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Women Better At Hand Hygiene Habits, Hands Down

September 22, 2005
American Society for Microbiology
Ninety-one percent of American adults say they always wash their hands after using public restrooms. But just eighty-three percent actually did so, according to a separate observational study.

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 21, 2005 – Ninety-one percent of Americanadults say they always wash their hands after using public restrooms.But just 83 percent actually did so, according to a separateobservational study.

These results were among those released by the American Society forMicrobiology (ASM) and The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA), duringa press conference highlighting National Clean Hands Week. Both groupshave used surveys over the years to help highlight a vital publichealth message from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC):

The single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands.

An August 2005 study conducted for ASM and SDA by Harris Interactive®observed 6,336 individuals wash their hands – or not – at six publicattractions in four major cities: Atlanta (Turner Field), Chicago(Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium), New York City (GrandCentral Station, Penn Station), and San Francisco (Ferry TerminalFarmers Market).

Ninety percent of the women observed washed their hands, compared to 75percent of men. By contrast, in an August 2005 telephone survey of1,013 American adults also conducted by Harris Interactive®, 97 percentof women and 96 percent of men say they always or usually wash theirhands after using a public restroom.

"The American Society for Microbiology has been focusing on increasingpublic awareness of clean hands in periodic campaigns since 1996, andthis message remains one of our most important priorities," accordingto Judy Daly, Ph.D. Dr. Daly is the elected Secretary of the Societyand Director of the Microbiology Laboratories, Primary Children'sMedical Center, Salt Lake City, Utah and Professor in the Department ofPathology, University of Utah School of Medicine.

"Good health is within reach," said Brian Sansoni, Vice President ofCommunication at The Soap and Detergent Association. "Washing with soapand water is still the gold standard when it comes to removing dirt andgrime from our hands. But if soap and water are out of reach, handsanitizers and wipes are great hygiene tools to have on hand."

Sports Fans, Time to Clean Up

Among those observed, fansat Atlanta's Turner Field had the worst hand hygiene habits.Approximately a quarter (26%) did not wash their hands after using thefacilities (84% of the women washed their hands; 37% of the guysdidn't).

New York Travelers: Guys Have a Ways to Go

The greatest gender disparity observed between women and menhandwashers was in New York's Penn Station: 92 percent of the womenwashed their hands, compared to only 64 percent of the men.

San Francisco: Pretty Clean

Those traveling through San Francisco's Ferry Terminal Farmers Marketfared best in the observed handwashing study: 88 percent washed theirhands; only 12 percent did not.

Survey Reveals Inconsistent Hygiene Habits

The telephone survey questioned a nationally representative sample of1,013 American adults. Large majorities answered they always wash theirhands after such activities as using a public restroom (91%), using thebathroom at home (83%), before handling or eating food (77%), andchanging a diaper (73%).

Much poorer habits were revealed as fewer indicated they always washedtheir hands after petting a dog or cat (42%), after handling money(21%), and, most shockingly, after coughing or sneezing (32%).

"Only 24 percent of men and 39 percent of women say they always washtheir hands after coughing or sneezing," said the SDA's Brian Sansoni."We have to do a better job here in stopping the spread of the germsthat make us sick."

Contrary to what many people believe, cold and influenzaviruses are spread much more often by hands than through airbornetransmission from sneezing, according to Daly. "We unconsciously touchour mouths, noses, and eyes many, many times each day," she said."These mucous membranes are welcome mats for cold and flu viruses,which are readily transferred from unclean hands."

Comparisons to Past Surveys

Survey respondents may be more forthcoming about theirhygiene habits than in the past – or else their habits are gettingworse. Over the last seven years, men's admitted handwashing habitshave declined slightly when it comes to washing their hands after usingthe bathroom at home, changing a diaper and before handling food.

Meantime, in 2005, slightly fewer women admit to washing their handsafter using a public restroom (97% of women said they did in an August2003 Wirthlin Worldwide survey for ASM, 94% said so in the 2005 HarrisInteractive survey).

"Although many Americans are beginning to recognize the importance ofwashing their hands, we still need to reach many others," Daly says."Our message is clear: one of the most effective tools in preventingthe spread of infection is literally at our fingertips."

The ASM site has information about current andpast surveys as well as downloadable educational resources in Englishand in Spanish.

SDA also has hand hygiene educational resources available online at itswebsite, – click on the "Hand Hygiene" button.

ASM and SDA are both members of the Clean Hands Coalition, a nationalalliance of public and private partners working to create and supportcoordinated, sustained initiatives to significantly improve health andsave lives through clean hands. The Coalition's website is

Observational Survey Methodology

Harris Interactive conducted an observational study on behalf of theAmerican Society for Microbiology and The Soap and DetergentAssociation in August 2005 among 6,336 adults, of whom 3,206 were menand 3,310 were women, in public restrooms located at major publicattractions in the U.S. and recorded whether or not they washed theirhands after using the facilities. The research was conducted in fourcities and at six different locations:

  • Atlanta – Turner Field
  • Chicago – Museum of Science and Industry and Shedd Aquarium
  • New York City – Penn Station and Grand Central Station
  • San Francisco – Ferry Terminal Farmers Market

Observers discreetly watched and recorded whether or not adults usingpublic restrooms washed their hands. Observers were instructed to groomthemselves (comb their hair, put on make-up, etc.) while observing andto rotate bathrooms every hour or so to avoid counting repeat usersmore than once. Observers were also instructed to wash their hands nomore than 10% of the time.

Telephone Survey Methodology

Harris Interactive conductedthe telephone survey on behalf of the American Society for Microbiologyand The Soap and Detergent Association between August 19 and 22, 2005among 1,013 U.S. adults aged 18+, of whom 486 were men and 527 werewomen. Data were weighted to be representative of the entire U.S. adultpopulation by gender, education, ethnicity and region.

In theory, with samples of this size, one could say with 95percent certainty that the overall results have a sampling error ofplus or minus 3 percentage points of what they would be if the entireU.S. adult population had been polled with complete accuracy.

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American Society for Microbiology. "Women Better At Hand Hygiene Habits, Hands Down." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 September 2005. <>.
American Society for Microbiology. (2005, September 22). Women Better At Hand Hygiene Habits, Hands Down. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from
American Society for Microbiology. "Women Better At Hand Hygiene Habits, Hands Down." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 23, 2017).