Updated on 03.23.07

Five Minute Finances #15: Wash Your Hands

Trent Hamm

Five Minute FinancesFive Minute Finances is a series of tips on how you can save significant money or reorganize your financial life in just five minutes. These tips appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on The Simple Dollar.

Does the title surprise you? It shouldn’t. The financial costs associated with germs spread by hand-to-hand and hand-to-face contact numbers at least in the billions per year. For example, just in the health care industry, “transfer of germs by caregivers due to poor hand hygiene can contribute to nearly 90,000 patient deaths per year and $4.5 billion in medical expenses” (from Riley Hospital for Children). This doesn’t include the costs in lost productivity and medical costs from hand-to-hand and hand-to-mouth contact in the general population, which likely dwarfs this.

Odds are that sometime in the last several years, you’ve come down with an illness of some sort, and the odds are good that this illness was caused by something borne on your hands. A regular hand washing regimen, which takes just thirty seconds, can strongly reduce this risk.

All you have to do is wash your hands thoroughly each time you use the restroom. Moisten your hands, cover them thoroughly in soap, rinse, and dry, and you’ll eliminate the vast majority of the germs that may take up residence on your hands and thus vastly reduce the risk of illness due to these pathogens. This reduces medical costs and also lost productivity – time when you could either be making money or doing something you love instead of lying in bed feeling miserable.

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  1. Grant Boston says:

    I completely agree with the need for good hygiene but I have a problem with using the hot air hand driers found in many facilities. All they do is provide an aerosol of warm, dry germs ready for you to inhale and probably anybody in the next ten minutes! Always use the towels in preference to the bug incubators!

  2. !wanda says:

    Very good advice. I’d also add that you should make sure your kid frequently washes his hands also. Young children tend to stick their hands everywhere, and because their immune systems don’t have as much experience, they are more susceptible to catching and passing on illnesses.

  3. david says:

    I used to get sick two, sometimes three times a year — routine colds, bronchitis, flu, etc. But about 4 years ago I began RELIGIOUSLY washing my hands many times throughout the day – after eating, after using the facilities, after shaking hands, etc.

    I haven’t had so much as a sniffle in 3+ years.

    It works.

  4. Plus, make a habit of not touching your mouth or your hands unless absolutely necessary. Licking your hands is not sanitary. Rubbing your eyes is usually not good for you either.

  5. Pas B says:

    I don’t recall the exact source, but I heard or read that the recommended (American Medical Association or similar organization’s advice on handwashing in hospitals) approach is to lather and rinse twice, with a combined time for handwashing of at least 20 seconds. That “does the job”.

    And when washing with soap and water, it’s the soap and water that do the trick. “Anti-bacterial” soaps don’t make a difference in the result for one’s hands, but may be putting us at risk by weeding out more susceptible bacteria, thus promoting the survivors and so reducing the efficacy of our bacteria killing options over the long term (months or years) as resistance builds.

    Also, I agree that washing one’s hands after a handshake or using a high-risk community object can be a big help. It drives me nuts to see others walk out of the restroom without washing or with the “momentary finger rinse”. But also outside of the restroom, there may be good times to consider washing. Is the person you just shook hands with coughing, sneezing, sniffling? Keep your hand away from your face and as soon as you leave their company, discretely pop into the restroom and wash your hands. Do they appear healthy? Maybe they are on a cold medication, and/or one of those non-washers from the restroom.

  6. Debbie says:

    Medical professionals spend a long time rubbing their hands together in different ways once the soap is on, and they also apply soap up to their elbows. To make myself do a fair amount of rubbing (and save water), I like to keep the water at a small stream, then after I am done scrubbing, I will have to do a lot more rubbing to get all the soap off in the small stream of water.

    And you know how it takes a while for those hot air dryers to get your hands dry? Well if you just shake your hands off a bit and walk around rubbing your hands together with no hot air, it seems to take about the same amount of time.

  7. rhbee says:

    Okay, another thing to fear. Instead of letting our immune systems work we turn to compulsive hand wringing. What’s next in the pantheon of (or should I say lexicon) of things to be afraid of. We’ve already got museum and movie theaters afraid of back packs, and grocery stores afraid of being sued for not providing wet wipes (who thought up that name anyway?) for the shopping carts. You folks need to give a thought to what the effect of building fear has done to our world. Women who mace first and question after, cops who shoot to kill, Canada making war instead of sponsoring peace initiatives. Sure there are diseases to catch out there but acting fearfully, worrying about our neighbors, making more and more laws to protect us is not the only way to dael with them. I agree with the comedian George Carlin when he points out that we should trust ourselves more in all of these situations. And by the way, just because some hospital administrator comes up with another way to use our fears to raise money by creating a statistic that wont bear analysis (can contribute to 90,000 patient deaths give me a break) is no reason to go off half-cocked and drive ourselves crazy over whether our kids have washed their hands often enough.

  8. Washing your hands often and trying not to touch your open mucous membranes without washing your hands first is simply prudent. It might help you live longer. Take it or leave it. We’re not telling you not to go out and enjoy the world.

  9. Tim says:

    i’m not a big fan of constantly washing my hands or using the anti-bacteria hand gel all the time. i’m a fan of kids eating dirt. what the analysis doesn’t show is the affect of over sanitization has had on immunization. god, not too long ago when i was in elementary school there was nothing about peanut allergies, etc. having traveled to more 3rd world countries than i care to remember, my fortunate run of good health i attribute to eating worms and dirt as a kid.

  10. Nepkarel says:

    Hear hear Tim! Was just gonna write the same!

    In fact, I would recommend to all those car commuters to go and use the bus or the metro a couple times in flew season, so you can sniff up a wiz while you’re in transit, develop antibodies, and not get sick anymore.

    Oh, and has anybody pointed out yet that the dirtiest air in the USA is often found in poorly vented houses? So: open those windows! Also on code red days in downtown Big City!

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