Only 5% of Americans Wash Their Hands Right

Men, in particular, could use a refresher course on hygiene.

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(c) Sean Justice

In news that’s sure to upset germophobes everywhere, a study from Michigan State University has found that 95% of people do not wash their hands properly.

According to the New York Times, the study’s authors dispatched twelve undercover researchers to public restrooms in a college town in Michigan, where they surreptitiously monitored 3,749 people as they scrubbed, rinsed, or just zipped up their pants and left.

(MORE: Could Hand-washing Boost Your Workplace Productivity?)

The researchers found that for every 100 people observed, only five washed their hands properly, meaning they washed their hands with soap for at least 15 seconds. The Atlantic notes that even this standard falls short of the CDC’s guidelines, which advise a good twenty-second scrub of the hands (front, back, between the fingers and under the nails) or long enough to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

The remaining 95% showed a widespread disregard for the CDC’s, researchers’, or even a typical parent’s daily reminders. Twenty-three percent washed without soap. Another ten percent didn’t wash their hands at all. Men, in particular, could use a refresher course on hygiene. Researchers saw only half of the men reach for the soap dispenser, compared with 79% of women. The authors published their findings in the June issue of the Journal of Environmental Health.

(MORE: How Hand-washing Helps Ease Your Mind)

The results surprised the study’s authors, who had seen much higher rates of hygienic behavior in previous hand-washing studies, according to CBS News. And yes, hand washing does comprise an entire field of study.  The CDC notes that the simple act of hand washing is one of the “most effective” things someone can do to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, while the WHO has designated October 15, “Global Handwashing Day,” because, as the organizers note, “the habit of handwashing could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention.”