Thank You for Washing

I realize I run the risk of coming off as a grumpy curmudgeon for writing this. (I’m not, really. I’m actually quite nice and more often happy than not, if you get to know me. I promise!) But even still, I’m going to write it. I feel like I owe it to my fellow Americans. Or at least my fellow bathroom users (which I’m assuming just about all of you are).

I spend a lot of time in public bathrooms. It seems like every outing I take, about thirty percent of my minutes are used for bathroom time. This is partly because two of my small children are (supposedly) potty-trained, and also because my bladder thinks I’m still pregnant. I have to pee a lot. (The obscene amount of diet coke and coffee I drink may also have something to do with it.)

I am a fast peer, however, so quite a lot of my bathroom minutes are spent standing outside the stall waiting for one of my girls to finish going (and pulling up their pants and flushing in the most agonizingly slow manner possible). While I’m waiting there, inevitably, two or three (or ten) other women come in, finish their business, and leave. So as you can imagine, I’ve observed a LOT of other people’s public bathroom rituals.

From my (admittedly unscientific) observational research, it seems like this is what the majority of people feel passes for “washing” your hands: Pump some soap into your palm. Then, hold your hand under the running water so that the soap slips off your palm and into the sink. With the four molecules of soap you have left, swipe your palms past each other two or three times (make sure not to touch the backs of your hands, in between your fingers, your fingernails, or your wrists!), then rinse the non-existent soap from your palms and dry.

Congratulations! You are now leaving the bathroom with poopy hands (as my kids would say). Or maybe pee pee hands. Not quite as disgusting, but still not something many people want, I would think.

Honestly, I’m not lying when I tell you that at least three-quarters of the people I’ve seen wash their hands in public do it this way. Where are they getting the idea that this will make their hands clean? How does it even make sense? Hey! I rinsed that soap right off before it even had a chance to touch more than a square inch of my hand! Now that feels clean!

And while I recognize that the people I happen to come across in public bathrooms are not a scientifically representative sample, it seems unlikely that they are the only people in America who “wash” their hands this way. Do the cooks in the restaurants where I eat do this? What about all the people I shake hands with every day? Or the people who stock the produce in my grocery store?

I feel like I’m starting to sound a little OCD. Maybe I am. But I also just don’t want other people’s poop to end up in my mouth. Is that so wrong?

The right way to wash your hands is this: Get your hands wet first. Then pump the soap into your palm. Then rub your hands together for at least twenty seconds outside of the running water, not under it. (My kids sing the ABC song while they’re doing this part. It’s fun! You could also sing “Happy Birthday” twice.) Get all the parts of your hands and wrists, and then rinse. Rinsing is the last part. It comes after washing.

If you don’t believe me, check out these reputable sources written by very smart scientists with billions of post-graduate degrees. (OK, not billions, but a lot more than most people have):

Or you could just look at this cute little poster that you’ve probably seen in hundreds of public bathrooms across the country:


Anyway, five minutes from now, I’m sure I’ll be back to my usual Christmas cheer. But after spending a lot of time out shopping (and peeing!) this weekend, this was bugging me. Thanks for listening. 🙂

2 thoughts on “Thank You for Washing

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