51 Hand Washing Statistics & Facts To Know (2022)

by Roman Peysakhovich · February 12th, 2022

Around 33% of people do not use soap when washing their hands.

You’re about to see a list of up-to-date hand washing & hygiene statistics.

Keep reading to find new stats, facts, and trends related to:

  • How many people don’t use soap while washing hands?
  • What percentage of people don’t wash their hands?
  • How often do people wash their hands?
  • How many lives does hand washing save?
  • What percentage of people wash their hands before eating?
  • Hand washing statistics by country, age, gender, and race
  • How many germs are on your hands?
  • A whole lot more

Let’s see some stats!

Key Hand Washing & Hygiene Statistics

  1. Around 33% of people do not use soap when washing their hands.
  2. Over twice as many men don't wash their hands as women.
  3. 58% of people around the world use soap and water to wash their hands.
  4. 3 billion people around the world don't have access to water and soap for hand washing.
  5. 700,000 people die per year because they don't have access to hand washing materials.
  6. Washing your hands reduces your risk of harmful diarrheal illness by 40%.
  7. In the US, only 78.5% of the total population washes their hands regularly.
  8. In 2020 in the US, just 64.6% of those between 18 and 24 washed their hands after touching potentially contaminated surfaces.
  9. Hand washing could prevent up to 1 million deaths from preventable disease each year.
  10. Around 39% of people don't wash their hands after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  11. People wash their hands more in the mornings than evenings.
  12. Elevator buttons have 22% more bacteria than toilet seats.

Hand Washing Statistics & Facts

World Population Who Uses Soap & Water 58%
People Without Access To Soap & Water 3 billion
Annual Deaths Due To Lack Of Handwashing Materials 700,000
Annual Preventable Deaths From Hand Washing 1 million
People Who Don't Use Soap In Hand Washing 33%
Average Hand Washing Duration 6 seconds
People Who Dry Their Hands After Washing Them 20%

What percentage of people wash their hands correctly?

  • One USDA study found that up to 97% of people don't wash their hands correctly.
  • Only 3% of USDA study participants washed their hands correctly.
  • While 58% of people wash with soap and water, very few people wash their hands for long enough.
percent of people who do not wash their hands correctly

The percentage of people who wash their hands properly in the US might have grown since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been more information circulated regarding hand washing procedures and how to properly clean your hands.

But in 2016, the USDA found that 97% of people weren't washing their hands properly. Most of them were using soap and water, but they weren't spending a full 30 seconds on cleaning their hands. Without spending the correct amount of time, you don't remove enough bacteria.

The same study also showed that food service workers had a hard time not contaminating their supplies. Almost half of them would contaminate their spice containers as they made burgers. There are 48,000,000 people in the US who get sick due to food poisoning each year, resulting in a total of 128,000 hospitalizations.

How often do people wash their hands?

  • About 58% of the global population says they wash their hands with soap and water at least 5 times daily.
  • Only 2% of the global population wash their hands regularly.
  • The countries least likely to wash their hands 5 times daily are mostly located in Asia and Africa.
percent of people who wash their hands correctly

Access to hand washing is a major issue. A large portion of the global population doesn't have regular access to both soap and water. Because of this, they're less likely to wash their hands regularly.

Countries in Europe tend to have the most thorough hand washing culture. But several countries in Asia and Africa have low numbers of hand washing, largely due to a lack of access.

Only 57% of individuals in Italy say that they automatically wash their hands, making it one of the least hygienic countries in Europe.

Only 60% of those in France and Spain state that they frequently wash their hands. But Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Moldova all have over 94% rates of hand washing.

How many people don't use soap while washing hands?

  • About 3 billion people around the world don't have access to soap and water at home.
  • About 900 million schoolchildren around the world don't have a handwashing area with soap and water in their school.
  • A total of 63% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa doesn't have reliable access to soap and water.
how many people don't use soap while washing hands

In the US, there is a gender gap regarding who uses soap. More than twice as many men fail to use soap when washing their hands as women.

Soap can be difficult to access. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to urban populations where the majority of people don't have access to both soap and water. While 58% of people say they wash with soap and water, 40% of people have no reliable access to these things.

That leaves just 2% of people who have access to soap and yet choose not to use it. The rest of the population that doesn't use soap is generally making do with what they have. Access to soap and water is one of the biggest issues being tackled by organizations like UNICEF.

What percentage of people wash their hands before eating?

