coworker won’t wash her hands after using the bathroom

This post was originally published on October 6, 2010.

A reader writes:

We have a very distasteful problem at work that I just don’t know how to handle, and it’s really disgusting. We have a co-worker who absolutely refuses to wash her hands after she uses the rest room, and she refuses the alternative of using gel sanitizer. She has fecal bacteria, ecoli, and Lord only knows what else on those bacteria covered hands of hers. These are the same hands she uses to open the office door the rest of the office staff has to use. She touches the copy machine buttons, the postage machine, all the other office equipment the office employees have to share, and there seems like there is nothing we can do about it.

We have approached her directly, but she just laughs. We have approached our supervisor, who spoke to her, but nothing changed. I am at the point of actually looking for another job over it. We keep sanitizer and handiwipes in the office, and wipe common use areas down frequently, but we should not have to, and I resent the filth. This is so disgusting! Is there anything we can do?

You’re thinking of leaving your job over this?

Look, yes, this is gross, and yes, it’s unsanitary, but … do you really think that you’re not encountering the same sort of problem in other places?  I assure you that this woman is not the only one engaged in this behavior; she just happens to be the one you know about. When you go to the mall, the grocery store, the park, wherever — you’re undoubtedly encountering things that have been touched by other people who also don’t wash their hands. The only difference here is that you happen to know who a specific culprit is.

(I just looked this up to see if there were any statistics on hand-washing, and I found this study, which says that 28% of adults don’t regularly wash their hands after using the bathroom. And to make matters worse, this study found that even people who wash their hands don’t wash them well enough to wash off germs.)

I suppose a manager in your office could lay down the law on this — requiring employee hand-washing in the same way that restaurants do, to prevent the spread of germs, and talking to this employee in a more serious way to let her know it’s not optional … but (a) do you really want your managers monitoring people’s bathroom behavior, and (b), even if they did create some rule around this, are you ever going to really trust that she’s washing her hands when someone isn’t around to observe her?

Keep hand sanitizer around, use it liberally, and socially shame her if you must — but quitting over it? For that to make any sense, you’d also need to wear gloves and a mask every time you emerged from your house. People are often gross. The world is germy. Write this woman off as one of the many gross people out there and move on.

{ 214 comments… read them below }

  1. Y*

    I’m always curious – what sickness exactly do people expect to get because they touched the same doorknob as someone who didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom?

    I get that people think it’s gross, but what bacterial infectionare people worried about from this behavior?

    1. Gjest*

      Influenza, e. coli, the common cold- there are really lots of gross things you can get on your hands after touching a doorknob. I taught an intro biology lab in grad school, and one of the things we did was go around and swab common items and see what grew. It was really disgusting. For a while after this lab, I kind of felt grossed out by everything, and as if I should be wearing latex gloves at all times. And by the way, the bathroom doorknob was grosser than the toilet seat- my guess was because the toilet seat actually gets cleaned regularly.

      But Alison is right, this OP is overreacting.

      The best bet is to control your own behavior of hand washing, eating & sleeping well (to keep your own immune system working well), etc.

      1. Y*

        Influenza/common cold: Of course, but that’s not specific to the bathroom thing – it’s more of a problem when someone sneezes on their hands. While washing after using the bathroom means people regularly wash their hands, this is not really bathroom-specific.

        E- coli: Really not that much of a problem. The variant we have in our guts will usually not infect anyone.

        ” I taught an intro biology lab in grad school, and one of the things we did was go around and swab common items and see what grew. It was really disgusting. (…) And by the way, the bathroom doorknob was grosser than the toilet seat ”

        I really don’t get that – the amount of bacteria on a surface/whatever is really no indication on to whether it is in any way harmful/dangerous/contagious. Most bacteria will look “disgusting” in a petri dish, even those that do really awesome and helpful things. (I have an MSc in Biology, so I did a lot of work with bacteria, even actually harmful ones – they don’t look any more disgusting than others :))

        I take immunosuppressants, so I am really not keen on people sneezing at things/me, but other than the general social “ick”factor, the bathroom thing doesn’t bother me because what am I going to catch – cholera? Really unlikely where I am.

        1. Gjest*

          I’m sure you are aware then that sometimes there are pathogenic bacteria lurking in the less harmful stuff. Maybe not cholera, but that’s why I didn’t say cholera. You asked what sicknesses you could get, and as I said, you can get influenza, the common cold, and there are pathogenic e. colis out there, so that’s why I said those.

          And actually, harmless bacteria look different than harmful bacteria, if you know what to look for. But I get your point- there’s bacteria everywhere, some good, some bad. My point was the same, but just pointing out that things that people think are “clean” are not really as clean as they think they are.

          1. Y*

            “You asked what sicknesses you could get”

            Actually, I was specifically talking about the bathroom part. Neither the cold not influenza are something you risk being infected by more because a co-worker doesn’t wash their hands after using the toilet. In my opinion, the OP should try to evaluate just what risk this behavior really poses and then whether this is really worth doing something about.

            “And actually, harmless bacteria look different than harmful bacteria,”

            In a petri dish? Yes, you can (sort of) identify a few by sight, but most bacteria build white, round, smooth or colonies, like E. coli. Most of the rest make white, round, non-smooth ones :)

            1. Gjest*

              This paper is available open access in PLOS One.

              Flores GE, Bates ST, Knights D, Lauber CL, Stombaugh J, et al. (2011) Microbial Biogeography of Public Restroom Surfaces. PLoS ONE 6(11): e28132. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0028132

              Really not sure what your question is…that there isn’t harmful bacteria or viruses on bathroom surfaces? If that is your question, my answer is that I don’t think that is true.

              If your main argument here is against getting the cold or influenza from someone not washing their hands in the bathroom, and you can get that elsewhere- well, yeah, but after using the bathroom is also when people most often wash their hands, so washing hands then can reduce both the bathroom-related pathogens, and the other non-bathroom related pathogens.

              But really, I kind of feel like you just want to argue…in which case, OK, that was that, now back to work :)

              1. Colette*

                I don’t think anyone is disputing that there is bacteria/viruses on bathroom surfaces.

                The question is does not washing your hands increase your risk of getting sick? Does it increase the risk for those around you?

              2. Anna*

                I think I’m going to trust they know what they’re talking about since they work directly with bacteria for their job.

                Frankly, I’m not too grossed out about people not washing their hands. I know it happens, I dont’ think about it too often, and I try to wash mine. But the reason I wash mine is less about getting other people sick and more about keeping me from getting sick. You’re far more likely to get yourself ill from what’s on your hands because you’re the person touching your face, eyes, nose, mouth, and those are where infection is going to enter the body. I also won’t use hand sanitizer for many reasons, not the least of which is that it actually helps create worse bacteria and frankly we don’t need more MRSA or C-Dif.

                Also, pot, meet kettle. “But really, I kind of feel like you just want to argue…in which case, OK, that was that, now back to work”.

                1. RG*

                  I believe hand sanitizer is alcohol based, not antibiotic based. And that resistant strains happen from evolved resistance to antibiotics. So, an alcohol based sanitizer will NOT promote resistant bacteria because the mechanism for killing the bacteria is different.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  The alcohol-based sanitizer is fine. Just avoid the kind that has Triclosan, which bugs apparently see and say, “Challenge accepted!”

                  Avoid the antibacterial soaps–they usually have Triclosan too.

            2. Lora*

              It’s more the frequency of hand-washing rather than “your butt is full of germs”: people should wash their hands multiple times daily to wash off the rhinoviruses and whatnot, and since people generally go to the bathroom a few times daily, it makes sense to wash em there. Not that those colleagues who pick up Taco Bell and spray the resulting diarrheal germs everywhere shouldn’t also wash AND OH GOD TAKE A BATH IN CLOROX PLEASE, but folks generally aren’t going to hop up from what they are doing four times a day just to wash their hands.

              1. fposte*

                Yes, exactly. The psychological link is a great driver of behavior here to make us do what we should be doing anyway.

              2. Natalie*

                This is true, but it is also true that fecal contamination is a huge disease vector. People should wash their hands anytime they may have been in contact with fecal bacteria, primarily after using the bathroom or changing a baby’s diaper.

          2. Y*

            I mentioned cholera, by the way, because this is somthing where the main path of infection is actually feces.

          3. Bea W*

            Flu and cold are caused by viruses and are transmitted by different means than coming into contact with the byproducts of using the toilet. It’s a bad comparison because what people are afraid of catching in the bathroom are illnesses associated with badies lurking in fecal matter.

            It is true that there are pathenogenic bacteria lurking in populations of non-pathenogenic bacteria, but that in an of itself is does not indicate a threat. Potentially pathenogenic bacteria populations are kept in check by other bacteria. They only pose a threat when the population is not kept in check and the bacteria multiply to the point of causing illness. Humans, like other animals, carry some of these problem organisms as part of their normal flora. Again, it’s only a threat if the balance of normal flora is disrupted and allows the “bad” bacteria grow unchecked.

        2. TychaBrahe*

          From feces: salmonellosis, shigellosis, hepatitis A, giardiasis, enterovirus, amebiasis, and campylobacteriosis.

          From urine: cytomegalovirus, typhoid, staphylococcal organisms, and Epstein-Barr virus.

