Why Are Restroom Hand-Washing Signs By the Sinks?

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All over America, restrooms for the public (for example, in restaurants or public parks) have signs warning and exhorting us that “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” or “Hand-washing stops the flu!” These are useful public-health messages. However, in almost every restroom I’ve been to, the sign stares at you from the mirror behind the sinks. What is the point of reminding the already hygiene-conscious to wash their hands?

But in the San Francisco airport a few days ago, I finally found a “Clean hands, good health!” sign at the restroom exit door. I don’t know whether it ever caused someone to U-turn and head for the sinks, but at least it isn’t carrying coals to Newcastle.

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  1. Carl says:

    If there is a reason, I imagine it’s that the signs are not for the employees, but to reassure those visitors who might be offended if they didn’t see a sign, who I expect would be those washing their hands.

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    • Greg Merideth says:

      Also, in many jurisdictions, these sign are legally mandated reminders for the employees, especially in food service environments. The signs just so happen to serve the dual-purpose of reminding customers.

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  2. Sam Win says:

    True and valid point. Probably most restaurants do this more as a publicity and marketing stunt to show health-conscious patrons when they are washing their hands to see a sign showing that they care about the health and cleanliness of their food.

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  3. Khalil says:

    I think there is too much emphasis put on reminding people to wash their hands after using the restroom and not enough on telling them – and this example pertains mostly to men – to wash them before.
    And my reason for this is that it would seem my hands are usually, and naturally so, much dirtier or prone to have microbes than my penis.
    Just saying ;-)

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    • Eric M. Jones says:

      Olde Joke:

      Q: So how do you tell a Yale boy from a Harvard boy?
      A: A Harvard boy was hes his hands AFTER peeing. A Yale boy washes his hands BEFORE peeing.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      It’s not an unreasonable idea, for men, and for when the man is only urinating. Urine is sterile when it is produced. Getting something sterile on your fingers does not make them a disease vector.

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  4. Seminymous Coward says:

    I routinely see such signs on doors. I don’t recall seeing one by a sink except in quite small restrooms.

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  5. Jos says:

    Just because you’re not hygiene conscious, doesn’t mean that you aren’t vain,so as you admire yourself in that mirror post toilet use at a restaurant or bar you’re reassured that those handling your food and drinks are clean and may think to yourself whomever I’m with or will be with may also appreciate cleanliness and wash. At an airport where employees may have their own restrooms, the sign is intended as a PSA- ominous in tone and placement.

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  6. Greg Merideth says:

    Instead of thinking of these signs as being near the sink, think of them as being near the mirror. How many people, hygiene-conscious or not, pass up the opportunity to check their appearance in the mirror before leaving the restroom? Also, since many restroom doors open inward, depending on the foot traffic in a particular restroom, a sign on the exit door might often be obscured by the fact that the door is open.

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  7. Dylan says:

    These are signs for washing your hands?! And here I thought they really stood for, “Clap for bubbles.”

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  8. Mark says:

    A cynic could argue that signs on the mirrors are more about signaling to the most hygiene-conscious patrons that the restaurant cares about hygiene than actually getting employees to wash their hands. It also wouldn’t surprise me if some states require they be in a specific location, at least for restaurants and other establishments that get regular health inspections. For what it’s worth in Alabama and Tennessee the exit door is the norm.

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