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Kids Admit They Don't Wash Hands Enough

An overwhelming number of students (89%) aged 8-17 say they always wash their hands after going to the bathroom at school. But time constraints, a lack of cleanliness and a shortage of supplies are among the major barriers to students washing their hands at school more often.

These findings are from an online survey of children aged 8-17 and of parents of children within that age group. The survey was conducted by Russell Research for the American Cleaning Institute (ACI – in order to generate insights into handwashing beliefs and behaviors in school and at home. The study was conducted in support of Global Handwashing Day, which promotes hand washing with soap in schools.  

Time to Clean?

According to the data, the number one reason kids don't wash their hands as much as they should in school is that they don't have the time (43%). Fifty-one percent of kids report that their teachers do not set aside time to wash hands before eating, while 63 percent of parents believe that their child's teachers sets aside time for them to wash their hands before eating.  

Other reasons cited by students for infrequent handwashing are the lack of cleaning supplies (19%), not liking to use school bathrooms (21%), and bathrooms being "disgusting" (15%). Only 63 percent of kids say their school always has all the soap, water, paper towels and drying equipment needed to wash their hands. Forty-seven percent say sometimes they don't use the bathroom because it isn't clean.    

Further down the list of reasons why students in school don't wash their hands as much as they should are "not being reminded to" (16%) and that "no one else does it" (14%). Over three-quarters of kids say watching their friends wash their hands at school makes them remember to wash theirs.  

While the research shows that most parents and teachers have discussed the importance of handwashing with children, implications are that frequent reminders and continued reinforcement with educational programs and campaigns are needed in order to make the lesson stick.

Why Cleaning Matters

"Good hygiene is one of the many life skills that schools can reinforce. Good hygiene helps keep students healthy and in school," said Nancy Bock, ACI Vice President of Consumer Education. "Parents and teachers need to prompt kids daily, because cleaning matters to our health. Lessons learned in school last a lifetime."

Where Handwashing Rings a Bell

The news for parents isn't all bad. Eighty-nine percent of students surveyed say they always wash their hands after using the toilet. Yet the learning curve drops off from there—only 65 percent of students always wash their hands before they eat lunch; 74 percent always after touching garbage; 53 percent always after blowing their nose, coughing or sneezing; and 60 percent always after gym class.

Interestingly, according to the study, U.S. parents and children agree (97% each) that handwashing is one of the most important things they can do to keep from getting sick. Their behavior, however, both in and out of school doesn't always hold water.

Handwashing Needs Home-Schooling

The research also demonstrated that school is not the only place where handwashing habits need a tutorial. At home, only 66 percent of parents say they have taught their children how long they should spend washing their hands, with a full 25 percent of parents admitting never sharing the information. Thirty-three percent of parents admit there are times when they themselves use the restroom without washing their hands, and 20 percent of children have witnessed their parents not wash their hands after using the restroom.  

Some statistics give parents a hall pass, however. Seventy-nine percent of parents always make their children wash their hands before meals at home, and 72 percent say they are always reminding their children to wash their hands. In addition, 58 percent of parents have donated hand-hygiene products, such as hand sanitizers, to their child's school.

ACI's Equation for Success

According to ACI, the research shows that handwashing success is up to parents, teachers and students alike, and that the equation for A+ hand washing is elementary.  

  • Give kids "permission" to wash their hands by allotting time and giving frequent reminders both in school and at home. Explain proper handwashing procedures and lead by example.
  • Pay attention to the quantity of cleaning supplies available. Both teachers and parents can give bathrooms a "pop quiz" by checking restrooms themselves.
  • Talk to school administrators if toilets, sinks, floors or other surfaces don't meet your standards for cleanliness.
  • Implement a handwashing campaign in your school community.

Teachers and parents can go online for free hygiene education materials at

"All of us can play a role in keeping our kids clean and healthy," said ACI's Nancy Bock. "As cold and flu season approaches, put handwashing on your homework list for healthy and happy children and families."

More details about the survey are available at​_findings.aspx.


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