WaterAid and Scouts survey reveals nation’s dirty habits: one in four men and one in six women admit they don’t always wash their hands after going to the loo

13 Oct 2016

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A survey by international charity WaterAid has unveiled Britain’s secret dirty habits, with 26% of men admitting they don’t always wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet, and 61% of adults not always washing their hands before eating at home, work or at a restaurant.

To help get the nation’s hygiene practices up to scratch, Scouts across the country have been working with WaterAid to highlight how hidden germs can spread with a simple ball game and blue powder paint. They have also been teaching their friends and families about effective handwashing as part of their A Million Hands community impact initiative.

The activities mark Global Handwashing Day on 15 October, to raise awareness of the importance of handwashing – the simplest and most cost-effective against potentially fatal infections and diseases.

The survey of over 2,000 British adults, conducted by YouGov, reveals that 57% of Brits think men are less likely than women to wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet. Although women do seem to be the cleaner sex, 18% confess to skipping the sink after a loo break, compared to 26% of men.

More than one in four full-time students (28%) say they don’t always wash their hands after going to the toilet. Shockingly, 7% of students say they never scrub their hands with soap.

Nearly one in five people (19%) don’t always wash their hands before preparing a meal - so you may want to think twice about accepting an offer to dinner!

More than three in five of adults (61%) admit they don’t always wash their hands before eating at home, work or a restaurant, showing parents’ pleas for their children to wash their hands before dinner have long been forgotten or ignored. Nearly half of all those surveyed (47%) don’t always wash their hands before sharing snacks, which may make you question digging into that group box of popcorn at the cinema.

Good hand hygiene seems to be important in the dating world, with 36% of people saying they would be put off dating someone who doesn’t regularly wash their hands after a trip to the loo. Sixty per cent of women also say they’d be put off holding someone’s hand if they didn’t wash after going to the toilet, and half of men (49%) agree.

However, 16% of women suspect their other half might not wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet. Only 3% of men suspect the same of their partner.

Meanwhile, a third of 35 to 44-year-old parents (31%) think their children might not wash their hands after going to the toilet.

Additionally, it seems most of us haven’t actually been washing our hands properly all this time. While it is recommended we scrub out hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, two-thirds of us (65%) fall woefully short of this, scrubbing for just 15 seconds or less.

Although studies have found that damp hands can spread up to 1,000 times more bacteria than dry ones, 60% of people don’t always dry their hands properly after washing them.

Ineffective hand driers in public toilets is cited as the main reason for not people not drying their hands properly, with 58% of those who don’t always wash their hands saying this is a problem.

Our busy lives clearly affect our handwashing, with nearly two in five (39%) admitting they don’t dry their hands properly when in a hurry.

In response to the UK’s poor hygiene habits, Scouts have been showing people just why and how we should be washing our hands.

Helena Holt, 9, a Cub Scout in Camberwell, said:

"We have learnt how to wash our hands. It takes about 20 seconds to do properly, or the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. It's really important to wash your hands properly because you might spread the germs to other people and they could get ill. If I saw someone going to the toilet and not washing their hands I would tell them to wash them, and if they didn't know why I would tell them."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 80% of common infectious diseases are spread by our hands. Hygienic practices such as washing hands with soap can reduce the risk of diarrhoea by 50% (Luby, et al. 2005).

Om Prasad Gautam, Technical Support Manager – Hygiene at WaterAid, said:

“While diarrhoeal diseases are unpleasant and inconvenient to us in the UK, they can be deadly in places with poor access to clean water and toilets. Across the world, almost 900 children die every day from diseases caused by diarrhoea. Washing your hands at key points in your day, such as after going to the toilet and before eating food, can halve your risk of getting diarrhoea, as well as significantly reducing the risk of pneumonia, and preventing the spread of infections – from the flu to Ebola.

“This Global Handwashing Day, WaterAid is reminding people of the importance of good hygiene practices in ensuring good health, while also calling for all hospitals and schools across the world to provide handwashing facilities with soap and water.”

WaterAid helps deliver robust hygiene promotion alongside water and sanitation provision in developing countries across the world.


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For more information please contact Laura Crowley, Senior Media Officer, on or 0207 793 4965.

Notes to editors:


WaterAid’s vision is of a world where everyone has access to safe water and sanitation. The international organisation works in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Central America and the Pacific Region to transform lives by improving access to safe water, hygiene and sanitation in some of the world’s poorest communities. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 23 million people with safe water and, since 2004, 21 million people with sanitation. For more information, visit our website, follow @WaterAidUK on Twitter, or visit us on Facebook.


Adventure is at the core of Scouting. The Scout Association passionately believes in helping their members fulfil their full physical, intellectual social and spiritual potentials by working in teams, learning by doing and thinking for themselves. Scouting provides opportunities for members to do this, and to continue to take risks in a safe environment, and have their first taste of responsibility.

  • Over 250 activities are offered by Scouting around the UK, made possible by the efforts of 100,000 voluntary adult leaders. This has helped make Scouting the largest co-educational youth movement in the country.
  • Adults working in Scouting contribute in excess of 364 million hours of voluntary work each year to their local communities.
  • The number of volunteers working for Scouting is bigger than the combined workforces of the BBC (24,000) and McDonalds (67,000) put together.
  • Worldwide Scouting has 40 million male and female members, and operates in nearly every country in the world.
  • In January 2012, Clarence House announced that HRH Duchess of Cambridge was to become a volunteer with The Scout Association.
  • Last year, Scouts were involved in a diverse range of projects, such as collecting goods for food banks, creating and cleaning up play spaces for young people with learning difficulties, spending time with those suffering from dementia, helping to support and promote the health of Britain’s waterways as Junior River Stewards, and creating wild flower meadows.

A Million Hands

The Million Hands campaign is enlisting half a million Scouts to work with some of the UK’s biggest charities – WaterAid, Mind, The Alzheimer’s Society (Dementia Friends), Guide Dogs for the Blind and the Leonard Cheshire Disability Trust – over four years. The charities were chosen by Scouts themselves, reflecting what they care about.


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2,046 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23-26 September 2016. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).