Eww Don't Wash Your Hands?


When we become sick with a cold or the flu one of the major things people advise you to do is wash your hands. Believe it or not, that may be the very reason you are sick in the first place!

Washing your hands is not a bad thing as long as it is done in moderation. Scientists are researching the idea that with frequent hand washing you are constantly destroying the bacteria on your hands. As the bacteria constantly fighting off these anti-bacteria scrubs and washes, they will begin to develop new strains. Eventually these strains of bacteria will be immune to modern sanitizers and these bacteria can spread. This is a scary idea that sounds remarkably possible to me. Although I was not ready to stop washing my hand so I did some more research.


 Recent research out of Columbia University tested to see how using antibacterial products in the household affected the rate of infectious disease symptoms within those households. They studied 238 households that consisted of 1178 people and each household consisted of at least one preschool aged child.

 Each family was randomly assigned to clean their house with antibacterial or non-antibacterial cleaning products but they didn't know which they were using. They used the product for everything from laundry, to general cleaning, to hand washing. The test lasted 48 weeks during which researches conducted weekly phone calls, monthly symptom checks, and quarterly interviews.

 After the 48 weeks they found no significant differences in health symptoms between the intervention and control groups. They concluded that antibacterial products do not reduce the likelihood of getting viral infectious diseases and bacterial infections. So what was causing groups who use antibacterial cleaning agents to not be any more healthy than those who do not? Doesn't this go against everything we have been taught growing up?

Personally I can think of three reasons why this data shows. Perhaps this data is correct and shows that antibacterial products are not quite as healthy as we thought they were. Although not bad for us, they could still not do much in regard of preventing sickness. The results of course could have been due to chance or some third variable. The third reason I think researchers may have observed this is that maybe the bacteria inside the homes was exposed to the antibacterial product for so long that it formed new strands that was resistant to the product.

This is a widening view that researchers are testing. Dr. Mercola of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of the researchers testing this idea. He says that it is wise to avoid hand sanitizers, especially during flu season. They contribute to bacteria that grow strains resistant to the antibacterial soap and have even been shown to kill human cells. He does express that not all hand sanitizers are bad. Usually the ones that contain alcohol, rather than triclosan, are the best because typically bacteria cannot become immune to alcohol. Mostly he warns not to over wash your hands especially during the flu season. This can cause you to eliminate oils on your hands that actually protect you from infection. 

Overall just remain cautious this flu season. Try to pick hand sanitizers that contain alcohol rather than triclosan. Always be sure to keep your hands out of your nose and mouth. Also, stop washing your hands... quite as much!





I am a complete germaphobe; I always carry a small thing of pocket sanitizer with me everywhere and usually use it after touching door handles or anything like that and I use antibacterial wipes to clean our dorm room almost everyday. Interesting that there was no difference between the antibacterial and non-antibacterial cleansers that the families used. I also found a NYTimes article about the dangers of using hand sanitizer too often.


Who would ever think that it was possible to wash your hands too much? And while the study size is large enough for the data to be credible, i'm thinking there had to be some other variables at play because I just can't believe that washing your hands not only didn't help but it made them more vulnerable to getting sick. I also found that a study earlier this year showed that triclosan not only is not as effective as alcohol in cleaning products, but also effects the muscle movements in animals like mice and fish, and makes me wonder what other possible side effects it could have on humans that we don't know about yet.


I remember back in high school in my biology class we discussed how Purell hand sanitizer can actually be counter productive. While moderate use of Purell proves to be just fine, excessive use can actually strengthen the bacteria found on our hands. The bottles claim to kill "99.9% of bacteria". It says this because not all bacteria is killed when using Purell. As a result, the bacteria that wasn't killed are able to reproduce and mutate. Eventually, if sanitizer is used excessively, the bacteria on your hands can actually grow resistant to strong hand sanitizers like Purell. For the longest time I wondered why the bottles claimed to kill "99.9%" of the germs. Apparently even killing such a high rate of bacteria can still prove to be dangerous. There are also plenty of misconceptions that hand sanitizers can be used as a substitute to hand washing. While it may be a convenient substitute when not in reach of a sink and hand soap, you shouldn't permanently replace hand washing.


Leave a comment

Subscribe to receive notifications of follow up comments via email.
We are processing your request. If you don't see any confirmation within 30 seconds, please reload your page.

Search This Blog

Full Text  Tag

Recent Entries

Everyone has heard of them as being the best car out there, mainly cause of gas prices. Hybrids are sweeping…
People everywhere are breaking up, just in time for the holidays. And the more couples I see parting ways, the…
Pregnancy Tests
While browsing Andrew's blog and looking to see all of the posts that I missed (I'm pretty sure I haven't…

Old Contributions