We have all seen it, probably too many times: someone gets out of the toilet booth/cubicle and rushing outside, never even glancing towards the sink where he/she are expected to wash their hands like we all should be doing.

First dilemma: should I approach them while still in the bathroom? If so, how?

Second dilemma: suppose I know that person and later meet him/her and expected to shake hands. What can I do? Is there a gentle way to bring the issue up without sounding paternal?

I am aware of this other question: How should I approach a co-worker on matters of personal hygiene?, however it looks like the other question is focusing on bad smell and not discussing the habit of not washing hands, thus I don't think it fits as exact duplicate at its current state.

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    @gnat the other question is about bad smell, not about washing hands in toilets, but if five high rep users here (or one mod) would decide it's an exact duplicate I won't fight the decision. Dec 25, 2014 at 13:40
  • I see. I think there is a good chance for de-duplicating edit on your question. Though given how top answer over there seems to fit your case, I somewhat doubt that it is worth the effort
    – gnat
    Dec 25, 2014 at 13:47
  • Thanks @gnat think I'll try the edit approach when having some time. Dec 25, 2014 at 13:56
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    Are you in the food service industry? Other people service? It's one thing if a construction worker goes back to shingling my roof and quite another if the person goes back to making my sandwich.
    – Telastyn
    Dec 25, 2014 at 14:09
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    Shaking hands ALWAYS risks transferring germs/viruses, from a sneeze or from something they handled. (See the various hyperbole comments on the web that kissing may actually be lower risk.) The best and most effective way to protect yourself is to wash your hands more frequently and/or use alcohol sanitizer. Remember that most folks do "know better", and your reminding them isn't going to tell them anything they don't already know... so it's unlikely to change their habits, and they're more likely to be annoyed by the reminder than to appreciate it.
    – keshlam
    Dec 25, 2014 at 18:06

3 Answers 3


That is not just a personal hygiene problem that is bad manners in general. If they are not considerate of others then they are most likely not going to accept input.

Often you have a break between ordering and being served. Use that as a time to go to the restroom and wash your hands. It is a good idea to wash your hands before eating in general. If it is a food court with no readily available restroom then it will typically be informal and less chance of shaking hands. If there is open food bar my policy is get some quick and just not eat after that person. As a last resort "Just washed my hands and am getting ready to eat". Or "Just went to the restroom and did not wash my hands and you are getting ready to eat."

  • +1 for "Just went to the restroom and did not wash my hands and you are getting ready to eat.", which is exactly the message you want to send. Dec 26, 2014 at 17:42
  • Wanted to post my own answer. I guess this is the one I agree with most. Not washing is like letting kids attend a school without having their vaccinations. If an individual (child/worker) is not doing their part to help prevent the spread of diseases and infections (getting immunised/washing hands), unless they have a good reason not to (immune deficiency/soap allergy?), then they are negating rather than contributing to a hygienic system. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_immunity & skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/10164/… Jul 18, 2017 at 14:26
  1. If you are not management and you have no authority over them, the only thing I can think of is to directly say "Thank you for washing your hands!" to the culprit as he is rushing past the sinks. I usually use an indirect approach, explicitly thanking the bloke next to me for washing his hands while the culprit is passing by the sinks. Of course, I am not above breathlessly telling the colleagues "Don't even think of shaking this guy's hand!" and spreading the rumor around the office that the culprit is not washing his hands.

  2. If I have supervisory authority, a loud "Hey, wash your hands!" as the culprit is passing by the sinks should be sufficient.

  3. Don't discount the power of example. Whether or not you are in authority, the culprit who sees you hunching over the sink and seeing you spending 30 seconds to wash your hands - that should make him self-conscious about rushing past the sinks without washing his hands. That's especially powerful if the culprit sees two or more of you thoroughly washing their hands.

  4. Every restaurant in New York City is required to post an "Employees must wash their hands" sign. Maybe we should have management post such a sign in the workplace's bathrooms.

Why is there always someone on this site who is obsessed about how to approach somebody? Figure how how to say it and then say it. It's that simple.

  • It's all about how to do it without hurting the other person's feelings. Keep in mind he/she might be ranked higher than me, and not washing hands is not such a fatal felony: it's not like I seen him/her committing some horrible crime. :) Dec 25, 2014 at 14:03
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    @ShadowWizard Have management put up the "Employees must wash their hands" sign. So far as I am concerned, anyone who does not wash his hands after doing their business HAS committed a horrible crime and should be dog shamed. I am thinking something like putting an "I did not wash my hands" placard around the culprit's neck and have the culprit stop at every cubicle to say hello to everyone - and I haven't even gotten started being creative yet :) Dec 25, 2014 at 14:15
  • haha, good one. My idea for punishment would be to make him/her shake the hands of 10 other people right after visiting the toilet before washing their hands. But I fear it won't be legal! :-D Dec 25, 2014 at 14:17
  • @ShadowWizard It's a totally minor issue, but I am blowing it out of proportion because I find it a personal irritant Dec 25, 2014 at 14:23
  • If the question is not appropriate then why are you answering it?
    – paparazzo
    Dec 25, 2014 at 16:08

Just for your information, there is also an alternative reason to this, though as far as I am aware it may be more of a minority group:

I never wash my hands in the sink. Ever. Why? Because the sink handles and area itself may be dirty and full of germs. After washing I have to close the water anyway, and then I touch the handle/knob again.

What I do is I always keep antibacterial wipes or gel with me, which are also much more effective and faster than water in the toilet. And yes, I wipe myself back at my desk.

So it may just be that 20-30% of the people you see not washing their hands in the sink have wipes or gel at their desk.

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    You can always close the sink handles with a paper towel and use the same paper towel to open the restroom handle knob. I see people do this all the time.
    – Glowie
    Dec 25, 2014 at 22:34
  • @glowie, I thought about it, but the gel/wipes are just cooler :P
    – AntiSink
    Dec 25, 2014 at 22:38
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    -1 so... you spread your yick hands on all the door handles on the way back to your desk? nice. also, hands sanitizers are not as effective as soap in a sink.
    – bharal
    Dec 25, 2014 at 23:00
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    just splash water on the sink handles and then kick the door open. Most public bathrooms have optical sensors anyway. While small workplace bathrooms usually have paper towels and stuff so you can use those to open doors. Also you can rinse your hands with water and then use the gel anyway. You should at least do this because it's not nice to other people to make the door knob dirty.
    – Formagella
    Dec 26, 2014 at 14:49
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    -1 Feel free to wash your hands and then wipe them when you get back to your seat as well. Anyone who doesn't want to touch surfaces that your unwashed hands have touched shouldn't have to. The fact that 'other people don't have good hygiene anyway' is a really bad excuse for being as bad as them. I strongly disagree with (to the point of anger) anyone trying to justify this antisocial behaviour in this way. Jul 18, 2017 at 13:59

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