Washing your hands after urinating is probably what you do on autopilot. (Though if you’re someone who struggles with hygiene tasks—like washing your hands, brushing your teeth, and even showering—that’s okay, you’re not alone.) The point is, the reality is, we’re all ingrained. in the beginning that washing your hands is one of the best ways to stay healthy and prevent the spread of germs, especially after you conduct your business. But sometimes when you’re in a hurry (or simply don’t want to), you might want to skip the sink and move on. It can’t be that big deal, right?
While it’s possible to leave the bathroom without washing your hands and live to tell the story, it’s not the best way. This habit can increase the risk of various infections—so out of all the cleaning tasks to strive for regularly, this one is at the top of the list. Inconclusive? An infection prevention expert explains the importance of washing hands after urinating.
How germs spread in the bathroom
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), germs can be spread in a myriad of ways. Some germs are passed from person to person through airborne droplets, while others are spread by touching contaminated surfaces.
Specifically, in the bathroom environment, germs spread by the second route. Your hands can pick up small bugs when you are urinating, wiping, and blush, according to Hannah Newman, MPH, CIC, FAPIC, director of infection prevention at Lenox Hill Hospital. Furthermore, every time the toilet flushes, microorganisms and fecal particles become aerosolized (that is, suspended in the air) and land on other surfaces like doorknobs, she says.
In other words, using the bathroom is one of many ways germs can get into your hands. Taking 20 seconds to wash your hands with soapy water effectively removes germs. But is it really dangerous if you don’t?
Why you should wash your hands after urinating
Here’s the problem: Many types of disease-causing bacteria can contaminate public and private bathrooms, Newman says. This includes E coli, Salmonella bacteriaand Staphylococcus aureusjust to name a few bacteria.
Many of these microorganisms can survive for several hours on inanimate surfaces, Newman explains, assuming the bathroom is not cleaned. “Others, such as norovirus, Clostridioides difficileand hepatitis A, which can persist for weeks or months,” she added. For example, according to Newman, C. difficile—a gastrointestinal bacteria that causes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea—evolved to form spores or a protective “shell” that allows it to last for up to five years ( yes, five) month.
Now, hopefully you’re disinfecting your bathroom more often than every 5 months. But the point is, the bathroom is like a party house for potentially harmful bacteria, making it easy for bacteria to stick to your hands. This is especially common in public bathrooms, which are often high-traffic areas and may or may not be cleaned frequently.
All that said, you should always wash your hands with soap and water after urinating, Newman says. It’s the best way to reduce your risk of getting sick or spreading germs to others. Newman adds, washing hands after urinating is even more important “before preparing food, touching your eyes, nose, mouth, or face, or caring for people at risk of illness.”
But what if you’re not planning on doing any of these after urinating? According to Newman, you should still wash your gloves every time. Otherwise, you could spread those germs to other surfaces (think: keyboard, phone, or steering wheel) that you might touch before eating or touching the back.
How to wash your hands properly
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, proper hand washing is a particularly hot topic. But in case you need to reiterate, Newman explains how to properly wash your hands:
- Wet hands thoroughly; Water temperature doesn’t matter, but avoid using water that is too hot, which can dry out your skin.
- Add an adequate amount of soap, about a dime-sized amount, to lather and apply to your hands.
- Lather and scrub every part of your hand, focusing on hard-to-reach areas like under fingernails, between fingers, bottom of thumb and under jewelry.
- Rub your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.
- Wash your hands.
- Dry your hands with a paper towel.
While doing this, you can use a tissue to turn off the sink and open the bathroom door, says Newman, to avoid re-contaminating your freshly cleaned hands.
If you can’t get to the sink, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. But remember, overall, washing your hands with soapy water is always the best practice. As Newman notes, “alcohol cannot penetrate through spore-forming bacteria such as C. difficulthence the physical friction of washing hands [will] remove those bacteria from your hands.”
In short, it’s always best to wash your hands after urinating, especially before eating or touching your face. It may seem annoying, but it’s one of the easiest ways to stay healthy and ward off disease.