Hand Washing

In 2001 (or thereabouts) I attended some health and safety events sponsored by the Alliance of Professional Tattooists.

AIDS devastated the tattooing community in the 1980s because it was not understood (initially) in that community that blood serum could contain viruses. I had a tattoo done in the 80s and I recall the artist blotting away leaking stuff with a paper towel that wound up in a trash can. Sometimes at a tattoo convention you might see things that’d make you cringe: a tattooist working on a subject sees a friend, jumps up, hugs them, then goes back to work still wearing the same latex gloves – that kind of thing. I was there to learn and observe and that was enough for me.

One of the lessons in the health and safety class involved hand washing. The point was: we don’t wash our hands very well; disposable latex gloves are better. Also: don’t use your gloved hand to take off one glove, then use your bare hand to slide the other glove off. Peel the first glove down about halfway then use the fingers (still in the glove) to grab and peel off the other glove, then use your ungloved fingers to grab the first glove from the inside and flip both pairs of gloves inside out and throw them away.

If you want to wash your hands: learn how to wash your hands. Lots of soap and scrubbing and water, use a paper towel to work the faucet controls and open the bathroom door, then throw the paper towel in the trash while holding the door open with your foot. You have to work hard to get around your fingernails; that is a particularly difficult region. My cuticles and fingertips are so roughened that the skin is cracked like concrete. It’s probably impossible for me to wash my hands adequately so, if I needed to disinfect them, I’d probably just go for a bleach solution.

[frame from Dead Space 2. Not a real crime scene.]

The final lesson was best summarized as “you suck at washing your hands.” Our instructor went around the room with a little bottle of luminol oil. It’s just oil, until you shine an ultraviolet light on it, which makes it flouresce a bright green. We each got a dollop and were told to rub it on our hands, then go to the bathroom and do the best job we could at washing our hands. Off we traipsed. Then, we came back and the instructor went around the room with a UV flashlight, looking at people’s hands. One guy’s beard looked like it was dripping with luminol. Another guy had rather obviously sudsed the oil up and then wiped his hands on his shirt.

Then, we went to the bathroom, and the UV light showed faucets covered with luminol, door handles, sinks, floors – it was everywhere except the ceiling. It was a serious reality check.

I would not encourage panic about the coronavirus but this would be a good time to talk to people about hand washing and not touching your face. Half of the people in the class had fingerprints on their faces. It’s a good “teaching moment” that goes a long way toward illustrating how badly we do at this stuff. You can get UV ink pretty easily, and there are hundreds of sellers on Ebay that offer ultraviolet flashlights. Here’s another suggestion: if you get an UV flashlight, do not shine it around a hotel room. Just … don’t.

This would be a fun interactive learning opportunity for people you’d like to turn into germaphobes.

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I do a lot of painting (I hate painting!) and usually it’s another good case study of “how bad we are at controlling liquids”. One trick that has stood me in good stead is to save the plastic shopping bags from the hardware store; if you need to take a paint roller off a handle, just put a shopping bag over it, then do what you need to do, and throw the whole thing away. Entire kitchen trashcan liners can be used to protect your arms; just pull them over and do a viking weave of vinyl tape around them.


  1. says

    Tangentially related, at best, but another sort of PSA:

    Immune-compromised people sometimes get immune system support via immunoglobulin injections, which is an extract of antibodies from donated blood. If you do contract COVID-19 (or any other interesting disease) and survive, please go donate blood. You will be adding useful material to the pool and lots of people will thank you for it.

  2. voyager says

    When I was nursing, my hands were raw from washing them so often with a scrubby 30 – 60 second all-over. Always make sure any medical/ dental professional washes or gloves before treating you.
    Also, stop touching your face. Really…it increases your risk – a lot. It’s a hard habit to learn or unlearn, but your hands are full of germs.
    Also, I recommend washing your hands before and after you pee, especially in public washrooms.

  3. says

    I now meticulously avoid letting my fingers touch any part of my face, especially my mouth parts …

    … while I am eating food with my hands. Go figure.

  4. lochaber says

    I don’t get ill very often, and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten the flu. In my youth, I just thought I had an awesome CON stat. Now, I think it’s because I’m not terribly social, and that I actually wash my hands – granted not to the specs mentioned in this post, but it’s just really disturbing how many people simply don’t wash their hands.

    I worked for a bit in a hospital, and even there, more people than not would leave the bathroom without washing their hands. Doctors, nurses, and assorted other trained medical professionals with far more training, education, and experience than I, seemed to have no desire to wash their hands after using the bathroom, even after defecating.

    As to face-touching… I’ve heard that’s how most people get colds/flu – touching something like a doorhandle or whatever that was touched by someone who previously coughed/sneezed on their hand, picking up a bit of infectious microbes, and then rubbing or picking their nose or whatever, transferring the pathogen to a brand new, fertile, habitable home…

    I was prior enlisted, and I remember during boot camp, the drill instructors were just waiting to jump down someone’s throat for touching their face. Acne and such cleared up quite a bit in a few people over those four months or so, but then again, there was the controlled diet and mandatory exercise and bathing (yeah…), amongst other confounding factors.

    I’m also reminded of that doctor quite some time ago, who encouraged hand-washing, and was then harassed and mocked, because: “doctors are gentlemen” and “gentlemen have clean hands” or some such nonsense.
    I think this is it:


  5. dangerousbeans says

    I’m also reminded of that doctor quite some time ago, who encouraged hand-washing, and was then harassed and mocked, because: “doctors are gentlemen” and “gentlemen have clean hands”

    but how do gentlemen get clean hands if they don’t wash them?
    if i didn’t wash my hands they would be perpetually stained black from sanding blades.. ew

  6. says

    Handwashing will significantly reduce the spread of the virus significantly if almost everybody does it often enough and properly. Which is never. Still not a reason to not do it on an individual level, but unfortunately, the reality is that one idiot at a supermarket who coughs on their hands and then – despite warning signs not to do it – handles veggies and baked goods with bare hands will offset ten people who observe the proper hygiene. It still helps to wash your own hands even when nobody else does it, but a lot less than it would if everyone else did it too.

    I am washing my hands about once-twice an hour. Thoroughly with soap before each meal, after every restroom visit, each time I return home from the outside and so forth.

    Not touching my face, unfortunately, won’t happen for me. Hazels started to blossom, and that means itchy nose, itchy eyes and a lot of sneezing and a runny nose. With antihistamines. Without them, it would be even worse.

  7. cvoinescu says

    The best description of how to wash hands properly I’ve seen so far: “Imagine you’ve been chopping jalapeños for a large batch of nachos, and now you need to take off your contacts.”

  8. jrkrideau says

    @ 3
    No longer have paper towels in a lot of public restrooms. Should we carry our own?

    It probably would not hurt, or at least a large handful of tissues if you can keep them sterile. The key points seem to be do not touch the taps or a door handle with a naked hand.

  9. says

    I have double layer protective nitrile gloves I use for painting, etc. they are tough enough to wear for a couple hours. The thin things they use for medical are too easy to tear.

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