          Other non-bathroom stuff, the spread of which can be curtailed by regular hand washing: influenza, Streptococcus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the common cold.

          1. fposte*

            I think there’s a difference between regular handwashing, which is about washing the hands, period, and the need to wash hands because one has just peed, though. In the U.S., you’re likelier to encounter that last category (I’m actually surprised at how much they’ve left off–staph, flu viruses, etc.), and handwashing is a good plan whether you go to the bathroom or not.

            1. llamathatducks*

              But if you don’t wash your hands after peeing, when else are you gonna wash them? People don’t routinely make special handwashing trips to the nearest sink.

          2. Marmite*

            Norovirus (sometimes called winter vomiting bug) is another one that can be spread by touching an infected surface. Those germies are super hardy too and hang around for a good while on surfaces.

            I’m not one for santizing everything in sight, but I tend to assume a good chunk of the population either don’t wash their hands or don’t do it effectively. So, I wash my hands well after using the bathroom and before eating and I try not to touch my orifices too often. Easier to do that than worry about what everyone else is doing.

            1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

              +1. Last time I got norovirus, it was from visiting my friend’s house the day after her mum – who had had norovirus a couple of days before (you’re still infectious for a few days after the symptoms stop) – had visited and used their bathroom while she was there. I didn’t see the Mum myself, and I didn’t eat or drink anything while I was in the house – but I did use the loo, and so did my husband. We (and another person who was visiting at the same time, and the people who live in the house) ALL got sick simultaneously the next evening, and we hadn’t eaten anything in common – so it had to be from the Mum spreading her viruses all over the bathroom. Yuck.

      2. Mena*

        Gjest, you will only catch something if you touch the infected area and then touch your nose or eyes. Provided you do not have any open cuts on your hands, you will not ‘catch’ any of these things through your skin. Yes, these germs are all around us at all times, but you are not as at risk as you seem to think. Keep your own hands away from your face as you’ll be ok.

      3. Vicki*

        You can get the cold or flu from a doorknob, elevator button etc, regardless of whether someone washed their hands after using the restroom. Those aren’t “restroom hand washing” illnesses, those are “cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze” illnesses.

      1. fposte*

        Handwashing in the bathroom wouldn’t save you from this one–those were scallions that grew up with the E. coli strain. Vegetables eaten raw are particularly prone to spreading disease if they were infected during cultivation, since just washing them off with water isn’t enough to get rid of the bacteria.

    2. Bea W*

      Unless they have open sores, or immune deficieny, or put their hand in their mouth, the chances of getting anything bathroom related from a door knob are slim.

      1. Lora*

        *waves* Hi, cancer survivor here!

        Probably a lot more of your colleagues are immunodeficient than you realize. After all, in any large organization, statistically there are likely some HIV+ folks, some pregnant women, some folks not fully vaccinated, and some cancer survivors/patients, organ transplant recipients, etc. You can’t tell by looking. And it’s not really nice to ask unless you have a reason such as, your organization works with wastewater treatment facilities, blood products, infectious organisms, pharmaceuticals or medical devices.

        Grossest thing I ever saw someone catch at work was giardiasis. There was a wastewater treatment facility about 50 feet away from one of our reactors. Guy who was working on it was a habitual nail-biter. The spray from the wastewater place 50 feet away was enough to give him giardiasis, twice.

        Note for non-science folks: giardiasis is spread via the fecal-oral route.

        1. Jen in RO*

          I get that a lot of people are immunodeficient, but you can’t expect others to take care of that for you. Unfortunately, it’s up to you to be much, much more careful than the regular person. Just like I know that drivers are supposed to stop at red lights, but I still won’t cross the road until I *see* them stop.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think she’s saying that, since she’s one of the people noting that post-bathroom washing isn’t all that crucial. She’s just pointing out that immune deficiency of various levels is actually pretty common.

        2. Y*

          Yeah, I am semi-immunodeficient , too, because of medication I take for an autoimmune disorder.

          That said, I’d prefer people just not going to work while sick to sick people washing their hands regularly any day.

          1. Bea W*

            I don’t have an immunodeficiency and I sure wish people would stay out when sick. You can wash poop bacteria off your hands, but there is not a whole lot you can do to avoid an airborne transmission of your neighbor’s flu virus.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              God, yes. At Exjob, people regularly came in sick and I always would catch it. Then I had to work half-days sick until my backup came in. I would try not to sneeze or cough and then wiped everything down with Clorox wipes before I left.

        3. Bea W*

          Yuck. Putting your hands in your mouth is a common way to give yourself some kind of nasty bug. If you’re a nail biter, you do it without even thinking. Fingernails are handy hiding places for this kind of stuff.

          I was clearing up a common misconception the OP and other germophobes have about catching something horrible from the “poop knob”. If they aren’t at risk, they don’t have to be paranoid about everything they touch potentially making them sick. The OP doesn’t say anything about being at risk, just that she’s completely grossed out and feels that it is “filthy”.

          If someone has an immune deficiency or other increased risk, I presume they know about it and have been told by a doctor what precautions they need to take to stay healthy when out in places like public restrooms where they can’t control the cleanliness level.

    3. Madtown Maven*

      As someone who contracted cryptosporidium and nearly died because of it, I can tell you that there’s quite a few nasty diseases and infections that can be prevented just by proper handwashing.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Norovirus is the most god-awful thing I have ever had, but no amount of hand-washing was going to protect me from the guy who brought it to work and proceeded to cough and sneeze and breathe all over me in a confined space.

          1. Anna*

            No, it does not. But it does make “rapid evacuation from both ends” a phrase you use. I’ve had both H1N1 and norovirus and I cannot tell you which was worse. They were both dreadful.

            1. fposte*

              I was wondering if Exception’s colleague might have had both at the same time. At that point you’d probably just *want* to die.

    4. Ruffingit*

      Well, clearly, everyone who doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom is a walking ebola/polio/smallpox factory.

  2. MR*

    I suspect that the OP has bigger issues in life than a coworker that doesn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom.

  3. Ann Furthermore*

    OK, I get that this is absolutely a disgusting habit, and no one wants to come into contact with any type of excremental funk. But like Alison said, the world is full of all kinds of icky stuff. If you spent your life being paranoid about it, you would never leave your house.

    My theory is that the dearth of hand-sanitizers, anti-bacterial products, and all the rest of it is part of the reason we see so many more weird allergies than we used to. I think they weaken people’s immune systems.

    I’m not trying to make light of anyone’s allergies. I don’t have any, and I know how fortunate I am. Neither of my children have any either, and again, I’m eternally grateful, because I have friends with kids who have allergies, and it really is hard to live with.

    1. Jen in RO*

      I did some googling a while back to see if anyone knows where these allergies are coming from, and it looks like there’s no definitive answer, but Americans do tend to have more of them (according to this article:

      I actually started reading into this after an AAM thread… I was curious because I’ve never met a person with a severe allergy (hospitalization, anaphylactic shock) and I don’t know anyone who is allergic to food or perfume, for example… but judging by comments and articles I read online, there are a lot of people with life-threatening allergies in other countries. It’s partly a matter of reporting, I guess – no one here thinks allergies are a big deal, so no one talks about them -, but I guess I’d hear about it if a kid died from a bunch of peanuts…

    2. Jen in RO*

      I did some googling a while back to see if anyone knows where these allergies are coming from, and it looks like there’s no definitive answer, but Americans do tend to have more of them (according to this article: link removed, it’s called “Where do allergies come from?” on CNN).

      I actually started reading into this after an AAM thread… I was curious because I’ve never met a person with a severe allergy (hospitalization, anaphylactic shock) and I don’t know anyone who is allergic to food or perfume, for example… but judging by comments and articles I read online, there are a lot of people with life-threatening allergies in other countries. It’s partly a matter of reporting, I guess – no one here thinks allergies are a big deal, so no one talks about them -, but I guess I’d hear about it if a kid died from a bunch of peanuts…

      [Reposting without the article link, since I don’t know when Alison will be able to moderate comments.]

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Allergies are an over agressive immune system response – not a weak one as people suppose. Anaphylaxis doesn’t kill you on the first encounter but the second time – after your body builds up immunity.

        It is a matter of the internet and reporting, as well as technology. In the old days the person would just die – usually in childhood. Anaphylaxis wasn’t “discovered” until the early 1900s.

        I know that when I went to an immunologist when I was at university my life got a lot better. But it was fairly new back then (late 70s)

      2. Y*

        I, like about 0.1-1% of the population, am allergic to penicillin and will likely suffer an anaphylactic shock the next time I encounter it. But that’s a very “new” allergy because people weren’t usually exposed to it in previous centuries.

        1. Ivy*

          I am also allergic to penicillin, first ran into that about 20 years ago as a student. Recently I developed an allergy to the “mycin” type antibiotics and read up a bit on this. It seems people actually can get over the allergy is not exposed to the allergen for a long period. So theoretically I could give penicillin another try (theoretically because an allergic reaction feels so bad and takes ages to wash away of your system even with steroids, that it has to be a life-critical situation to consider it:-)

          1. Jen in RO*

            I don’t know how allergies work, but my boyfriend got over his cat allergy by *getting* a cat. It wasn’t a severe allergy, he just got the sniffles and irritated eyes, but it went away after a few months of Mr. Cat sitting on his chest. (Just an anecdote, I’m not suggesting you should just have more penicillin shots to try to get rid of the allergy.)

