Can I Tell The Person In the Bathroom That They Didn’t Wash Their Hands?

Can I Say Something To The Person that Doesn't Wash Their Hands

Welcome to Manners Monday! Each Monday we will tackle an etiquette question (or story about bad etiquette) submitted by a reader. Have a question yourself? You can submit it here!

I received the following question from Kate:

Everywhere I go, I see people in public bathrooms walk out of the stall and walk right past the sinks and out the door. GROSS! Imagine what they are touching next with their hands, especially at the grocery store! How can I stop them and make them wash their hands without being rude?

Hi Kate! This is an interesting question and I see the same thing as you all the time and I agree that it is pretty yucky. We talked before about how to behave when you are in public restroom, but didn’t cover this one!

But here is the thing – unless the person you see leaving the bathroom without washing their hands is 6 years old (with no parent to be seen), there is just no way to say it without being rude and I would almost bet that you saying anything is not going to be received well!

We all know that proper hand washing, especially after using the bathroom is essential to prevent the spread of germs. The people you see walking past the sinks know it as well.  People who are in the habit of washing don’t typically forget to do so.  You are dealing with people who, for one reason or another, have chosen NOT to wash their hands in a public restroom.

  • They could have skin sensitivities and be planning to use a hand sanitizer once they are dine placing their hand on the germy door handle and are out of the bathroom.
  • They could have used enough toilet paper to clog up the toilet and feel that they created a sufficient “barrier” between them and their nether regions (or – not to be gross – they could have managed to do their business without touching that area and not used any tissue).
  • They might just be gross

You saying something to them might possibly get them to wash their hands this one time (although more than likely, they will get defensive and tell you to mind your own business). but it isn’t going to make them suddenly turn in to a hand-washer.

People are supposed to mind their own business when they are a public restroom, but if you are determined to monitor other peoples’ bathroom habits, why stop there?

  • Studies say that 95% of people do not wash their hands properly in order to kill germs, be it because they are only rubbing the soap in their hands for half the time suggested or they skip the soap entirely (you are supposed to do it for 15 – 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice [source]).  Use the app on your phone to time how long people are washing their hands and be sure to let your sink-mates know if they aren’t doing it for long enough.  You can even sing “Happy Birthday” twice to them to help them!
  • Listen to the people in the other stalls for signs that they need your help.  If you hear grunting or they are in there for a long time, don’t forget to let them know what product you use when you are suffering from constipation.  Likewise, listen for sounds that indicate they may need your advice on how best to get over diarrhea!

On second thought….please don’t.

I know it’s might squick you out…it does me.  But public restrooms are a place where you just need to mind your own business!


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