  • Around 63% of Americans stated in 2019 that they washed their hands prior to eating.
  • However, a 2021 poll showed that only about 46% of Americans wash their hands before a meal.
  • Worldwide, only around 12% of the global population washes their hands before a meal.
percentage of people who wash their hands before eating

There may be cultural divides with regards to hand washing before a meal. Many people around the globe wash their hands after using the toilet, but fewer wash their hands prior to eating.

About 12% of people globally say they wash their hands prior to eating, but a large portion of the 88% remaining don't have reliable access to soap.

In the US, anywhere from 46% to 63% of the population washes their hands prior to a meal, depending on the poll. About 55% of Americans also said they washed their hands prior to a meal at a restaurant, while a little over half stated that they washed their hands after sneezing or coughing.

In one study in the UK, 92% of respondents said that they wouldn't sit somewhere that looked dirty. However, only 13% of respondents said that they wouldn't eat unless they'd been given an opportunity to wash their hands. Most of the harmful germs on different surfaces are invisible, so you don't know if you've picked them up until you get sick.

How many lives does hand washing save?

  • UNICEF has stated that hand washing might save 800 children around the world every day.
  • When children wash their hands regularly, their chances of contracting potentially deadly diarrhea drop by 50%.
  • Millions of infections are prevented by proper hand washing in healthcare settings every year.
number of lives handwashing saves

It is difficult to determine the exact impact of hand washing on the modern world. However, there's no denying that hand washing has contributed vastly to today's lower mortality rate.

In the past, doctors would not wash their hands before delivering babies. When they began washing their hands after leaving the morgue, mortality rates for mothers dropped sharply.

They were much less likely to contract infections. Midwives, who had been washing their hands regularly for years, already had lower mortality rates with live births.

Diarrheal illnesses are one of the leading causes of death in children around the world. Hundreds of children below the age of 5 die from these illnesses every day. Many of the illnesses can be prevented through hand washing after using the toilet.

Similarly, respiratory illnesses are much less likely to spread if people wash their hands. Flu viruses can live on the hands for several hours and on hard surfaces for several days. Contagious pathogens are much less likely to spread in communities that rigorously wash their hands.

How many deaths can be prevented from washing hands?

  • 1 million deaths could be prevented every year with routine hand washing.
  • 4 out of 5 common infections spread through the touch of hands.
  • About 800 children die every day from diseases that could be prevented with hand washing.
number of preventable deaths from hand washing

There are hundreds of thousands of deaths every year caused by illnesses that could be prevented. In addition, a lack of sanitation in healthcare settings can cause thousands of deaths.

Researchers recommend that healthcare workers have more stringent protocols for hand washing. This can help them avoid transmitting diseases to potentially vulnerable populations. It also helps to reduce the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacterial in hospital settings.

Deaths from illness are more common in developing nations, especially when people lack easy access to soap and water.

In the US, about 3,000 people die every year from food poisoning. Many of those cases are due to contamination from preparing food without proper hand washing.

Hand Washing Rates by Country

  • Serbia has the highest number of households that have soap and water at home, with 96.4% in total.
  • Ethiopia has the lowest number of households with soap and water at home, with less than 0.1% in total.
  • In Bosnia, 96% of the population washes their hands regularly after using the toilet.
hand washing statistics by country

Hand washing rates are affected both by access and by culture. Access is the biggest component to be aware of, though. When people don't have access to soap and water, they aren't able to wash their hands regularly.

When looking at populations who have access to soap and water, the top contender is Serbia. Less than 4% of the population is without regular hygiene access.

Culturally, only 4% of people in Bosnia do not regularly wash their hands with soap and water. This country has the highest number of hand washers.

In the US, hand washing varies by region. There are some areas, like the Navajo Nation, where a large portion of the population lacks access to running water. In other areas, though, much larger portions of the population regularly wash their hands.

Hand Washing Rates by Age

  • In 2020 in the US, only 64.6% of people between 18 and 24 years old washed their hands regularly after touching public surfaces.
  • The highest percentage of US people who wash their hands regularly is those over 65 years of age, with 83.3%.
  • About 60% of people in the US from 18 to 24 use hand sanitizer regularly, compared to 73% of those over the age of 65.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on how we measure hand washing data. In the past, most data was measured based on whether hands were washed before eating and after using the bathroom.

But in 2020, researchers also began investigating whether people would wash their hands after they touched potentially contaminated surfaces.

In terms of COVID precautions, people over the age of 65 are the most likely to wash their hands. This makes sense, as they are also the population most at risk.

