, makes her ok with the cooties then and not at other times, is the question.
posted by notsnot at 6:25 AM on September 3, 2008

Yes, use soap. I'm going to quote from my answer to to a previous AskMe on why we wash our hands more carefully than our fruit:

Basically, hands are an extremely effective oral/fecal connector -- your hands touch things that have fecal matter on them, like your itchy butthole, and then you pick that thing out from your teeth three minutes later. Fruit is not an effective oral/fecal connector -- very few fruits are sprayed with blackwater (strawberries have been an exception, in a few cases) or pick up much fecal matter in the process of going from farm to store to your kitchen. So therefore you wash your hands carefully and often so as to not get nasty diseases like cholera and exciting parasites like worms, and you rinse your fruit to remove some dirt, pesticides, and random germs that might be along for the ride. You don't scrub your fruit with soap because fruit rarely has much on it that will make you sick.

To add to this, in your case you want to wash your hands more than once a day because even though you may be quite scrupulous about not picking your butthole right before shaking hands, the guy you are shaking hands with may not be. It's not that your penis is filthy and touching it makes your hands dirty (well, depending on what your sexual practices are, I suppose) — it's that peeing happens several times a day and is a great opportunity to clean your hands of whatever you have picked up in the intervening time.

That said, most people you interact with are unlikely to have cholera, and encountering a few germs and parasites now and then is good for your immune system. So don't take this too far, lathering up from head to toe with antimicrobial soap and so on. But a few times a day (and right before food prep especially) it's a good thing to use some regular soap and warm water for handwashing.

And before you start feeling guilty about your lack of cleanliness, note the studies of doctors (who really need to wash their hands, and who are highly educated on the subject) failing to wash their hands between patients — one study mentioned in this article found that only 9% of doctors were doing so. So the unwashed masses include not only you, but maybe also the doctor you saw last time you went to the clinic.
posted by Forktine at 6:28 AM on September 3, 2008

Dude, Xibe, I'm with you.

I personally believe that modern humans are waaaay too obsessed with hygiene and cleanliness and the threat of bacteria. I live in a campervan with my husband and I shower about twice a week. (I don't smell because I use deodorant and wear clean clothes and if I do smell I shower.)

Most of the time I wash my hands with just water, unless they are very dirty, have some kind chemicals on them (eg insect repellant) or I go to the toilet and it's not for a pee.

Often I prepare food without washing my hands. Often (since our little fridge don't work too well) I eat food that's past the due date or is a bit mouldy (just cut the mould off) or whatever. Husband and I HARDLY EVER GET SICK!

Exposure to "germs", bacteria, whatever keeps you healthy because your body gets the chance to develop many antibodies and is stronger as a result.

I'll risk getting crucified for this but I think that unless you work in a hospital, I'm pro "poor" hygiene.
posted by beccyjoe at 6:36 AM on September 3, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for answering seriously to my not-so-serious question :)

To quell thoughts that I'm not clean, I'd like to add that:
- I hardly touch the naughty bits, since I'm used to pee sitting down (hence the link to a selected answer of a previous AskMe thread of mine)
- After a pee, I don't let it drip (see same previous AskMe thread, which I think all guys could learn from :) ), but use a cumulation of methods I learnt from that thread.
- #2 obviously involves more watering AND even soap (on select, grand occasions ;) )
- I do always wash up with water after the loo - just not always with soap, only occasionally.
- Obviousyl I'll start soap-up now so as to appease the g/f - but out of lazyness, I might just keep my usual routine at work. The filth, I tell you! :)

And right now, I'm thinking some of you might have clicked on my MeFi profile and said to themselves, "aaah, these French guys, they do have problem with personal hygiene" :) Trust me, I (and we) don't, it's just a silly question :)
posted by XiBe at 6:39 AM on September 3, 2008

Mod note: comment removed - thread is not about deodorant, please take side questions to email, thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:55 AM on September 3, 2008

