When it comes to washing with soap and water after using the washroom, women are still better at it than men, finds a new observational study.

The study, sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and The Soap and Detergent Association, found that 88 per cent of women washed their hands in public restrooms, compared to just 66 per cent of the guys.

Compared to a similar study done in 2005, that's a two per cent drop-off for the ladies and a big nine per cent drop-off for men.

Interestingly, most people aren't willing to admit they aren't hand washers. In a separate telephone survey, a full 92 per cent of adults said they wash their hands in public restrooms.

For the study, a market research company observed the behavior of 6,076 adults in public restrooms and recorded whether or not they washed their hands. The research was conducted in four cities and at six locations: Atlanta (Turner Field), Chicago (Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium), New York City (Grand Central Station, Penn Station), and San Francisco (Ferry Terminal Farmers Market). These were the same locations used in the 2005 ASM/SDA study.

Men really strike out when it comes to handwashing at sporting events, the study found. Only 57 per cent of the guys were observed washing their hands at Turner Field in Atlanta (the lowest figure at any of the locales). On the other hand, women hit a home run: 95 per cent were observed cleaning their hands at the same location.

Among 1,001 men and women interviewed via telephone in 2007, 92 per cent say they always wash their hands after going to a public restroom and 86 per cent say they do likewise after using the bathroom in the home. In 2005, those figures were 91 percent and 83 per cent, respectively.

Nearly three-quarters (73 per cent) say they always wash their hands after changing a diaper. Seventy-eight percent say they always hand wash before handling or eating food. Only one-third (34 per cent) of respondents say they always wash their hands after coughing or sneezing.

Hands spread an estimated 80 per cent of common infectious diseases like the common cold and flu. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that the easiest way to reduce your chance of getting sick is to wash your hands often.

And don't waste money on antibacterial products. PHAC notes that research suggests that antibacterial soaps offer no benefit over regular soaps in preventing common illnesses and their widespread use can cause antibiotic resistance.

As well, alcohol-based hand sanitizers should only be used if you don't have access to soap and water.

"The mechanical action of handwashing -- rubbing your hands together with soap and water -- breaks down the tiny bits of grease, fat and dirt on your hands that bad germs cling to. Soap doesn't actually kill the bad germs. Instead, it's the combination of soap, rubbing, rinsing and drying that helps these bugs slide off your hands," the agency notes

Here are the agency's recommended steps for good handwashing technique

  • Remove all rings and wet your hands with warm running water.
  • Put a small amount of liquid soap in the palm of one hand. Bar soaps are not as hygienic as liquid soaps because they stay moist and attract germs. If a bar soap is the only option it should be stored on a rack so that the bar doesn't sit in water.
  • Rub your hands together for 20 seconds so you produce lather. Make sure you scrub between your fingers, under your fingernails and the backs of your hands.
  • Rinse your hands well with clean running water for at least 10 seconds. Try not to handle the faucets once your hands are clean. Use a paper towel to turn off the water.
  • Dry your hands with a single use paper towel. If you use a hand towel be sure to change it daily. During cold and flu season you may want to give each family member his or her own hand towel.
  • Use hand lotion to put moisture back into your skin if your hands are dry.
  • Model good handwashing technique to your children. Have them sing a song like "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" while rubbing their hands together to teach them the amount of time it takes to clean their hands properly.