            1. fposte*

              I’m sure somebody with more direct personal experience can weigh in, but I think that that’s roughly the principle of allergy shots–small doses that desensitize you. The problem is that if your responses are anaphylactic, such exposures can be really dangerous, so that’s mostly for allergic rhinitis stuff.

              A friend of mine has kids who had anaphylactic-level allergies before they were one, and even medically testing to see if they’ve grown out of them is nerve-wracking: they basically go to the hospital for the day and get fed a teeny amount every hour and then get watched to see if anything starts to happen.

              1. Anon Accountant*

                Absolutely. I have anaphylactic-level allergies from animal dander and food allergies. If I had a dollar for each time someone told me to eat walnuts (allergic to) or be around cats more often to fix my allergies, I’d be able to quit my job and travel.

                If I was exposed to my allergens, there is a chance I wouldn’t be able to post on this blog any more.

                Sorry for the tangent but I get a little worked up by well-meaning relatives suggestions.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                I dearly hope that if I have a kid that we both do not have to go through this. I don’t know if the sterile-modern-kids allergy theory holds any water, but if so, I’m gonna plunk them down in the garden and let them eat worms if I have to!

                P.S.–if your kid eats an earthworm and you don’t spray your yard, he’ll be fine. You, on the other hand, may be nauseated for days.

                1. Ann Furthermore*

                  I have no scientific proof to back this up; it’s just anecdotal evidence. Several people I know have said that when they had their first kid, they were hyper-vigilant about making sure that every single thing the child came into contact with was sterile. By the time kid 3 or 4 came along, the parents had eased up a little bit.

                  Fast forward to adolescence/adulthood, and it turns out that the kids in the super-sanitized environments are the ones more prone to get sick, while the other kids are able to fight things off more easily.

                2. fposte*

                  It also helps to avoid a C-section (though that’s not always possible, of course); they do seem to make the kid more likely to have allergies. I think we’ll have a lot more information in about ten years when a lot of this microbiome and epigenetics work starts going more mianstream.

                3. SAF*

                  There is also speculation that the drugs used to induce labor may up the incidence of allergies/sensitivities.

            2. ThursdaysGeek*

              That’s how I got over my cat allergy too, but I don’t recommend it for something that can kill you or even make you super miserable. It’s worth trying for the mild allergies that are a bit annoying.

        2. JAM*

          Less than 1% of the population is allergic to penicillin? Woo hoo! We’re special! I am also allergic to penicillin and “mycin” type drugs, and have avoided taking any prescription drugs/antibiotics since I was in high school because I was getting allergic reactions to just about everything. But this last year I had my final wisdom teeth taken out and it was awful and I sucked it up and took the antibiotics and no reaction. I’m thinking because it’s been so long – at least 15 years – that perhaps my allergies have gone away?

          P.S. I love the comment section of this blog. I always learn so much about such random things that are not even job related!

          1. fposte*

            My anecdotal impression is that GPs tend to be quick to classify any possible allergic reaction to antibiotics as an allergy (and patients tend to hear any “may be an allergy” as “you have an allergy”) because anaphylaxis is such a thing to avoid, but emergency rooms hate that because many wee hive-type reactions aren’t allergic and then they have to figure out if they really can use antibiotics to save your life or not.

            1. Jamie*

              Yes. I don’t have an allergy to any medication but I do have an adverse reaction to one and that’s what I call it when asked. Most of my doctor’s offices put it in the allergy category – just to avoid it I guess.

              1. fposte*

                My clinic system doesn’t have an adverse reaction category, so I similarly have a medication listed as an allergy though it’s not (in fact, somebody else here had a problem with Augmentin as well, but I didn’t think it was you).

                1. Jamie*

                  No it’s not that one – for me I get a really weird effect from the steroids they gave me when I had pneumonia.

                2. Julie*

                  Augmentin makes me really sick to my stomach and gives me abdominal cramps. Bleah! (These days I have such a weak-ass stomach, it’s really pathetic.)

              2. tcookson*

                My daughter had an adverse reaction to several varieties of anti-nausea drugs while in the hospital being treated for a burst appendix. She got involuntary muscle movements, and the doctor said that if the medication were continued under those circumstances, it could cause permanent neural damage.

                When we were leaving the hospital, her nurse told us that we should start listing those when asked about drug allergies. She said that even though it wasn’t technically an allergy, that medical personnel take the word “allergy” more seriously than they do “adverse reaction”.

            2. JAM*

              I broke out into crazy hives (like covering everywhere on my body-type hives) multiple times when I was a kid, and it was after taking a medication for the 2nd time. I think they were actually a little too slow to diagnose me with allergies because they just kept giving me the drugs even after I had these reactions. They probably should have just cut me off, but I was sick a lot when I was a kid.

              My mom also has had the same reaction to medications, but hers didn’t start until she was an adult, and she tended to have internal swelling (like if you’re allergic to bee stings and your throat swells and starts to close) instead of external hives like I did. Scary stuff.

              But I would be interested to actually get tested for allergies now as an adult to see if I’m just sensitive or it’s actually an allergy.

          2. A Teacher*

            I’m allergic to sulfa medications…not as bad as a reaction as those with penicillin but if I take a sulfa based medicine I get this lovely case of hives and feel worse because the condition I was actually being treated for also wasn’t cured.

            1. alergies*

              I am also allergic to sulfa and within recent years found out that I am allergic to “-mycin” type antibiotics as well. I am under the impression they are related but not really sure if that’s true!

        3. kelly*

          I think there needs to be a difference made between the truly severe and life threatening allergies (peanuts, penicillin, and other anti-biotics) and the ones that may cause some minor irritation (some food ones i.e. red dye, lactose, etc).

          I don’t include “allergies” like scent preferences and animal hair because I do believe that it’s individuals who are rather vocal and whiny trying to impose their own will on others through a medically dubious diagonoses. More than likely, they haven’t been exposed to a wide variety of stimuli in their life and expect their colleagues and other people in their lives to live in the same bubble they do. I will second the fact that through daily contact with animals as pets the more accustomed you get to them. Plus, as you get older and exposed to more stimuli, your body may react to different stresses differently. My sister when she was younger was diagnosed with an animal hair allergy. It devastated her because our guinea pig got moved out her room, but now she has no symptoms as an adult. We did get a couple cats and a dog later and she had no allergic reaction to them. She now lives in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets, as do I and misses the fat felines terribly.

          I live in apartment complex that doesn’t allow pets for some reason, but the one across the road does. The best reasoning I have seen is keeping down cleaning, carpet replacement, and repainting costs. I don’t buy that argument because they allow smoking inside the units but not in the hallways. That makes no sense because the smell of second hand smoke is going to seep out of the units into the hallways, forcing the non-smokers to be involuntarily exposed to it. I know at least two people on my floor are pot smokers and several smoke in their units, including a new tenants across the hall from me. The cost of cleaning up a unit after a smoking tenant departs can be high – having to replace all the carpeting and extra repainting, even if they’ve lived there a short time.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Well, some scents can affect asthma sufferers pretty badly. That’s one reason offices could have a perfume policy. I hardly think that is whiny or selfish.

            Cigarette smoke is 1) a known trigger for asthma, and also 2) dangerous to everyone. And no, pot smoke isn’t any better for you (your lungs don’t like smoke, period).

            1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

              Actually, there doesn’t appear to be much connection between smoking marijuana and lung conditions. Any correlations tend to be shaky, small, and inconsistent among studies. Recent studies even show marijuana smokers to have a smaller risk of developing lung cancer than those who smoke nothing at all (those who smoke both marijuana and tobacco had the highest incidence).

              Though I can’t speak to the effect of marijuana smoke on asthma sufferers, I can say that, counter-intuitively, science is having a tough time substantiating the conventional knowledge of “smoking anything at all is bad for you” when it comes to marijuana.

                1. Chinook*

                  I agree that MJ stinks. There are a few users in my building and, despite it being a non-smoking building, I can tell when they light up. It truly gives me a headache.

                2. Julie*

                  We had a few pot smokers in the building I used to live in, and the hallways and elevators smelled like skunk from the pot smoke. (I don’t have anything against people smoking pot, but I don’t appreciate having to smell the stale smoke.)

      3. Y*

        Except for peanuts, tree nuts, and shellfish, by the way, few food allergies are severe enough that people with them are afraid of anaphylactic shock (please note the “few”), as are allergies to animal hair (again usually). Most people with allergies can deal just fine by avoiding things without having to be completely paranoid about it.

      4. Colette*

        I have been doing volunteer work with kids for about 20 years, and I’ve never had a child in my group with severe allergies. I’m sure they’re more common than they used to be, but they’re still not that common.

        1. fposte*

          It’s interesting, because it’s such a societal challenge for America, which isn’t usually about the many changing for the good of the few. And while peanut-free tables in school cafeterias are pretty easy to create, dairy and soy just can’t be controlled for that way. (Then you get into the fact that eggs are involved with vaccine prep so kids with egg allergies can’t get some immunizations. I can’t imagine the strain of dealing with this all the time as a parent.)