You do touch a toilet flush handle with your hands, right? The same handle that is touched after #2? Fecal bacteria right there. Ditto on turning on the faucet. I never understand why people overlook those places as germ sources and instead fixate on, "my naughty bits are clean." It's not really that much of a hardship to use a bit of soap, is it? Honestly?
posted by agregoli at 7:35 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

The earth is a great source of germs. You should wash your hands (with soap, you neanderthal) any time you come into contact with something there.
posted by toomuchpete at 8:07 AM on September 3, 2008

Soap breaks up oils and helps remove dirt (which is usally oil covered). It entices the oil into the water. This is why we use it. The only other way to get the oils and dirt out is to rub with a fair amount of effort for at least 30 or so seconds.

Just watering your hands is probably just a waste of time, unless you take some real efforts to rub the oils out as much as you can. The big advantage with soap is that you dont need to rub so hard and it does a better job with much less effort.

Also, I tend to ignore the pachuli crowd on stuff like this. Youre not a caveman, you live in a modern society and probably work in an office. You are touching a keyboard and other surfaces mother nature never intended for us. This is why we need extra protection from germs. Not to mention we dont have caveman life expectancies nor are we happy with a caveman-like qualify of life . Use the soap.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:15 AM on September 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

At work, after a #1, I tend to use soap, but more because it's a convenient opportunity to wash off any germs picked-up around the office (co-worker rugrats bring germs home from school which get carried to the office) or desk. #2 definitely always. At home, I'm not so concerned about #1, but do frequently wash my hands when I get home after running errands. You can't know what germs you've come in contact with from door handles, grocery carts, money, etc. So, yes, if a simple thing like washing my hands can keep me from being sick for a week, it's time well spent.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 8:26 AM on September 3, 2008

You are wrong. Use soap and warm water. Always.
posted by Zambrano at 9:46 AM on September 3, 2008

The friction is more important that the soap, the soap reduces the amount of time you should stand there rubbing your hands under the water. Warm water may have some effect on helping to dissolve oils, but really it just increases your comfort for washing your hands long enough to get them clean.

And duh, wash your hands with soap in front of your girlfriend.
posted by desuetude at 11:45 AM on September 3, 2008

notsnot writes "Now, she (hopefully) touches and allows your nasty bits in her nasty bits and mouth, so what, exactly, makes her ok with the cooties then and not at other times, is the question."

1. Her vagina is highly acidic, to kill bacteria. This is no perfect defense, so wash your cock before inserting it.
2. Her mouth is full of lots of bacteria adapted to it, which will out-compete foreign bacteria. This is no perfect defense, so wash your cock before inserting it.
3. The rest of her, and of you, not so much. Laboratory studies show we have different flora living on our elbows than on our hands. Flora that are no problem in an environment used to them--like your genitals -- can be a big problem where their newly introduced, like the rest of your body.

So you wash your hands so as not to transplant bacteria that are not a problem when living on your cock and balls, to your hands and face and wherever, where they might be a problem.

Really, just wash your hands.
posted by orthogonality at 12:23 PM on September 3, 2008

Wow. I'm participating in a research project around hand hygiene right now and, um, yeah. You would not BELIEVE the stuff that conveys germs. Also, did a demo with a petri dish that compared how germy hands were after washing with just water and water + soap. After seeing that, I will ALWAYS use soap.

By the way, even though YOU, Mr/Miss So-Amazingly-Germ-Resistant, never get sick, you are a carrier for germs on your hands to other surfaces. Those new people who have a weakened immune system (babies, little kids, HIV patients, your grandma) touch the surfaces that you touched after not washing their hands and BAM! They get sick. From you. Not washing your hands.

This is how doctors transport MRSA (which is no longer a hospital-only infection unfortunately), C. Diff, and all sorts of nasty infections from patient to patient. THEY don't get sick, but they are carriers. So will you be if you don't wash your hands.
posted by jeanmari at 6:21 PM on August 12, 2009

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