Similarly, the lowest population of hand washers was those between 18 and 24 years old. This section of the population may feel that they are not at a high risk, and therefore they don't need to take as many precautions.

With general hand washing, older people are more likely to wash their hands, assuming they have access to the materials.

Hand Washing Rates by Gender

  • More than twice as many men never wash their hands after using the bathroom than women, at 14.6% to 7.1% respectively.
  • More than twice as many men don't use soap when washing their hands as women, with 35.1% to 15.1% respectively.
  • A 2009 study showed that 65% of women wash their hands after using the bathroom, but only 31% of men do.
hand washing statistics by gender

There is a sharp gender divide when it comes to washing hands, at least in the US. Researchers have found that men are significantly more likely to wash their hands improperly or skip washing their hands entirely.

For example, more than a third of US men don't use soap when they wash their hands. They just wet their hands and move on. But 85% of women do use soap.

In 2009, over 2 in 3 men didn't wash their hands after they'd been to the bathroom. But 2 in 3 women did wash their hands. This may be partially due to the erroneous logic that if a man only urinates, he hasn't done anything that would warrant hand washing.

Hand Washing Rates by Race

  • The percentage of Asian people who washed their hands in 2020 in the US was the highest at 86.2%.
  • The ethnicity that washed their hands the least in the US in 2020 was 'Other' or mixed race people, at 71.9%.
  • Black people in the US are the least likely to use hand sanitizer regularly, with just 65.6% using it after contact with people.

Racial demographics are recorded differently all over the world. In addition, it would be disingenuous to say that African people wash their hands the least as if it's some kind of cultural observation. Many people in Africa don't have the means for regular hand washing.

The US has gathered data about how different ethnic groups washed their hands during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Asian population was the highest at over 86%, with white people as the second highest with 80.2%. Three out of every four Hispanic people washed their hands regularly, while 72.7% of Black people did.

There are also statistics regarding the use of hand sanitizer. Every population in the US used hand sanitizer less often than they washed their hands. Again, the Asian population was highest at 79%, followed by the white population at 72%. About 68% of Hispanic people used hand sanitizer, while a little over 65% of Black people did.

Important Hand Washing Statistics

  1. Around 33% of people do not use soap when washing their hands.
  2. Washing hands incorrectly contributes to almost 50% of all foodborne illnesses.
  3. 20% of people wash their hands before preparing food.
  4. 39% of people wash their hands before eating food.
  5. After using the bathroom, approximately 7% of women and 15% of men do not wash their hands.
  6. On average a person comes into contact with 300 surfaces every 30 minutes, exposing you to 840,000 germs.
  7. Most people only wash their hands for 6 seconds.
  8. Up to 80% of communicable diseases are transferred by touch.
  9. Most bacteria on our hands is on the fingertips and under the nails.
  10. Damp hands are 1,000x more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands.
  11. Approximately 20% of people dry their hands after washing them.
  12. There is fecal matter on 16% of cellphones, 10% of credit cards, and 14% of banknotes.
  13. Around 39% of people don't wash their hands after blowing their nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  14. People wash their hands more in the mornings than evenings.
  15. Elevator buttons have 22% more bacteria than toilet seats.

Hand Hygiene Statistics & Facts

How much does hand hygiene prevent infection?

  • Hand hygiene could prevent 30% of existing diarrhea illnesses and 20% of common colds and other respiratory illnesses.
  • Before hand washing became common for medical professionals, about 1 in every 10 mothers died in childbirth. That mortality rate has been cut to 1 in 200 today.
  • Stricter hand washing protocols in healthcare settings could reduce deaths from hand-borne infections by 40%.


Hand hygiene can prevent a huge swath of existing illnesses around the globe. In addition, lack of hand hygiene is the biggest factor that causes healthcare-related infections. Before healthcare workers started washing their hands regularly, patient mortality rates were about 20 times as high as they are today.

Healthcare facilities have done extensive studies regarding the transmission of infections with relation to hand hygiene.

In one analysis of over 30 studies, hospitals were able to reduce healthcare infections by 45% just by implementing better hygiene protocols. Some of the hospitals had a decrease in infection rates of up to 80% over six months after establishing their new policies.

More than 10% of people with healthcare-caused infections die. That makes about 75,000 people in the US every year. If hospitals were able to reduce their infection rates by 45%, then the number of people who die might be lowered to 40,000.

How many people have died due to poor hand hygiene?

  • About 700,000 people around the world die each year because they don't have access to hand washing stations.
  • Almost twice as many people die from a lack of access to hand washing around the globe as from homicide.