          1. Colette*

            Yes, it must be terrifying for a parent. Probably more so than for the kid, I would think, because the kid knows what they’re touching and eating and the parent has to trust.

            And I would be very concerned if I had a kid with common allergies in my group, because I’d always be afraid of missing some obscure ingredient and causing a medical emergency. I mean, I would have to deal with it, obviously, but I’m grateful I haven’t had to do so yet.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Yep I did…I was thinking about one thing and typing about another. You’re supposed to read what I mean, not what I actually say! :)

    3. Sydney Bristow*

      A friend of mine wrote her master’s thesis on the harmful effects of the chemical that makes things antibacterial. I can’t remember what it is called. I proofread it for her and was pretty freaked out by the stuff, which is in all sorts of things you’d never expect. I swore off the stuff for awhile and now only use it super occasionally when I have a particular reason to be concerned and no way to wash and scrub my hands with regular soap and water.

      1. Shelley*

        Triclosan? Or benzalkonium chloride? Those are two very common ones.

        Being from the chemical industry (have quit now), honestly most chemical or additives don’t phase me anymore. Nothing’s worse than washing your hands with benzene, right? :) (NB: not so much washing as spilling on me regularly, and no, not intentional. I’m just being silly, and not judgmental of anyone else’s very legit concerns.)

      2. Anonymous*

        The only time I use hand sanitizer is when I’m traveling in India. And even then, I try to get the alcohol-based stuff. I don’t even use anti-bacterial soaps at home. Plain soap and hot water is good enough!

  4. Female sam*

    There may be another reason this co-worker doesn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom which isn’t “ew, she’s gross”. I get regular flare ups of dermatitis on my hands and I have to be very careful about the soaps and sanitisers I use on them. Whilst this doesn’t stop me from washing my hands at all (I have a “safe” soap in my desk drawer, and carry a small bottle of sanitiser in my handbag), it could seem to others I’m not hand washing if they see me not use the basins in a public bathroom.

    This might not be the case in OP’s situation – certainly doesn’t sound it if she’s just laughed off concerns rather than explained, but it’s something to consider.

    1. Anonymous*

      Also, if you have eczema on your hands like I do, using hand sanitiser is literally like pouring alcohol onto a wound- my skin is so weak that it cracks open in winter and I have lots of tiny cuts all over

      1. nyxalinth*

        I get the blistery sort on my left foot (go figure), and occasionally on both hands. It’s usually a reaction to stress, but washing with things that are too strong or using a lot of chemical ridden lotions will cause it too. Soap my hands can handle, but things like sanitizer will make them itch like mad

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I do too. I counter it by using lotion frequently in between hand washings. I just can’t bring myself to not wash unless there are no facilities to do so, and then I just grit my teeth and use the sanitizer.

        Reducing stress helps keep it at bay, for some reason. I don’t know why–of course, that’s not always possible!

    2. Flynn*

      Or it could be that she’s just annoyed/amused at being confronted over something so petty and is winding them up/refusing to admit to anything because she doesn’t want them to “win”.

      Random anecdote: my workplace has a bottle of gel sanitiser. I actually start wheezing from the fragrance whenever someone decides to use it and stand right next to me rubbing into their hands so help me I have large books to hand and I will use one soon.

    3. smallbutmighty*

      I can totally relate to this. I get painful and disfiguring eczema on my hands, and there are times when I skip washing my hands rather than deal with the pain of getting soap and even water on the cracks and open sores that develop during a flare-up.

      When I’ve read about those hidden-camera studies, it’s made me laugh, because I am totally one of those people who always washes my hands when someone is watching, but often doesn’t when I’m alone. As this letter indicates, people do pay attention to this stuff, and I don’t want my colleagues emailing Allison about me!

      My handwashing rules are as follows: after #2, before cooking or eating, before any encounter where I can reasonably anticipate handshakes, and when someone is watching.

      1. the gold digger*

        Amen to your rules. If I am handling food, I wash.

        I am an infrequent handwasher, mostly because I don’t want to wash the sunblock off my hands and also because it gets so dry here that the last thing I need is more cracked skin.

        Note that I lived in South America for two years and often could not wash my hands when I was out visiting the women in my co-op, who lacked indoor plumbing. I spent those two years building a heck of an immune system and I need to keep it in shape now.

        1. fposte*

          “If I am handling food, I wash.”

          It’s interesting that that “Wash up before you eat” dictum I was raised with as a kid doesn’t seem as common now.

          I keep expecting “Wash up after you blow your nose” to become a rule, since that’s really when you need to, but so far that’s kind of a minority action.

          1. Jen in RO*

            I am just recovering after a cold and I have to admit it didn’t cross my mind to wash my hands after I blow my nose…

      2. bearcat*

        I’m right there with you. I don’t have eczema but if I wash my hands every time I go to the bathroom, esp. in the winter, they will crack and bleed. They crack in a way that makes it difficult to type which is 90% of my job.

        I use about the same guidelines as you. I always wash my hands before shaking someone’s hands and if I haven’t washed my hands, I won’t accept their hand (I’ll either say I’m sick or try to just wave at them and see if that handles the greeting). I also wear gloves around the office for my dry skin (It seems to help).

        I really don’t care if other people think I’m gross or unsanitary. If someone tried to shame me, I’d definitely laugh in their face. Maybe that’s where she is with her co-worker. I’m not willing to have hands covered in cuts that make ME more at risk for infection so that someone else is comfortable with the sanitation in the office. Wash you own hands.

    4. Gilby*

      Anit-bacterial soap rips my hands up terribly. Literally takes the skin off. Because the office I worked in only had that type I bought my own regular soap and used that instead.

    5. Camellia*

      This! And I am totally waiting for someone to call me on it because I’m going to say, “Nah, I just lick’em clean.” :)

  5. Stephen*

    Between birds, squirrels, cats, homeless people and insects you can assume that literally every single thing that is outside your front door is covered in a thin layer of feces and urine. Just learn to love it.

  6. Gene*

    As I’ve posted here in the past, my office is at a wastewater treatment plant; yes, I’m at the bottom of the hill that it all runs down.

    We had some bacterial growth media that had expired and wasn’t legal for compliance testing, so we did a little experiment. People took the plates home and to offices around the city and did contact plates (Google it). By far, the highest fecal bacteria contaminated places were kitchens; and #1 with a bullet in the kitchen? The dishwashing sponge. Bathrooms weren’t all that bad, overall; Ladies’ rooms tended to higher surface contamination that mens’ rooms.

    Generally, any smooth, dry surface had low contamination with fecal bacteria with a major exception, computer keyboards. That included the keyboard of our local germophobe, just why the heck he works where he does is beyond me.

    Direct comment to the OP, get over yourself girl!

    1. Zahra*

      Yeah. When you hear that your keyboard has more germs than your phone, the proper reaction shouldn’t be “Ewwwww”, but “Huh, guess we should be less paranoid about hygiene”. But that’s my opinion.

    2. bearcat*

      We did that exact same experiment at my home/workplace. I bough petri dishes and agar of the internet because I was curious. The kitchen sink was the worst. Even worse that the toilet seat x1000. Keyboards/mice are the second worst. Phones weren’t typically that bad until we tested the call center phones. A good rule of thumb for which is more germy would be: which one do you use more? Buttons on shared equipment like copiers/faxs/printers weren’t nearly as bad as I thought. There wasn’t a single door knob or handle (except for the handle to the fridge) that grew anything on the petri dish.

      In your house: toilets are actually really clean in terms of microorganisms, even when they look dirty. The germiest place in your bathroom is the shower basin. The germiest place in your bedroom are the sheets in the exact spot you sleep in every night (and it’s way worse than you’d imagine). Every surface in your kitchen will likely produce a culture, but the sponge and the sink are the worst. The inside of the fridge was worse than I thought considering how cold it is in there.

      But exactly. Get over yourself. Your world isn’t as clean as you think.

      1. anon..*

        good info but hardly think its necessary to tell the OP to ‘get over herself’. That’s rude.

        1. A clean person*

          Yep, that is rude. It always bothers me when people who are too inconsiderate to do something so effortless as to wash their hands for 15 seconds a few times a day act as though those who complain are the unreasonable ones. It’s like farting in a lift and then getting your back up when someone gives you evils. It’s not just a bad habit, it’s a negative character trait. It shows that you are self-centred and inconsiderate of those around you.

          As for the ” local germophobe” with the poo-keyboard. You know he’s thinking ‘If I didn’t have to share an office with you dirty so-and-so’s, maybe there’d be a bit less faecal funk on my keyboard’. He might have a point.

  7. Anonymous*

    The OP would not want to read the FDA’s Food Defect Action Levels pamphlet because she would discover that the permitted level of mammalian excreta in some processed foods is > 0. The reason this is considered to be a defect? Aesthetic.

  8. Angelina Retta*

    It’s disgusting. I can understand wanting to go somewhere else, there was a vermin infestation where I work and the thought of feces and urine on the furniture was enough to make me hesitate to touch anything. But for your situation, the only behaviour you can control is your own, so wash your hands every five seconds, don’t touch your face, and shame that gross, inconsiderate person into the ground.

