How It Works
Ultraviolet light showing bacteria on a person's hands.

How clean are your hands?

Ultraviolet light showing bacteria on a person's hands.

Discover the microscopic germ city lurking on your palms and fingers.

Throughout the day, our hands touch many surfaces – from smartphones and toilet flushes to bus handrails and the pet dog. Bugs on those surfaces transfer to our hands, creating a thriving population of microscopic germs – more than 3,000 different types, in fact. The majority of hand bacteria are good (known as resident flora), but we can also pick up bad bugs, like faecal bacteria (from poo) such as Escherichia coli, alongside other nasties like Staphylococcus aureus and the viruses norovirus (winter vomiting bug) and flu.

These bad bugs spread to surfaces and people’s hands when we don’t wash our hands after using the toilet or taking out the bins. Then, when we eat or touch our mouths, we ingest them, and that can make us sick. Research shows that the best way to rid hands of unwanted germs and control the spread of infections is to wash hands with soap and water, particularly after using the toilet and before eating. Experts recommend scrubbing hands for the length of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice. Pass us the soap…

Dirtier than a toilet

Smartphones

Interestingly, 11 percent of people use smartphones and tablets when using the toilet to help pass the time.

Handbags

Over the course of a day a bag touches lots of grimy surfaces, from restaurant floors to tube seats.

 

Chopping boards

Chopping potatoes on a green chopping board. Shot on location in a kitchen with flash lighting.
The average chopping board has over 200 times more faecal bacteria on it than a toilet seat does.

Discover more amazing science in the latest issue of How It Works. It’s available from all good retailers, or you can order it online from the ImagineShop. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of How It Works, make sure you subscribe today!

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