Healthy Hand Washing Survey Examines 11 Years of Americans’ Hand Washing Habits

Thorough hand washing with soap, clean water and a scrubbing motion is highly effective in removing bacteria, viruses and other disease-causing microorganisms from the surface of the skin. Rub hands together, scrub front, back and in between fingers for at least 20 seconds and then rinse and dry. Image courtesy of Bradley Corp.

MENOMONEE FALLS, Wis. — In the 11 years that Bradley Corporation has been conducting its Healthy Hand Washing Survey, some hand washing practices in the U.S. have changed significantly. But one finding has remained fairly consistent: 97% of Americans believe it is important to wash their hands after using a public restroom.   

The company fielded its first survey in July 2009 when the H1N1 virus was a national concern. Back then, just 45% of Americans said they elevated their hand hygiene in response to virus outbreaks. 

By 2019, the number of flu-fighting hand washers in the U.S. had risen to 79%. The majority of Americans now respond to virus outbreaks by washing their hands more frequently, more thoroughly or longer. 

“The steady rise in hand washing diligence in America may, in part, stem from several significant flu seasons over the past decade – particularly flu seasons in 2009, 2015 and 2018,” says Jon Dommisse, director of strategy and corporate development for Bradley Corp. “Now, the unprecedented spread of coronavirus has placed an even more intense spotlight on the importance of thorough hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.”

A national focus on outbreaks does have an affect on hand hygiene. 50% of Americans say news coverage of cold and flu outbreaks has a “very large” or “somewhat large” impact on their hand washing behavior.

According to the Healthy Hand Washing Survey conducted by Bradley Corp., 64% of Americans correctly believe that hand washing is more effective in removing germs than hand sanitizer.

Throughout the years, Bradley Corp. has asked a variety of questions about hand washing habits, germs, the flu and colds, and has found:

  • Prior to the coronavirus, the majority of Americans were not washing their hands long enough. 57% estimated they washed their hands for just 5 to 15 seconds. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing for at least 20 seconds.
  • 75% said they didn’t increase their hand washing during any specific time of the year.  
  • Almost 40% of Americans said they’re more likely to wash their hands after seeing a sign that requires employees to wash before returning to work. 
  • 51% said the presence of other people causes them to adjust their actions. They’ll make sure they wash their hands or they’ll wash longer or more thoroughly.
  • Women consistently wash their hands more often than men. In 2019, 90% of women said they wash their hands after using a public restroom vs. 83% of men.
  • 48% of Americans said they would feel completely comfortable using a restroom in a doctor’s office or other health care facility.
  • The top actions after which Americans make a point of washing their hands (excluding after using the toilet) are: coughing (54%), handling a sick child (53%), sneezing (52%), changing a diaper (46%), using a shopping cart (43%), visiting a doctor’s office (40%) and touching money (38%).

The most recent Healthy Hand Washing 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 survey found:

  • Even before coronavirus hit the United States, 60% of Americans were 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. 
  • 64% of Americans correctly believe that hand washing is more effective in removing germs than hand sanitizer – a fact supported by the CDC.
  • 94% of Americans said they change how they greet people when they are sick.

Bradley Corp. is a leading manufacturer of commercial plumbing fixtures, washroom accessories, restroom partitions, emergency fixtures and solid plastic lockers.

For more information, visit

For almost 100 years, Bradley has created the most complete and advanced commercial washrooms and comprehensive solutions that make industrial environments safe. Bradley is the industry’s leading source for multi-function hand washing and drying fixtures, accessories, partitions, solid plastic lockers, as well as emergency safety fixtures and electric tankless heaters for industrial applications. Headquartered in Menomonee Falls, Wis., USA, Bradley serves commercial, institutional and industrial building markets worldwide. For more information visit

Source: Bradley Corporation

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