    1. Bea W*

      The OP may be grossed out by it and germophobic, but “shame that gross, inconsiderate person into the ground” is a little harsh and all it is likely to accomplish is creating an interpersonal conflict rather than getting someone to change their personal habits. As you mention, the only behavior you can control is your own, and shaming someone is aimed at getting that person to change their behavior. So focus on your own behavior and don’t be that jerk.

  9. Lacey*

    I am slightly facinated by the mindset of someone who refuses to wash their hands after using the bathroom.

    What, do they like the idea of traces of poo and wee on their hands?

    When I explained to my kids that not washing their hands after going to the toilet and going directly to eat something was like licking the toilet seat, they looked completely horrified.

    I just don’t get why people can’t be bothered washing their hands.

    1. the gold digger*

      I think of the Aggie joke where the Aggie and the Harvard guy are peeing next to each other. After they finish, the Harvard guy washes his hands but the Aggie does not.

      “Didn’t they teach you to wash after uringating at that cow college?” the Harvard guys sneers.

      “Nope,” answers the Aggie. “They taught us not to pee on our hands.”

      1. A clean person*

        That is a good joke, but I’ve heard the same thing said without a hint of irony before. Anyone who believes that they only need to wash their hands if they get pee on them should take a bit of time to get a basic understanding of hand hygiene from a reputable source, because their parents obviously never taught them properly.

  10. rw*

    We let go a woman who didn’t wash her hands. She accidentally smeared her feces on an important contract, during the meeting with the client. Needless to say, we lost that client. Hand washing is in our handbook as part of the “Professional Appearance and Hygiene” section.

    1. Jean*

      Not trying to be hostile here. Apologies. I wasn’t sufficiently awake the first time to limit myself to typing “yuuuuuuuck.”

      Maybe this woman should meet the job applicant who relieved himself in the potted plant. Oy.

    2. Jen in RO*

      Maybe we shouldn’t be having this conversation, but… I’ve never gotten feces on my hands! Actually, I usually don’t get any kind of icky stuff on my hands in the bathroom – the only things I touch are my underwear and the toilet paper. Now I’m really wondering how she managed to do that (but we can drop the subject, because I’m sure it’s disgusting).

      1. Bea W*

        I can imagine how that might happen. What I can’t imagine is how the person with fecal matter on her hand wouldn’t either notice or not be grossed out by it.

        1. FiveNine*

          All I can imagine is that it wasn’t on her skin originally but maybe a tiny bit on the underside of a cuff or something. Of course, if she routinely washed her hands she probably would have noticed, or it would have been knocked loose into the sink rather than onto the contract.

      2. TychaBrahe*

        You don’t *see* feces on your hand.

        Fecal bacteria aren’t just in feces. They cover your body from about waist to mid-thigh.

        By the way, every time the toilet is flushed, a fine aerosol of toilet water and bacteria are sprayed into the room. The toilet paper is right in the line of fire.

        1. Jen in RO*

          But rw said that “she accidentally smeared her feces on an important contract, during the meeting with the client.” The client did *see* feces, otherwise how would he/she know?

          1. Anna*

            I’m actually more grossed out about the idea of little waterdroplets covered in poo flying around the bathroom, which is why at home I do close the lid. At offices where I’ve worked, none of them have had lids on the toilets, which GROSSES ME OUT! I do not know why that’s my sticking point, but that’s where it is. I think it’s because the study I read was talking about there being poo on your toothbrush unless you close the lid.

            1. Jamie*

              I read that years go – but I never understood leaving toothbrushes out in the open, anyway. That’s what medicine cabinets and toothbrush covers are for.

      3. Chris80*

        +1 Just wanted to add what someone put in the comments of the original post…

        If you’re getting feces and pee on your hands, you’re doing it wrong!

    3. Anon*

      Wow, okay. Going to anonomize my handle for this one. I would say that I wash my hands about 50% of the time I use the bathroom. This is because I generally do not get feces or urine on my hands. I’m able to cleanly wipe and move on. After a bowel movement, I do always wash my hands as a precaution, but seriously, if there’s no pee on my hands, no need to do a full surgical scrub.

      I *always* wash my hands in public restrooms, however, because I think the germs on EVERYTHING in there are vile (handles, doors, knobs, you name it). It’s not my own bacteria I’m concerned with!!

      1. Anonymous*

        Personally I wash my hands no matter what, because, err, the place I pee out of is not all that far from where fecal matter live

        1. Jen in RO*

          This might be one of those things that’s different for men and women because of, well, the obvious differences between men and women. I’m assuming you’re a man, Anonymous; if you’re a woman… do you pee on your hands?!

          1. Natalie*

            Eh, I’m not a hand washing stickler, but you don’t need to pee on your hands to transfer fecal bacteria to them while using the bathroom. Toilet paper is not a magic bacterial shield.

            No, you will probably not be the next Typhoid Mary if you don’t wash your hands (unless you actually have typhoid) but it’s good practice whenever possible.

      2. Vicki*

        You’all do know that urine is sterile, right?
        There’s the yuck factor of course…

        And how does the OP know this about that woman, that’s what I’d like to know. What’s up with all of the self-appointed bathroom monitors? One has to wonder if the other woman decided to not wash her hands one day _because_ the OP was micromonitoring the sink.

        1. FreeThinkerTX*

          Well, to be exact, urine is only sterile in the bladder:

          “Urine directly from the bladder is normally sterile. However, on its passage from the bladder to the outside world, urine becomes contaminated by bacteria normally present in the lower urethra and external genitalia.”

  11. Ruffingit*

    At some point, the victim becomes their own persecutor and I think that may be the case here. Meaning that this person is so concerned about the non-hand washer that she’s thinking of quitting her job over it? That’s extreme and is creating its own problem. The woman doesn’t wash her hands after using the bathroom. That’s gross, yes. But get over it. Hand sanitize yourself to death, use Lysol wipes to open all doors, etc. if it makes you feel better, but quitting your job over this says to me that YOU are the problem, not the non-hand washer. It’s an extreme reaction to something that doesn’t deserve it.

  12. Jeneen*

    Me and another woman in our office take turns buying Lysol that we keep in our bathroom. We’ve seen how the cleaning people clean our office bathroom and pretty much they don’t. We spray the handles and seats regularly.

  13. Finbar*

    Winston Churchill was an incorrigible non-hand washer, and he didn’t turn out too bad (not that I’m recommending it as a lifestyle choice).

    Here’s his famous exchange:

    Young man [after seeing Churchill leave the bathroom without washing his hands]: “At Eton, they taught us to wash our hands after using the toilet.”

    Churchill: “At Harrow, they taught us not to piss on our hands.”

  14. Cruella Da Boss*

    OH MY GOODNESS! I just had to pop a Benadryl! The thought that someone thinks it’s okay NOT to wash their hands after ANY bathroom visit just made me pop out in nervous hives!

  15. Allison*

    People who are super germaphobic and grossed out by every little unclean thing kind of bother me. I’m sorry, but not everything can be fresh, clean, and sanitized to your liking.

    That said, it’s also a little strange that some people not only neglect to wash their hands here and there, but flat out refuse. Why? On what principle? If you can’t do it for personal hygiene, do it to be polite. Walking out without washing your hands is like picking your nose in public, it’s gonna make most people feel uncomfortable.

    1. LMW*

      I think it really depends on your background and what you were taught growing up. I clearly remember being 4 years old and visiting my grandma in another state. She was horrified that I didn’t wash my hands (you know, little kids forget) and told me a dramatic story about an entire family dying of a horrible illness because they didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom. To this day, I ALWAYS wash my hands. I will (quietly, internally) freak out if I’m at a festival or something and have to use a portapotty or public restroom and can’t wash my hands.
      Although, as an adult, I kind of laugh because my family’s general approach to teaching anything was the dire consequences if you don’t (Don’t wash your hands? You could DIE! Jaywalk? You might DIE! Rude to your mother? She might DIE on the way to the store and that would be the last thing you ever said to her.)

      1. SB*

        Keychain spray bottles of hand sanitizer are my best friend. I have the same horror of not being able to wash, esp if I’m also going to eat. As a toddler I got pinworms from not washing my hands after going to a petting zoo. The doctor gave me a similar talking to about the importance of handwashing. It freaked me out so much that for years afterwards I washed my hands so much and so frequently that they would crack and bleed from being too dry. My parents eventually took me to a Dr., who helped me calm down a bit about it. But to this day I still struggle with the urge to obsessively wash my hands.

      2. Jen in RO*

        I don’t remember what my parents told me, and I’m usually very laid back about hygiene (I can eat stuff from the floor), but I also feel dirty if I can’t wash my hands after I use the toilet.

        1. CH*

          My mother used to tell me (and she still keeps her floor so clean you could eat off of it) “You’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before you die.” I figure I’ve only eaten half a peck to date so I don’t worry about it too much. Although I do wash my hands after using the bathroom.

      3. Allison*

        My grandmother made me wash my hands ALL THE TIME when I was little. After the bathroom, before eating, even after coming back from a public place, wash wash wash! And my babysitter made me wash my hands as a kid, she’d cringe if I didn’t. Even then, I think my not washing my hands was an act of rebellion, because they never could convince me why it was that important.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        This is not advice, just a funny story about poo hands. An ex of mine had a little girl who was past three when we met (and seven when we broke up). She would always ask for help in the bathroom and her dad would help her, and so would I. But after a while, and when kindergarten time approached, I tried to encourage her to handle it on her own.

