Scientists have determined that we’ve all been washing our hands the wrong way. They say the simple soap up, vigorously rub until lather forms, then rinse method that we’ve been using isn’t very effective at killing the bacteria that collects on our hands.
A study conducted by a university in Scotland concluded that the common three-step method only reduced the “average bacterial count”on hands from “3.08 colony-forming units per milliliter to 2.88.” The study advocates, instead, for a six-step method that involves the initial soap-up step followed by scrubbing the backs of hands, the backs of fingers, between fingers, then rotational rubbing of your thumbs, and finally the fingers on your opposite hand. If it sounds complicated, it is: the study confesses that only 65 percent of people who were given an instruction sheet did it correctly. The average time to correctly complete the six-step procedure, incidentally, was 42.5 seconds.
But here’s the rub: after doing the six-step hand fandango, there were still an average of 2.58 colony-forming units of bacteria per milliliter on the study participants’ hands. In other words, even after you’ve vigorously scrubbed away and performed the “rotational rubbing of your thumbs” for a full 42.5 seconds, more than half of those bacteria that had been on your hands are still there, ready to form a “colony.”
And that’s not even the worst part. Standing in front of the sink in a public restroom washing your hands for 42.5 seconds is the functional equivalent of an eternity. Nobody spends that much time washing their hands — not even Howard Hughes. If you stood at a sink in a public bathroom for 42.5 seconds aggressively scouring your hands in a lathery storm, any other person who happened to be in the bathroom at the same time would conclude that you are either trying to eliminate DNA evidence after committing murder or on the verge of being committed for raging hypochondria.
So I don’t think I’m going to be spending 42.5 seconds enduring the over-the-top fragrances of hand soaps and giving my thumbs a workout in order to marginally reduce, but not come close to eliminate altogether, the bacteria hanging out on my hands. I’ll stick with the three-step method, get out of the bathroom within a reasonable time, and just let those hardy surviving bacteria go about their colony-forming business.