Washing Your Hands – Just Do it, Already!

Why will you not wash your hands? Seriously, it’s not that hard. It doesn’t take that long. And everyone else in the bathroom is going to give you the side-eye if you don’t do it.

Also, you need to use soap. That “running your hands under the water and then drying them” thing doesn’t actually consist of any washing. The germs don’t actually flee from water alone (even if they do flee from some- but not all!- of those sanitizing hand gels).

Don’t think it’s that big of a deal?

It’s that big of a deal. If there has been a time in the past week when you haven’t washed your hands after going to the bathroom or before eating, then I need you to watch the TED talk by Myriam Sidibe on the power of hand-washing with soap. If you have washed your hands every single time this week, watch it anyway for bonus points, and also because it’s seriously compelling and is less than 12 minutes long.

The list of diseases that just washing your hands with soap can protect you from is astounding: the common cold. Stomach bugs. Shigellosis. Cholera. The flu. Freaking ebola!

More important, of course, is the list of all the people in vulnerable populations whom you will protect when you wash your hands with soap. You don’t have to know them to protect them this way, and you don’t even have to know that you’re sick. True story: I once had whooping cough for, like, three weeks and didn’t realize that’s what I had. During that time, I traveled cross-country, hitting several of the nation’s most populous tourist spots. Oops!

At least I washed my hands?

Vulnerable populations could be said to include not just the immune-compromised or the very young and very old, but also those for whom hand-washing with soap is not a cultural practice. This was news to me, this fact that some cultures do not commonly practice hand-washing, and I can see Sidibe’s optimism, in her talk, that simply changing this one feature could prevent so much childhood death and disease. I also admit that her action plan to recruit soap companies to advertise to these populations, spreading the promotion of hand-washing as they do so, is genius.

And yet it still feels gross to me (not as gross as a pair of unwashed hands, but gross nevertheless) that one would have to rely on a for-profit company, going about its for-profit business, to spread a vital public service message. The companies that have pockets deep enough to advertise this message are also going to make those pockets even deeper with the success of that message, since they’re selling soap, not giving it away.

What you really need to do, of course, to thwart the Man, protect vulnerable populations, and keep diarrhea at bay, is to MAKE your soap. Handmade soap doesn’t contain artificial antibacterial agents, packaging headed for the landfill, or a price tag designed to deepen company pockets. It smells just the way you want it to smell, looks just the way you want it to look, and washes the poop off of your hands just as well as the store-bought stuff.


[handwashing image via Sean Winters, using CC2.0. I added text and re-release it under the same.]

Written by Julie Finn

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