        I said gently that when she went to school, the teacher would expect her to take care of that herself, if she had to go. She said it got on her hands and she didn’t like that. I told her, yes, that can happen and I don’t like it either; that’s one reason we wash after we go. Then I joked, “You don’t want your dad following you around with a roll of toilet paper for the rest of your life, do you?”

        She looked at me for a second and then burst out laughing (the picture in her head, I guess!). After that, she was much better about it.

      5. ThursdaysGeek*

        When I was a little kid I found some sort of worm in a pond and my brother told me I would get worms like that if I didn’t wash my hands. It was a firm habit long before I realized he didn’t know what he was talking about.

        What I try to avoid are many anti-bacterial products — we have a lot of good bacteria too.

    2. Amanda*

      I actually find it incredibly rude that this woman had the audacity to ask her to wash her hands. I wash my hands, but if I didn’t…oh well. It’s none of your business. Asking me to wash my hands would only make me less inclined to do it. People do lots of things that bother me and gross me out, but that’s life. Deal with it.

    3. Anon for this one*

      I’m one of those people who is always chilly. I find most offices uncomfortably cold. And then the bathroom sinks always seem to have cold water only. It’s already a constant struggle to keep my hands warm enough to type, no way am I soaking them in cold water.

      If there were warm water, I would be *all* over it, hoo boy. Those of you who say offices should always be cold because “people who get cold can just wear a sweater”, there’s one downside of that reasoning.

      1. Bea W*

        Don’t get me started on the cold offices, and the “just put on a sweater” mentality. You don’t hear “people who get warm can just dress lightly”. I rank that right up there with people who load a car using the “put the skinny person in the middle” logic.

        1. Cat*

          I’m always freezing in offices, but I have to say, I’d still rather they err on the side of cold – people do frown on skimpy dressing in the office a lot more than they do putting on a sweater.

          1. Jamie*

            This. It’s much easier to stay professionally appropriate adjusting for cold than heat.

            And I am always cold – always – and I’d still much rather adjust my own wardrobe with layers than see my co-workers sweaty and uncomfortable because they are accommodating me.

            1. Bea W*

              I’d rather there be a happy middle for most people rather than the jacking the thermostat to one end or the other so most people are either too cold or too hot. One hot person shouldn’t be the reason everyone else freezes.

              1. Jamie*

                Sure – but what’s the happy medium. 72 is a perfectly reasonable temperature. I’m freezing when it’s 72 and I had a co-worker who was visibly sweaty at that temp.

                As long as it’s within the realm of what is reasonable I don’t know what more an office can do…because even keeping everything between 70 – 75 there will always be someone who is uncomfortable.

              2. Elizabeth West*

                At Nonprofitjob, we had two women have babies right after each other. They would turn the thermostat to arctic levels because they were hot. Seriously, in the middle of summer we had to use heaters!

                We jokingly said, “No one on this floor is allowed to get pregnant anymore!”

    4. anon*

      I don’t make it a habit to wash my hands in public restrooms for several reasons.

      The soap used in most dispensers in public restrooms is REALLY disgustingly scented- sort of a cross between oranges and urinal cakes. I’m sensitive to the scents of most chemicals and don’t want to walk around all day with my hands smelling that bad. It’s literally distracting to me at random intervals for several hours.

      I don’t work with food or share office equipment with anyone else, and my office has a timed bathroom break policy and 5 restroom stalls and 2 sinks.

      I have a very good immune system, and rarely get sick with anything other than sinus infections caused by seasonal allergies every 3 years or so.

      I have dry skin, and have never found a convenient way to carry lotion.

      I carry alcohol based sanitizer in my purse or stash it in my desk and sanitize a few times a day- of course if I feel my hands came into contact with any “ickies” I do wash them while in the restroom, but generally I don’t feel the need.

      At my current company I was LITERALLY given a talking to because a high up in the company saw me leave the restroom without stopping at the sink. She said I MUST do it anyway, because other people might see it, not know I sanitize, and make negative judgement about me and our company. And the thing is, as a non-upper middle class white protestant type, it kind of makes me crazy how TERRIFIED some people seem to be of the flu and colds- usually normal adult women with no major health issues who constantly worry about the GERMS in everything. These women usually also have health insurance and can afford to take off work with a cold. It makes me angry because I have a diagnosed mental illness and I deal with things every day such as a lack of personal space, excessively bright lights, handshaking, etc. that I find extremely uncomfortable, yet because germaphobia is trendy right now I am expected to wipe things down and clean them way more often than they probably need to be cleaned to accommodate others. I still don’t wash my hands at the work sink, I literally wait until no one will see and then walk out.

  16. Anonymous*

    We have the same problem here and often times some of the guys (I’m a guy) wheel right out of the lav and into the kitchen, fondling the kitchen knobs, touching the coffee machine buttons and (gulp!) rummaging through the fridge, manhandling your lunch. The Office Manager–a confessed germaphobe—tells me time and time again that the women are just as bad if not worse, and the most egregious offenders, she swears, are the prissiest, fussiest, most self-proclaimed beauties of the office.

    And the gym is no better. I’ve seen guys tumble out of the stalls and right back onto the gym floors, with nary a glance at the sink, and I’m often taken aback at who does it—some of the toniest, most handsome prep school/Ivy League type bankers/lawyers. Now, imagine these guys, instead of returning to the gym floor, decide to head to the spa to take a dip (read: bath) the whirlpool? Yuck! And THAT I’ve seen time and time again. Suffice it to say I no longer sit in that pool.

    1. Lora*


      Used to have a colleague at OldJob on whom every heterosexual male had a monster crush. She was petite, soft-spoken, very very pretty, well-dressed. She was THE WORST in the restroom. I’d go in, you know, post-coffee in the morning and she would stomp into a stall and grunt and groan to the point that the first time I heard it, I asked, “Honey, are you OK in there?” She yelled back, “yeah, I’m fine” in a voice far more brash than the dulcet tones she would use outside of the bathroom. She sounded like she ate five burritos and a whole pack of Ex-Lax for breakfast, every day. And the, um, other sounds, the smells–unbelievable. Had to use a stall right after her one day, and honestly, it was such a mess I had to turn around and walk to another floor’s bathroom. BAD. When she came out of the stall, she would whip a shampoo bottle out of her bag, take off her top, wash her hair in the bathroom sink, blow it dry, discussing her bodily functions with other women who happened to be in there (including her lady-cycles) all the while. SO GROSS.

      I realize there are folks who suffer from IBS, but I also realize that they don’t use this as an excuse to get feces on the WALLS! How do you even do that? I don’t know, it was vile.

      1. Allison*

        She washed her hair in the bathroom at work? that alone is weird as hell. Not dirty or gross, just incredibly weird.

        1. Anonymous*

          Her roommates probably hassle her about washing her hair at home as she might be one of those people who leave strands of hair in the sink and tub and clogging it. For this reason I did ask a former roommate from Germany to cut his hair because I was investing heavily in Draino. He immediately, though jokingly, accused me of envying his golden cascading locks because I shave my head as many Black males do, and the clogging drains was a pretext to gain my revenge. LOL. Anyway, he did cut his hair, thus alleviating the problem. Ironically, and much to my everlasting dismay, the hair cut did him wonders as then he looked like a freaking runway model. Oh, well…

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “How do you even do that? I don’t know, it was vile.”

        One way is to develop an intestinal virus. (Graphic alert!) That can give a person a volcano type reaction. And yes, it will go on the walls.

        I don’t wanna explain how I know this. It’s almost hell.

        1. Jamie*

          Bacterial infection of the GI tract can do it, too.

          I’m not excusing anyone for not cleaning up their mess, because…eww…but the noises she made in there? She’s obviously got some GI issues and it’s a bathroom.

          And talking about her cycle? Personally I wouldn’t bat an eye at that in a ladies room…it’s not like she was adding it to the company calendar and a lot of women talk about that kind of stuff in the bathroom.

          The hair washing is weird – maybe because for me to go from washing to fully dry and styled is like 45 minutes – but I think the only thing that would bother me is she got stuff all over and didnt’ clean it up. She should be carrying her own clorox wipes for this.

          1. Lora*

            To random people though? I mean, the only random person I have ever mentioned my cycle to was to the effect of, “um, do you have a pad or tampon or something?” This was like, graphic descriptions of clots and volume and color.

            I dunno, maybe it’s just me. I sort of feel like, stalls do not offer much privacy, and the last thing I personally would want to do is have to clean up after someone else’s Poopageddon, and this is not my personal bathroom at home where I can be as noisy as I like (grunting and groaning? really?), so I make a concerted effort to go in, do my business quietly, make sure there’s no remnants to offend the next customer, wash my hands and go. Sort of like, at home I am happy to take monster bites, shriek at ice cream headaches and burp when I eat, but out in public I use a fork, take small bites, chew quietly and use a napkin. It’s a politeness thing.

            1. Jamie*

              I totally agree with you – and if she’s capable of keeping it down she certainly should…people should try to be as unobtrusive as possible. She just does sound like she’s got something pretty serious going on so I can’t tell how much she can help.

