Do You Really Need To Wash Your Hands After Going To The Bathroom?

Don't be that guy (or girl).

01/26/2016 08:01 am ET

Peer pressure: It's a bad thing among vaping teens, but can work wonders among health-conscious adults. Take a 2009 study finding that post-potty handwashing increased most when bathroom-goers were prompted to see if the people next to them were washing their hands. Perhaps you've been inspired (or guilt-tripped) into purportedly healthy habits too, whether it's wiping down that mat after yoga class or choosing filtered water over tap. But do you really need to? Experts weigh in. 

Do you really need to wash your hands after using the bathroom?

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Yes. Apparently, this answer bears repeating. A 2013 study in the Journal of Environmental Health observing 3,749 people’s post-toilet patterns found that 10 percent skipped the sink, 33 percent forewent the soap and nearly everyone else didn’t lather long enough. That’s not good, since handwashing is one of the most effective ways to avoid getting ourselves or others sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To make it worth it, scrub for at least 20 seconds – enough time to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice – before reaching for a towel, the CDC suggests. 

Do you really need to use hand sanitizer?

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If there's no soap, hand sanitizer is your next best bet, according to the CDC, which recommends looking for an alcohol-based option with at least 60 percent alcohol in order to quickly kill some – but not all – germs. "Washing your hands is better," says Dr. Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist in Boston, "but [hand sanitizer is] often the only option, and better than nothing."

Do you really need to put that sheet of paper over the toilet seat?

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"If it makes you feel better," says Melissa Hawkins, director of the public health scholars program at American University, who's an expert in biostatistics, behavioral health and community health. "The toilet seats are not a vehicle for the transmission of any infectious agents, though." It's better to use a paper towel to cover up your contact with the faucet handles and bathroom doorknob, she says.

Do you really need to go to the dentist twice a year?

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Maybe. If you smoke, have diabetes or have a certain genetic marker for gum disease called interleukin-1, you’re likely to benefit from a biannual visit, a 2013 study in the Journal of Dental Research found. Otherwise, it may not make a difference whether you see the dentist once or twice a year, the study found. “Personalized oral care is a necessity for good dental health,” concludes the American Dental Association, which recommends patients work with their dentists to figure out how often they should get their mouths checked out. 

Do you really need to get an annual physical?

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Maybe. Evidence is mixed on whether yearly checkups with a primary care physician do more good than harm, despite the fact that 92 percent of Americans believe it's an important part of their health care, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. "If you have no ongoing health conditions and are feeling well, you don't need an annual physical," says Dr. Christine Laine, editor-in-chief of the Annals of Internal Medicine and senior vice president of the American College of Physicians. But you should still have a primary care doctor who can walk you through the pros and cons of screening tests and perform them however often is right for you.

Do you really need to stretch after exercising?

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Yes. If you're tempted to cut out of the cool-down portion of your exercise class to beat the shower rush, think again, says Victor Price, assistant group exercise director at the YMCA Anthony Bowen in the District of Columbia. "Stretching helps reset the body and decrease injury." In other words: Miss the 10-minute post-workout stretch session, and risk being too sore or hurt to attend the next class.

Do you really need to wipe down the yoga mat?

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Yes. Even if you don't leave a sweat stain, "yoga mats are porous and can make a good home for all kinds of germs," Hawkins says. "The premise is that if everyone is doing it, then it will decrease the spread of germs," Price adds. It's also good gym etiquette. If the mat is your own, you can get away with an occasional rub down with a vinegar and water solution, Hawkins says.

Do you really need to filter your water?

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Probably not, since tap water in the U.S. is already treated, Hawkins says. "However, the quality does depend on where you live and the source of your water as well as the quality of the pipes in your home," she adds. People with private well water, for instance, should have it tested annually to make sure it's free of contaminants, recommends the National Groundwater Association. If you use a filter, change it regularly to avoid buildup that can cause "reduced water flow, poor taste and slough off of the contaminants back into you water," Hawkins says.

Do you really need to eat food by the use-by date?

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Yes – or freeze it, says Michele Rager, a registered dietitian and president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A sell-by date, however, is a different story. Depending on the produce, it can be kept for days or weeks before you need to eat or freeze it, Rager says. "If a perishable product is frozen, it is safe indefinitely as long as it is frozen, but the quality may deteriorate after a time," she adds.

Do you really need to wash fruits and vegetables before eating them?

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Yes. “Properly washing fruits and vegetables prior to eating them will ensure that you’ve minimized your risk for contracting a food-borne illness or ingesting unwanted surface residue from pesticides,” Rager says. An exception: pre-washed or ready-to-eat produce. Giving this another rinse may actually introduce more bacteria, Rager says. 

Do you really need to wash your face before bed?

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It's a good idea, particularly if your face has spent the day coated in makeup, sunblock or lotion, Hirsch says. "[It's] good practice to clear the face of the day's grime, oil and product residue." While there's not a direct correlation between how many hours your skin goes unwashed and how clogged your pores are, Hirsch says, bad skin habits can take their toll over time. Plus, any active products you put on your skin at night "benefit from being put onto a bare face," she says.  

Do you really need to wear sunscreen every day?

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Yes – even if you're only going to and from work. Doing so can help protect you against sunburn, early skin aging and skin cancer, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, which recommends sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB rays, have an SPF of at least 30 and are water-resistant. "Ostensibly, you are getting from your car or train to your workplace and will see daylight," Hirsch says. "If it is light, you need sun protection."  

Do You Really Need To Cover The Toilet Seat With Paper? was originally published on U.S. News & World Report.

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