A huge factor in the short lifespans of previous generations was lack of hand hygiene. Germ theory has only been around for a few decades. Prior to that, people didn't know that they could infect others by failing to wash their hands after touching dirty surfaces.

Improvements in modern medicine have played a big role in the increase in lifespan, but so has hand hygiene. This is also a large factor in why the life expectancy for people without access to soap and water tends to be lower.

Even with everything we know about hand hygiene, there are still hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths every year. Again, the vast majority of these are because of access issues. Human rights organizations are doing their best to help underprivileged populations access soap and running water.

How dirty are people's hands?

  • There are up to 10 million bacteria on the average person's elbows and fingertips.
  • The germs on the average person's hands double after using the toilet.

Your skin is home to millions of bacteria, but not all of them are harmful. In fact, many of them do good work to help keep your skin biome healthy.

But at any given moment, you can have thousands of potential pathogens on your hands as well. You're likely to pick up more germs when you use the toilet.

In addition, surfaces like your phone or a cafeteria tray tend to have a lot more harmful germs than a toilet seat.

Any time you touch a surface, you pick up the germs from that surface. Those germs can get into your eyes and nose when you unthinkingly rub them.

That's also part of why it's so important to wash your hands before you cook or eat. Otherwise, those unwitting germs may get into your digestive system.

Are there more germs on hands or feet?

  • Hands have more germs than feet because of the number of contaminated surfaces they touch each day.
  • Even without wearing shoes, your palms are likely to have a greater number of germs than the soles of your feet.

There have been very few studies specifically comparing the number of germs on a person's hands and their feet.

But though you might think that feet are dirty, your hands are much more likely to have harmful bacteria. That's because your hands touch many more surfaces throughout the day.

In addition, your feet will have fewer germs if you wear socks or shoes. But even if you walk around the dirty ground barefoot, you're still more likely to have more germs on your hands.

Fun Facts About Germs

How long can germs survive on your hands?

  • Some germs can survive on your hands for 3 hours, while others can survive for several days.
  • Flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for 3 days after being touched by your hands.

The lifespan of a germ depends on both the type of germ and where it ends up on your hands. If the germs are in a place that rarely touches other surfaces, they can remain there for days.

But if they're on your fingers, you're likely to transmit them to another person or surface before that much time goes by.

Very contagious viruses like the common cold can stay on hard surfaces for days. If you touch the surface and then your nose or eyes, you're much more likely to contract the illness. The same is true for the more contagious strains of the COVID-19 virus.

How many bacteria are on your fingertips and elbows?

  • You have up to 10 million bacteria on your elbows and fingertips.
  • Touching surfaces like a toilet lid can cause the amount of germs to double.

How much more germs do hands spread when they are damp?

  • Damp hands can spread up to 1,000 times the amount of germs as dry hands.
  • Flushing toilets can cause germs to spray 6 feet into the air and onto the walls.

It's important to dry your hands thoroughly after you wash them. But this statistic should never be used to imply that wetting your hands is bad. By washing your hands, you remove many of the germs you'd transmit in the first place.

Number of Germs on Hands

  • One germ can spread into 8,000,000 germs in the span of just 24 hours.
  • There are 3,200 potentially harmful germs on your hands on average.

What bacteria is commonly found on hands?

  • Pseudomonas fluorescens, which can cause illness in immunocompromised people, is on 26% of hands.
  • Staphylococcus warneri, which can cause staph infections, is on 25% of hands.

How many bacteria are on your hands?

  • You can have up to 10 million bacteria on your fingers, but most are not harmful.
  • The average person has 3,200 potentially harmful bacteria on their hands.

Sources

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/fast_facts.html
  2. https://allportablesinks.com/blogs/news/17-handwashing-facts-and-statistics
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html
  4. https://www.lchcia.com/blog/handwashing-facts-and-gross-statistics/
  5. https://www.sepsis.org/news/washing-hands-simple-step-can-save-lives/
  6. https://www.cchwyo.org/news/2020/december/facts-about-handwashing/
  7. https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-hand-hygiene-day/2021/key-facts-and-figures
  8. https://www.tchc.org/blog/2018/12/12/hand-hygiene-and-germ-facts/

Conclusion

That’s it for my list of hand washing statistics.

As someone that does cleaning for a living, I really enjoyed putting this list of stats together.

If you have any questions, you can email us ([email protected]). You also might be interested in our study of the home organization industry.