              And yeah, TMI, I mean a casual aside about cramps or asking to borrow a tampon is no big deal in the ladies room but …that was very specific for co-workers.

              And YES on cleaning up after herself. No one should ever have to deal with another human beings waste products unless that person is disabled or a baby. No argument here – and if she has an illness which causes this she needs to stock cleaning supplies.

  17. SB*

    I once worked in an office that had a terrible mean-girls environment. I worked hard and kept my nose down, but when my work started getting recognition over the clique they took notice of me (and not in a nice way).

    One day, I had a cold and had run out of tissues. I went into the bathroom to grab some tissue. One of the mean girls saw me exit the bathroom without washing my hands. They spread rumors that I didn’t wash my hands after using the bathroom. They shunned me and encouraged others to do the same. They acted like a bunch of kids, following me around with lysol wipes and refusing to touch anything that I had touched. Finally they brought it up with management because they didn’t want me to attend a company lunch since I would spread germs on the food. When management asked me about it, I explained the situation. I’m actually a germaphobe. As a kid I was borderline OCD to the point that my parents took me to a Dr. about my obsessive hand washing. Management didn’t know how to handle the situation, so they did nothing. Despite being a top producer and very good at my job (I earned half my salary over again in production bonuses), I eventually quit because I could not longer take the hostile environment. The manager’s begged me to stay and will still periodically call to see if I want to come back.

    On the one hand, I find the idea of someone not washing their hands after using the restroom utterly repugnant. On the other hand, I’ve been at the center of harassment for that very reason. I’m sorry Allison, I think shaming the perpetrator is terrible advice and can lead to the creation of a very hostile environment on something that may well be rumor.

    1. Bea W*

      +1 There are times I will pop into the bathroom for something other than eliminating bodily waste. I might need a tissue, or want to check something in the mirror. Maybe I thought I left something behind. Sometimes people go into the stalls to change an article of clothing. You also don’t know if that person left the bathroom and grabbed their trusty bottle of hand sanitizer they left at their desk.

      There is no need to judge people according to what they do in the office rest room and subsequently shame them over some misconception. Even if it is gross and proven, there is no need for shaming at all. Just take it up with the offending person, and if it’s a real safety concern, talk to management privately as well, but then you have to let it go. It’s out of your control. Acting like an office bully by starting a social shaming campaign over someone’s personal bathroom habits is probably the least helpful thing anyone can do.

      1. Jen in RO*

        If I go to the bathroom at work and I’m in a stall adjusting my clothes… I will still flush and wash my hands if someone’s there to see me. I don’t want to become known as the filthy girl who doesn’t flush!

        1. SB*

          If I have to go into a stall, I will wash my hands whether or not I did anything because someone touched the stall that just went to the bathroom. I also don’t touch bathroom door knobs once I’ve washed my hands. Some obsessive habits I just can’t kick. The time of the incident, I hadn’t even gone into a stall. I was on a time crunch, so I ran in, grabbed one of the wrapped rolls of extra toilet tissue and ran out. The person who saw me just wanted a reason to make me miserable because I was the young upstart who was making the clique look bad.

  18. Laurel*

    OP is completely out of line (and more than a little neurotic). Sure, it’s common knowledge that washing one’s hands after using the bathroom is a very effective way of reducing exposure to certain diseases. We all know that. But frankly, unless you work in certain industries (food service and health care), it’s unlikely that the employer actually mandates hand-washing. Given this, OP’s obsession with her colleague’s hand washing practices actually borders on harassment. If one of the staff came to me to complain that a colleague wasn’t washing his/her hands, but concern would be less about the hand-washing, and more about the employee who is so deeply invested in others’ personal choices. I’d have a serious talk with the OP about how to behave in the workplace. And, again, I get it: We should all wash our hands. But frankly, in the average office setting (again, not food or health care industry), hand-washing is ultimately a personal choice.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I tend to agree. And I can work up a fret over unsanitary conditions, too. However, I feel that it is up to me to take care of myself. No matter how hard you try you are going to encounter “germs”.
      Decades ago, I had a false positive for TB. I did not believe them and just made a note in the back of my mind. Fast forward, decades later I was talking to a communicable disease specialist. I went over the particulars of my story. He said “No, that was not a false positive- you had some exposure to TB. But for whatever reason you body fought it off.” I had a dear aunt who had been in a TB clinic for treatment. I was over this woman’s house all the time. I couldn’t help but wonder if I picked it up from her. But I will never be able to prove it.
      My take away was all we can do is eat right, get plenty of water, exercise and get proper rest.
      The alternative is to go live in a bubble. I don’t want that alternative.

    2. Anon QA in Food*

      Does anyone have any advice on how to handle this problem in a food service or health care related industry? I know it wasn’t the OP’s situation, but in Food Manufacturing, we’re legally required to wash hands after eating, using the bathroom, and before returning to our workstations.

      We have one employee that has on repeated occasions neglected to wash her hands (I know because I’ve been in the ladies room when it happened).

      I’m not her supervisor, so it’s not my place to speak to her, but I told her supervisor, and he didn’t want to single her out. He gave a general reminder/training during the weekly meeting, but this same employee still doesn’t hand-wash consistently…

      And we’ve had low levels of coliform bacteria found in our product on some of the days I’ve noticed her not washing her hands!

        1. Anon QA in Food*

          Nope, it’s a small company so I’m responsible for all QA and regulatory compliance, unfortunately without the authority of a manager.

          1. Jamie*

            If you’re responsible for compliance you have to have procedures to follow. If the manager isn’t addressing the issue you need to take it up the chain.

            1. Lora*


              Also, how much training do you provide? Most of the places I work have clean rooms (as in, maximum particle counts that are monitored and must be kept very low), and the training we have for it is a two-day deal. In the training, employees are specifically told, in little words, what level of hygiene is expected–down to demonstrations of dental hygiene and how to wash your armpits. Of course, we do this because some people just do not know. But it also lays out very stern groundwork for handwashing, clothing (even under the Tyvek jumpsuit, you can’t wear a dirty shirt or heels), makeup and perfume (none allowed, unscented lotion only) requirements. And everyone, not just supervisors, are good about saying, “oh, hey, you need to go back and _____”. A few times technicians have told me, “hey, your hair came untucked from your bonnet, you need to fix it” or “your top snap on your suit popped open, you better go get a new one” and it was always fine. You sort of use a tone like, “I know you don’t realize this, you must have forgotten.”

              But we also have a three-strikes rule. Some things are obviously just accidental: snaps come undone, gloves get holes you don’t notice right away, it happens. Those don’t count. But if someone is failing to put their boots on properly, or walking into the clean room without safety glasses all the time, the first time they get a verbal warning. The second time, they are sent for re-training and they lose their clean room access until the re-training is complete. The third time, they are fired. Because it’s serious.

              I would go talk to senior management/owners and ask for their endorsement of procedures that are independent of her manager. QA is supposed to be independent of line management anyways, to avoid conflicts of interest–but they are also supposed to have authority to revoke someone’s training/privileges or limit their activities, including rejecting large, expensive batches of product and throwing them in the garbage.

              1. Jamie*

                Yep – as head of internal auditing and our ISO procedures I can call anyone out for anything that affects safety or quality and it doesn’t matter if they report to God himself.

    3. RedStateBlues*

      Frankly, even the places that require handwashing generally don’t have any monitoring go on, its pretty much the honor system.

      1. Natalie*

        FWIW, even though it looks like it, the roller towel doesn’t roll multiple times. The used end is wrapped up in the dispenser part until you get to the end of the roll, and then the whole thing is (theoretically) taken away by a linen service and cleaned and sterilized.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule*

          Not all of them. I’ve seen some pretty gross ones in rest stops that were clearly just on a big loop. But then again, I’m approaching the age of dirt, so… YMMV. =)

          1. Natalie*

            Fair enough. I can’t imagine those are code anymore, but I suppose the average rest stop doesn’t get a health inspection visit that often. :)

            Your username is particularly apropos.

  19. M.*

    Ok, I don’t think I saw this already in the comments. But if I am redundant, I apologize. One of my thoughts was if the OP is frustrated not only about the bathroom thing itself, but the way her concern is ignored and dismissed. I think any time something really bothers you, you attempt to be direct, and you are blown off, that can create great frustration. When she writes that she is looking for another job over it, Perhaps feeling disregarded is part of the reason? Even so, maybe that is something to just get over too.

    1. Lucy*

      It is something that she needs to get over. The concern – at least to the level she’s taking it – is silly. So it will be dismissed, as it should be. She can’t expect to receive attention and get her way just because she feels strongly about something.

    2. Bea W*

      It didn’t read to me like her concerns were being dismissed. Her supervisor did follow-up and speak to this employee. I don’t know what else she expects management to do short of hiring the hand washing police to patrol the rest rooms and then firing anyone who is caught failing to wash their hands.

  20. WorkingMom*

    OP, I feel for you. I would have the same reaction… it’s gross, period. AAM and others are right though, no one can force this person to wash his/her hands, and she may have valid reasons for doing so (as documented in previous comments).

    That said, I think your organization should place an “Employes must wash hands before returning to work” sign in the bathrooms, and that’s about as far as you can take it.

