Your Hand Washing Beliefs are Quaint, Misinformed, and Conformist
(And I am using “quaint” in the derogatory, uppish, sense of the word)
I am a known germophobe. Not a compulsive germophobe, but enough of one that I prefer not to grab public doorknobs. It may be a surprise, then, that I think hand washing after using the bathroom is a silly affair. To be clear, my thesis is that hand washing just because you went to the bathroom is silly. Imagine you washed your hands, then went to the bathroom, then washed your hands again because you used the bathroom. I call that silly. Here’s why:
- Like the elitist father in Oh the Glory of It All tells his son, “You should wash your hands first, before you use the urinal. Not after. Your penis isn’t dirty. But your hands are.” Your nether-regions are no more contaminated than your toothbrush. Unless you are actually touching your waste products when you use the bathroom (in which case you have bigger problems than hand washing, neglecting splashback, of course), there is no dirtiness you contract from holding your wee wee.
- In 1975 Professor Gerba published a scientific article describing the little-known phenomenon of bacterial and viral aerosols due to toilet flushing. “If an alien came from space and studied the bacterial counts,” the professor says, “he probably would conclude he should wash his hands in your toilet and crap in your sink.” That’s right. The real nastiness in the bathroom lives in the sink (because it is wet), on the faucet handles, on the towel dispensers and doorknobs. I could not dig up an article on the subject, but I bet if you took 2 subjects, had them both wash their hands and use a public lav, but only had one of them wash a second time afterwards, the guy who washed the hands will have more bacteria and herpes. From personal observation, I notice most people do not wash their hands germophobe style. That is, they touch every surface and orifice in the restroom during and after washing. I contend it is more cleanly to not wash and avoid touching things than to wash and fondle the lever of the towel machine.
I am a regular hand washer and believe washing is a good thing. I have a sinister chuckle, however, when I see someone use the bathroom, wash their hands, and then give the door handle a hearty squeeze on the way out.