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. A.S. says:

    Just like to ads against illegal downloading that come in DVDs for rent

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    • ERLW says:


      Always infuriates that the person who legally purchases a DVD has to sit through an unskippable advert against piracy… therefore incentivizing watching a pirated copy. Stupid place for a warning.

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  2. Ethan Blonder says:

    The sign is a PR stunt more than anything. The customers who would care about employee hygiene the most will be the same people who wash their hands and will see the signs. Regardless of whether employees actually wash their hands, it gives customers who care about hygiene the impression that they do.

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  3. Don R says:

    North Carolina requires that this sign be posted, verbatim:

    “Each Employee’s Hands Must Be Washed Thoroughly, Using Soap, Warm Water and Sanitary Towel Or Approved Hand-Drying Device, Before Beginning Work and After Each Visit to the Toilet.”

    This must be effective.

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  4. Nathan says:

    Maybe it’s so that those that remember to wash will feel better about themselves for doing the socially responsible thing?

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  5. Ian5spot says:

    I guess the best places for the signs would be above the urinal and behind the WC door.

    Of greater interest could be the ratio of urinals: wash hand driers: hand driers. Assuming it takes the same time to do each of these steps, then the ratio should be 1:1:1, if it takes twice as long to pee, then the ratio would be 2:1:1.

    However, many toilets will have a long line of urinals and wash hand basins but only a few hand driers, or worse have just a few basins and driers.

    Does any thought go into this ratio when restrooms are designed?

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  6. Sefton says:

    I don’t think the reason is to reassure the customers, because if that was the case then putting the sign on the exit door would be the best place, because all your customers would see it there. Perhaps it’s meant to work on a long term basis, so the location would not make too much difference. The employees would still see it on a regular basis even if it is above the sink, and it would be engraved in their minds over time.
    Placing it above the sink will also force you to stare at it for at least a few seconds as opposed to a quick glance as you exit.

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  7. Ashely says:

    One of the best places that I’ve seen for signs (not really hand-washing, but I think it could work), at least for women’s restrooms are behind the stall door. I know several establishments around town that use this technique to place health-conscious advertisements and domestic abuse hotlines. It seems like a great idea; at least I’ve read them since they literally have a captive audience.

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  8. Steve Cebalt says:

    “Normative” signs on the doors might be more effective:

    “8 out of 10 men wash after urninating, EVERY TIME…”


    I wonder the difference between people alone in the bathroom vs. when others are in the same room? Couldn’t find that. Also wsahing at home vs. in public restrooms. Couldn’t find that data either.

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