I’m not sure when the scale tipped in the other direction, but there is a whole generation of children growing up who’ve been made fearful of the potential threat of germs by well-meaning but over-protective parents.
Germs are indeed potentially harmful to our health. But so is being driven around in a car to soccer or dance practice. And while most germs won’t kill you, many automobile accidents will.
Because germs are everywhere, in virtually every environment you live or work in, it’s silly to believe you can somehow “escape” them (short of living in a clean room). The key is to take reasonable measures to help protect yourself from germs — but not to give into some irrational fear of them.
That’s why touchless soap dispensers are just plain silly and have far more to do with marketing to our irrational fear of germs than doing much of anything to actually help us wash our hands better.
Here’s what KidsHealth has to say about one of the most common ways to prevent germs:
Hand washing! Remember the two words germs fear — soap and water. Washing your hands well and often is the best way to beat these tiny warriors. Wash your hands every time you cough or sneeze, before you eat or prepare foods, after you use the bathroom, after you touch animals and pets, after you play outside, and after you visit a sick relative or friend.
There is a right way to wash your hands. Use warm water and soap and rub your hands together for at least 15 seconds, which is about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”
Everyone knows washing your hands is an important way to combat germs. But not everyone understands how some things — like touchless soap — do absolutely nothing to help you wash your hands in a cleaner environment.
Enter, the marketers.
I’ve seen TV commercials now for some time promoting touchless soap as the next best thing. On its website, Lysol notes, “With the Lysol® No–TouchTM Hand Soap System, you and your family will never have to touch a germy soap pump again.” Well, that much is true. But so what?
As our graphic nicely illustrates, you don’t touch a soap dispenser after you wash your hands — you only touch it before you wash your hands. The “touchless” component of the soap makes absolutely no difference in your exposure to germs while washing your hands.
Instead what you need to be more concerned about are things that the good folks at Lysol don’t market — how you dry your hands, and how you turn off the water of your faucet. Faucets and dish towels are two of the places in your house where you’ll find the most germs. But since Lysol doesn’t make air hand dryers or faucets, they don’t mention this.
This is why you’ll see in many public bathrooms touchless faucets and touchless paper towel dispensers (or air hand dryers), in addition to the newer touchless soap dispensers. The touchless soap dispensers are simply part of a larger system, however. On their own, they are practically useless since once your hands are clean, you’re not touching any soap dispenser.
If you want to combat germs in your house, you can safely pass on the touchless soap dispenser. Instead, opt in for paper towels by your sink, and consider a touchless faucet (although they remain a pricey item, especially if you’re considering replacing all the faucets in your house).
None of which will still do you much good, since many of are not washing our hands correctly anyway. How many of us vigorously scrub both the front and back of our hands every time we wash?
But here’s the thing. For more than a hundred years, we’ve been getting by pretty well with keeping germs largely in check with plain old soap and water. Just wash your hands regularly throughout the day (especially after going to the bathroom, playing outside, and handling any kind of raw meat), and you’ll be good.