    Then – I would maintain my stash of lysol wipes and sprays at my work station and wash my hands obsessively. Make a conscious effort NOT to touch your face during the work day, wipe down your phone /cradle with cleaning wipes, etc. I’m a borderline germa-phob, so right or wrong I absolutely empathize with you. Remember though, in any work environment there will always be a negative, at least one. Be it a bad policy, coworker, manager, environment, etc. Arm yourself to protect against spread of germs and try really hard not to think about it. Good luck!

  21. Jamie*

    We cannot police the whole world and I just wash my own hands as often as possible and I keep clorox wipes and lysol to try to protect myself.

    But while I wouldn’t quit over it, I do think it’s a pretty big deal that a normal social convention is being flouted so boldly in the office.

    The actual harm is beside the point, but well mannered people wash their hands after going to the bathroom. After all no one would be killed by a co-worker never washing their hair, or having BO, or bad breath, or chewing with their mouth open, or picking their nose in a meeting and smearing it under a table. But those things are unpleasant, gross, and not in keeping with the social contract to maintain polite behavior in public.

    It’s just part of getting along with other people – and perhaps the OP is dying on the wrong hill (because these people are everywhere) it’s even more odd for me that someone wants to fight for their right to not wash their hands.

    I go to the bathroom dozens of times a day and wash my hands every single time, and no one is ever watching since we have private bathrooms. It’s a good habit and I can’t imagine leaving without doing so.

    1. Bobby Digital*

      Hmm, maybe what the coworker was reacting to was the whole “an employee has been surreptitiously monitoring your bathroom habits and has now reported them to me and I’m now going to discuss them with you” thing. Because I think I’d be (rightfully) defensive about that conversation.

      I mean, where would you have it stop? “We think you need to use more/less toilet paper.” “We think you need to lift your skirt instead of pulling it down.” “We don’t think your seat covers are well-aligned. Jane hears a lot of unnecessary rustling.”

      Part of getting along with other people is allowing them to do their intensely private business in private. The right to defecate without coworkers’ critiques and subsequent admonishments from supervisors trumps the right to know absolutely that Jane has washed her hands.

      1. Jen in RO*

        The cleaning ladies at my previous job complained to us that we used too much toilet paper and they had to change it too often… What can you say to that? Sorry, I’ll try to pee less often? (And this was in a place with 2 stalls for ~100 women, of course we use a lot of toilet paper!)

        1. chikorita*

          Back in the days of yore (actually not that long ago, but never mind), my secondary school decided that us girls were using too much toilet paper, and so it was decided that the stalls would be stocked with x amount of paper y number of times a month, and if we exceeded that we`d just have to go without until the next time it was replaced… Because that is a rational response to being told that there`s never enough toilet paper.

          Srsly, 12 stalls for 500 girls and you were surprised that we used a lot of toilet paper?

      2. anon..*

        um… how to say this clearly… she got cr*p on a report given to clients during a meeting. her right to privacy does not trump my right to not have her cr*p on me/co-workers/clients.

        1. Bobby Digital*

          I wasn’t responding to you. I was responding to Jaime’s response to the OP. That’s why it’s posted in this separate bracket in the thread.

          But, to entertain your anecdote, yes, I agree. In that situation, the employee was (literally) making her feces public business. I do, however, think your defensiveness is unwarranted; certainly the majority of people (including the offender) agree with you. This would actually be a very, very easy conversation to have with a coworker. I really don’t think you’d encounter much resistance.

  22. Anonygross*

    For those who are annoyed by germaphobes, or don’t think it’s a big deal whether or not someone’s hands are washed after using the restroom…

    Imagine your co-worker sticking his/her hand down their pants. Just touching their privates a little bit. And then they take their hand out, and offer to shake your hand. Would you be cool with that?

    Look, I get you might think of your privates as “clean,” and you feel like you didn’t get any pee or poo on them while using the restroom (although TP does not protect your hands from bacteria at all). And I am sure you are a lovely person.

    I still don’t want to touch your genitals by proxy.

    PS – The OP was overreacting, as pointed out, because we are exposed to stuff all the time.

    1. Anna*

      Er…I don’t know how you wipe yourself after you use the bathroom, but I don’t usually end up actually touching flesh unless by mistake. And that happens very rarely.

      1. Anon*

        Well, men kinda have to touch their genitals while using the bathroom…

        And like they said, TP doesn’t protect from germs getting through

  23. Anonymous*

    Personally, I think they bigger problem is that this woman didn’t listen to direction from the supervisor. What else is she laughing off or ignoring that is related to the business. I don’t care what the issue is, if my boss gives me corrective action, then I am doing it.

    1. David*

      Well said, she should be ashamed of herself! and she should be able to lose her job from such deliberate behaviour – a whole host of diseases can be caught and spread from such filthy behavior, and it costs individuals, businesses, and governments, huge sums of money each year, and can also cost lives, usually the lives of the very young, and very old.
      For anybody who wants to know, you clearly have a computer, so look up what diseases can be spread by people refusing to wash their hands after using the bathroom, you may be surprised.

  24. FreeThinkerTX*

    Sorry, but this thread reminds me of a joke from my childhood:

    A city guy and a country guy are doing their thing in adjacent urinals. Country guy finishes first, zips his pants and heads for the door. City guy stops him and says, “My mother taught me to wash my hands after using the restroom.” Country guy replies, “Well, my daddy taught me not to pee on my hands.”

  25. Editor*

    I think every work bathroom should offer hot or warm water in addition to cold water — that makes washing more likely for me. I like to wash my hands every time, but there are a lot of soaps I can’t use, so if the soap is unfamiliar or if it is blue, I just hold my hands under running almost-hot water, rubbing as though I was using soap then rinsing very thoroughly. Like some others, I have skin allergies and other skin problems. I also tend to pat my skin dry, not rub it.

    One small newspaper office where I worked had a one-seater bathroom for all employees. The guys sometimes left the seat up, but at least the women knew they were raising it. The weird thing was the grey spot on the wall. I finally figured out that at least one guy was bracing his newsprint-stained left hand on the wall while standing at the toilet. One day I pointed this out to the cleaner, who then cleaned it off regularly.

  26. Anonymous*

    This is a tricky one. Maybe someone already asked this – I did not read all the responses – but how do you know she refuses? Did she say `I absolutely refuse as it`s against my beliefs (that would be wierd but it might be like those people who refuse to take part in blood transfusions)` or do you follow her to the bathroom and question her about it? It`s disgusting of course and I sympathise with you as I know someone who is lazy about washing their hands and I fret about it (when I have mentioned it to them they have never reacted kindly). I wouldn`t leave a job over it. I suppose if you shamed her into it, it might be called bullying and then you might have to leave your job at someone else`s say so!!

    In any case, there is only so much an employer can do to enforce such things. Do you want an employer who enforces this rule to the point where employees are followed to the bathroom and feel like children at kindergarten? yes her behaviour is disgusting but everyone else will feel demeaned in their workplace if the employer gets too draconian about it.

    That joke from freethinker was a good one : )

  27. Another Anon*

    I don’t know if anyone else addressed this, OP, but if you’re having trouble coping with this, it might be a good idea to look for some support or resources. I have OCD and “get over it” isn’t really helpful advice in that situation. I had to work on really specific techniques to be able to not think about stuff like people not washing their hands. (And I’m fully versed in the hazards of waging war on bacteria. My brain just has messed up wiring that is a heck of a lot more painful for me to deal than it is for the people around me.)

    OP, I have no idea if this is relevant to your situation at all. I am definitely not saying that you have OCD. What I am saying is that if thinking about this non-handwashing is getting in the way of your happiness and success at work, there are things you can do to shift your focus. If this is a struggle for you, it can get easier. And there is support available in a lot of forms if you need it.

    Good luck.

  28. Bloody angry*

    Can people just not take hygiene seriously and wash their hands before leaving the loo? It is common sense. We wouldn’t have MRSA and CDiff in hospitals if proper hygiene was followed and proper cleaning was done.

    I am sick of hearing every day about my partner’s co-workers (and boss) who don’t ever wash their hands after being in the loo, even though food is part of the business. My partner has a shower immediately she comes home from work every day, to get rid of the contamination she feels and it is so needless. Yes she has OCD, no her boss doesn’t know because she is afraid of losing her job.

    When I found this I was actually looking online to find out whether there are any regulations regarding workplace hygiene so that I can do some thing to help…

  29. jj*

    I disagree with the general trend of comments in this thread directed toward the OP needing to ‘get over it’. It is clearly causing her distress, and that does not necessarily mean she has OCD. Because she is concerned about germs and the fact that she knows this person is consistently refusing to obey what are actually work health and safety policies is clearly playing on her mind.
    OP if you can find another job without putting yourself in financial or emotional stress, and you have exhausted all other courses of action to have the matter resolved in your current workplace then you should do that. Your happiness and mental wellbeing in your workplace is very important, and dealing with this matter rather than allowing it to continue on in this way is also important. I have personally found, despite the fact that I have very good hand hygiene habits, that in the 6 months since I started taking public transport instead of driving my own car, I’ve gotten sick more times in that 6 months than in my entire life. As a result I’ve become borderline obsessive about washing my hands and am aggressively seeking other transport options as my health cannot continue like this. From my experience your concerns about hygiene and health are genuine.

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