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Survey: Hand Washing is Americans’ Top Defense to Avoid Spreading Germs

By Jon Dommisse

March 18, 2020


Not only is it flu season, but Coronavirus has been declared a global pandemic. Health experts agree that hand washing with soap and water is a key deterrent to fighting these sicknesses and can protect people from getting sick.


For the past 11 years, Bradley Corporation’s annual Healthy Hand Washing Survey has kept a pulse on Americans’ beliefs and actions relating to hand hygiene, germs, cold and flu and public restrooms.


The most recent survey queried American adults and youth online Dec. 11-16, 2019. Participants were from around the country, were 14 years and older, and were fairly evenly split between men and women (47% and 53%).



The following are some of this year’s survey results. See how your answers compare with those of more than 1,000 American adults who were surveyed:


When flu season hits, do you find yourself washing your hands more often to ward off sickness?

If the answer is “yes,” you are in the majority of Americans who become more conscientious about hand washing during flu outbreaks. Even before COVID-19 hit the U.S., nearly 80% said they wash their hands more frequently, more thoroughly or longer after using a public restroom when flu is running rampant.


In addition, concern about contracting the flu has been sky high. In December 2019 when Bradley’s survey was fielded, 60% of Americans said they are “extremely” or “quite concerned” about catching the flu, compared to just 32% who felt that way four years ago. Among all age groups, Millennials expressed the most trepidation about getting sick.


Bradley’s survey found that an increase in news reports about the flu also appears to make us more vigilant about washing our hands. Bradley’s survey found that 50% of Americans say news coverage about cold and flu outbreaks has a “very large” or “somewhat large” impact on their hand washing behavior.



If you have a choice between hand washing with soap or using hand sanitizer, which one does a better job of removing germs?

If you chose “washing hands” as the better germ remover, you are correct! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that hand washing is more effective in removing germs than hand sanitizer. In Bradley’s survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans correctly believe that hand washing is the go-to defender against germs. However, it’s if soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer is a good second option for removing germs.



Have you ever simply rinsed your hands with water before leaving a public restroom?

If you skipped the soap, you have company. Unfortunately, there is a rinse-and-run phenomenon in public restrooms. 67% admit they’ve skipped the soap and simply rinsed their hands with water after using a public restroom. Of all the age groups, Gen Z (those aged 14-22) is mostly likely to short cut hand washing with 73% admitting they’ve only rinsed their hands.



Clearly, buzz about flu season kicks American’s hand washing behavior into high gear, which is a good thing – as long as soap and water are used. According to health experts, such as medical microbiologist Michael P. McCann, Ph.D., professor of biology, Saint Joseph’s University:


“Thorough hand washing with soap and water remains the best way to reduce the spread of disease-causing microorganisms like COVID-19. Soap and water, used as per the evidence-based recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies, will help reduce the spread of flu and other illnesses in the home and work place.”


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By Jon Dommisse, director of strategy and corporate development for Bradley Corp.