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. Eric M. Jones says:

    The Romans had restrooms that were social affairs. So everyone knew what you were doing…or not doing.

    And Restroom Centurions.

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  2. steve cebalt says:

    As advanced as their sewage systems were, the Romans still had not arrived at the toilet paper stage. In their public toilets, the pooper would rely on a shared sponge or cloth that was attached to a stick which rested within a bowl — a stew of of equal parts water and communal fecal matter.

    After a person had finished discussing the day’s events fellow Citizens, they would request the sponged stick to be passed along to them. If they were not careful, they would end up grabbing the end of the stick that was covered in the residue of 50 other guys. This was considered grabbing the “wrong end of the stick.” There were no mirrors nor doors on which to hang signs to wash hands. When in Rome…

    Or at least that’s one version of the “wrong end of the stick” story; apocryphal, in all likelihood, but I choose to believe it.

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