News Masthead


Contact: Brian Sansoni, 202-662-2517 or

Hands Down: Hygiene Habits Remain Stagnant

  • SDA Clean Hands Report Card®: Americans Still Get a C-
  • Clean Hands Week September 21-27: Time to Prepare for Cold and Flu Season

Summary/Key Findings

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 18, 2008 – Despite the threat of getting sick during cold and flu season, less Americans say they are regularly washing their hands.

The fourth Clean Hands Report Card®, issued by The Soap and Detergent Association (, gives Americans a “C-minus” for their hand hygiene habits, the same grade they received back in 2006.

The Report Card is based on a series of hygiene-related questions asked of 916 Americans during a telephone survey conducted in August 2008 by Echo Research.

Among the findings of SDA’s 2008 survey:

  • Only 85% say they always wash their hands after going to the bathroom (down from 92% in 2006).
  • 46% of respondents wash their hands 15 seconds or less. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and SDA recommends washing with soap at least 15-20 seconds.
  • 39% surveyed seldom or never wash their hands after coughing or sneezing (compared to 36% in 2006).
  • 35% don’t always wash before eating lunch (in 2006, 31% failed to wash up before lunch.

“Americans should prepare for the onslaught of cold and flu season,” said Nancy Bock, SDA Vice President of Education. “Cleaning your hands regularly throughout the day can help keep you out of the doctor’s office or the emergency room.”

The CDC reports that each year in the United States, on average:

  • More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications.
  • 20,000 of those hospitalized are children younger than 5 years old.
  • 36,000 people die from flu.

National Clean Hands Week: September 21-27, 2008

SDA produces the annual Report Card to raise awareness of National Clean Hands Week, September 21-27, which touts handwashing as the easiest path to staying healthy. Clean Hands Week is sponsored by the Clean Hands Coalition (, an alliance of public and private partners working together to create and support coordinated, sustained initiatives to significantly improve health and save lives through clean hands.

More Education Needed

According to the CDC, cleaning our hands is the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others. Of those surveyed by SDA, only 56% recognize that hand washing is the number one way to prevent colds and flu. Thirty-seven percent of respondents wash their hands fewer than seven times on an average day.

Educators Score Highly

One group which does not need as much schooling on the importance of hand hygiene is teachers, who were surveyed separately during the 2008 National Education Association Expo in Washington, D.C. Among 230 teachers who responded to on-site surveys, 97% correctly named cleaning hands as the best way to prevent colds and flu. Forty-nine percent say they wash their hands 15 seconds or more with soap; 91% always or frequently clean their hands before eating lunch.

How-to Wash Your Hands to Effectively Remove Germs

  1. Wet hands with warm running water prior to reaching for the soap, either in bar or liquid form.
  2. Rub hands together to make a lather. Do this away from running water, so the lather isn’t washed away.
  3. Wash the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under the nails. Continue washing for at least 15-20 seconds.
  4. Rinse hands well under warm running water.
  5. Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer.
  6. Hand sanitizers or hand wipes are useful alternatives if soap and water are not available (for example, when traveling in the car or taxi on the way to a business meeting, before eating an in-flight meal or snack, outdoor work settings, etc.)

While routine handwashing is recommended throughout the day, according to SDA, hand washing is vital:

  • before preparing food.
  • when eating meals and snacks.
  • after using the restroom.
  • after touching animals.
  • when hands are dirty.
  • when you or someone around you is ill.

SDA has a variety of hand hygiene tips and educational resources available on its website, at

The SDA Clean Hands Report Card® was based on a telephone survey, which queried 916 American heads of households (458 men and 458 women). The independent consumer research study was completed August 21-24, 2008, on behalf of SDA, by Echo Research. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percent.

# # #

The Soap and Detergent Association (, the Home of the U.S. Cleaning Product and Oleochemical Industries®, is the non-profit trade association representing manufacturers of household, industrial, and institutional cleaning products, their ingredients and finished packaging; oleochemical producers; and chemical distributors to the cleaning product industry. SDA members produce more than 90 percent of the cleaning products marketed in the U.S. The SDA is located at 1500 K Street, NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005.