Covid-19 and hand washing

29th of January 2021
Covid-19 and hand washing
Covid-19 and hand washing

Posters, leaflets, stickers, government messages – everywhere we look there are reminders of the need to practise good hand hygiene to prevent the spread of Covid-19. But how are we responding? Tork manufacturer Essity has conducted a survey into people’s attitudes to hand hygiene in the wake of the pandemic - and the results are fascinating.

The hand hygiene message is being constantly rammed home in the wake of Covid-19. The advice could not be clearer. We should be washing our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time. We should be drying them thoroughly afterwards. And we should be practising hand washing more frequently – particularly after using the washroom, before and after handling food, after blowing our noses, before tending to the needs of the sick, etc.

We could probably recite these guidelines in our sleep. But are we following them?

The public response has actually been generally positive according to a study by Tork manufacturer Essity. The poll of more than 10,000 people in 15 countries has revealed that around three-quarters of us are now washing our hands more frequently as a result of Covid-19.

The average number of hand washes we perform each day has reached 10 compared with eight before the global pandemic began. Women are more likely to wash their hands than men with females now washing their hands 12 times day compared with nine for the average man.

Use soap

According to experts, it is particularly important to use soap when hand washing because this helps to break down the fatty shell around the virus - its weakest link. The soap lather needs to penetrate all the folds and wrinkles of the hands, pulling the virus apart and making it soluble in water. The deactivated virus is then rinsed away down the sink along with any dirt to which it might have been adhering.

Scientists believe that it takes at least 20 seconds for this process to work – hence the advice to wash our hands for that length of time. And this advice is being heeded by 62 per cent of us, according to the Essity survey.

The study also showed that more than 80 per cent of people are adopting the correct hand washing technique of wetting their hands, using enough soap to cover both hands and then rinsing them in running water afterwards. However, only 55 per cent claimed to dry their hands on a clean cloth or single-use towel afterwards, while just 24 per cent said they used a towel to turn off the tap
after washing.

Why wash?

The motivations behind people’s enhanced hand hygiene protocols were particularly revealing. A total of 77 per cent of respondents claimed their chief reason for washing the hands was to protect themselves from virus transmission – and not to protect others. This was particularly true in Russia where 92 per cent of people said they washed their hands to protect themselves compared with only six per cent who did so to protect other people.

In the UK, the figures were little better at 77 per cent and eight per cent respectively. But Mexico was at the other end of the spectrum with 65 per cent claiming to wash their hands to protect themselves while 34 per cent did so for other people’s benefit.

This instinct to protect oneself first was reflected in people’s hand washing behaviours. For example, 48 per cent of respondents said they would routinely wash their hands after using a shared device such as a phone or tablet, whereas only 25 per cent would cleanse their hands before doing so.

Similarly, 58 per cent said they washed their hands after travelling on public transport, though only 27 per cent did so beforehand. And while 78 per cent of people performed a hand wash after arriving home from a public space, only 38 per cent did the same before visiting one.

This mindset could be an issue, according to Essity global brand innovation manager Carolyn Berland. “Despite a high level of solidarity with frontline workers during this pandemic, our survey results indicate that we could be doing more when it comes to washing our hands for others,” she said.

The Essity survey, carried out in July 2020, formed part of a regular biennial study by the company focusing on topics such as sustainability, public hygiene, incontinence, menstruation and health stigmas. This year Essity decided to take a “deep dive” into the coronavirus pandemic and include people’s reactions to hygiene and health issues around Covid-19.

One interesting finding was the way in which people have changed their everyday habits in a bid to prevent virus transmission.

No shaking hands

For example, around six out of 10 people said they no longer shook hands with others as a result of Covid-19. But of those who still did so, 55 per cent said they would wash their hands afterwards. And people in the 18-25 age group were more likely to shake hands, hug and kiss their peers than those of other ages.

The study also showed that people had become more fearful of everyday actions such as travelling on public transport or using a public washroom. These two activities emerged as the highest areas of concern with 56 per cent of respondents fearing they might contract Covid-19 on aeroplanes, trains or buses and 53 per cent expressing a similar fear about public toilets. Only 23 per cent felt at significant risk when either going to work or school, however.

One thing was clear – people expect higher standards of public hygiene as a result of Covid-19. A total of 72 per cent of respondents had higher expectations of hygiene standards in hospitals while 60 and 57 per cent said the same of restaurants and public washrooms respectively.

The importance of keeping pubic washrooms well stocked with hand washing supplies became evident in the study results. When asked about the issues that might prevent people from washing their hands more often during the pandemic, the most often-cited response was a lack of hand hygiene facilities or products. A total of 15 per cent said this was the case while 11 per cent said hand dryness was an issue.

And despite all those hand hygiene messages in the form of posters, advertisements, social media and government guidelines, it appears that people are trusting their own instincts when it comes to hand washing - and are fairly confident that they are doing the right thing.

Doing  the right thing

Eight out of 10 people questioned in the Essity study believed they washed their hands a sufficient number of times per day to be safe. And while 72 per cent said they looked to experts and scientists for their hand hygiene recommendations, the same percentage said they trusted their own gut instincts to get things right.

All in all the trend is a positive one. But the study shows how important it is to refrain from being complacent – and to question our motivations when washing our hands.

Good communication is crucial in terms of changing the public’s mindset, according to Essity vice president marketing Alberto Cajiga. “We would like to inspire everyone - from business owners to employees and from students to parents - to wash their hands not only to protect themselves, but also to help others to feel secure and stay healthy,” he said.


Related Articles

Our Partners

  • ISSA Interclean
  • EFCI
  • EU-nited