According to some research, only 67% of Americans wash their hands before they leave the bathroom.
So while we’re trying to teach kids that washing their hands is not only sanitary but mandatory – cold and flu season being a good occasion for reminders – it looks like some of us don’t quite practice what we preach. But maybe this experiment will change your mind (or keep you from forgetting).
A wide variety of microbes can be found on surfaces that look quite clean to the naked eye. Some of them are largely harmless while others cause illness and can even be deadly. Bacteria and viruses, for example, can both lurk on hands that appear”clean.” That’s why two instructors at an elementary school decided to show kids just how dirty their hands are and how those invisible “germs” that lurk everywhere can be…well, gross.
Jaralee Metcalf is a behavioral specialist. She works in an autism unit with students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Dayna Robertson is a special education teacher. Together, they found an experiment on the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital website, called “How Clean Are Your Hands?” and decided to test it out in a classroom.
Their classroom experiment was conducted with 5 slices of white bread, all sealed in separate plastic bags. The first slice was an addition made by Metcalf and Robertson and it was first rubbed on a classroom Chromebook that hadn’t been sanitized before being sealed in its bag. The second slice was inserted without having been touched. The third was touched by all of the students before any had a chance to wash their hands. The fourth was touched by the kids after they washed their hands with soap and water first. And the fifth was touched after using hand sanitizer but no soap.
The results were, in a word, disgusting.
Metcalf told Bored Panda:
“The students were very involved, they usually are with hands-on experiments! Since the results were so shocking, the students and staff have taken a very serious turn toward better hygiene. Students from different classrooms in the entire school have come to our class to look at the moldy bread and learn about handwashing.”
Because most bread sold in grocery stores and to schools needs to have a long shelf life, it includes preservatives. The experiment took place over 3-4 weeks because of this (although the mold started forming on some of the slices in just a couple of days!).
Here’s what slice #1 – the one rubbed on the Chromebook – looked like:
Yep, that’s gross. But it’s not a shock that things that sit out on tables around children are covered in less-than-savory organisms.
Mold will grow on bread eventually, but it’s telling that the untouched piece was just fine throughout the experiment. And while that does say something about the number of preservatives in bread like this, that’s a point for another day.
Meanwhile, here’s what bread looks like when a bunch of dirty hands touches it:
When students washed with soap and water, the bread looked much like the untouched original (except with little finger indentations in there (at least we know it was touched!):
And sorry, sanitizer-lovers. It’s just not a stand-in for soap and water. Sanitizer is only useful if you have no other choice.
Of course, people jumped all over the teachers regarding their scientific protocol because, well, it’s the Internet. But that didn’t make their point less obvious.
Metcalf had to step in and tell people to chill out a little and concentrate on the importance of washing hands.
People got upset that she might be picking on Google’s Chromebooks as well. Their amazing ability to miss the point shows that now, more than ever, people are more willing to get defensive about things than to just do what’s right – which in this case is to WASH YOUR HANDS and not undermine anyone else’s desire to do the same.
Wash them EVERY time you go into a bathroom (you don’t know what is on the counters or dispensers).
Wash them before and after eating.
Wash them when you come into your home after being in public or outside at all.
This helps stop the spread of all sorts of illnesses, not just colds and flus.
And you’re not just protecting yourself with this behavior. You’re also protecting those around you with weaker immune systems – babies, the elderly, and sick people (as well as those who come into contact with them). That’s why they call it PUBLIC health.
The trolls masquerading as “experts” also arrived to point out that some germs can’t be killed with soap and that there are organisms all over our bodies that live there without causing disease. Well, duh. But, once again, that’s missing the point spectacularly.
First, this was a classroom experiment and the kids involved were 8. The Internet is not designed to be an upper-level microbiology laboratory for adults. Nevertheless, the experiment is valid if conducted according to the instructions.
From a microbiology standpoint, the results are pretty much what you’d expect to see. And the conclusion that washing your hands is a good way to stay healthy and stop the spread of dangerous organisms is sound, no matter how angry someone who has read a few popular science books gets in the comments section.
Now if you’re reading this on a phone or computer you don’t sanitize every day, remember to wash your hands before you move on to the next thing!
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