Survey Finds Decline in Handwashing Practices Since Beginning of Pandemic

The American Cleaning Institute (ACI) reports a 14-percentage point decline in frequent handwashing since the start of the pandemic, according to a new national survey.

The research, which was conducted by Ipsos for ACI, both in March and again in September 2020, tracked changes in consumer cleaning behaviors spanning the first six months of the pandemic in the U.S.

During a time when cases of COVID-19 are back on the rise, and Americans are preparing for cold and flu season, this decline in handwashing can put people at risk. According to the Global Handwashing Partnership, handwashing is known to help reduce the spread of outbreak-related pathogens and can reduce acute respiratory infections by 20 percent.

Additional findings from the ACI survey show that hand sanitizer use is on the rise (62 percent in September vs 46 percent in March). While hand sanitizer plays an important role in reducing germs when soap and water are not available, handwashing remains the gold standard to reducing disease transmission in communities.

“Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the most simple and effective measures to take in the fight against COVID-19 and other easily transmittable diseases,” said Melissa Hockstad, ACI president and CEO. “As we gear up for the coming cold and flu season, we hope to equip everyone with the knowledge and tools they need to practice proper handwashing.”

Important handwashing tips include:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Take note of the following key times to wash your hands:
    Before, during and after preparing food
    Before and after caring for someone who is sick
    After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
    After handling garbage
    After directly handling dirty laundry
  • If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer as an alternative. For use against COVID-19, look for an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content.

Additional Research Findings:

  • Two thirds of Americans say they are washing their hands with soap and water more often since the spread of COVID-19. Compared to a similar survey asked at the beginning of the pandemic in March, the proportion who report washing their hands more often has declined significantly (78 percent in March vs 64 percent in September).
  • In contrast to the decrease in hand washing, use of hand sanitizer has surged since the beginning of the pandemic (62 percent in September vs 46 percent in March).
  • Only 10 percent of Americans say that they have not made any changes to their hand hygiene practices since the spread of COVID-19. However, half of respondents continue to be mindful about washing their hands for at least twenty seconds since the beginning of the pandemic (58 percent in March vs 51 percent in September).

These are the findings from an Ipsos poll conducted September 10-11, 2020 on behalf of the American Cleaning Institute. For the survey, a sample of 1,005 adults ages 18 and over from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, both waves of the poll have a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Source: American Cleaning Institute

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