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What country washes their hands the most?

Proper handwashing is extremely important for reducing the spread of infectious diseases. With the COVID-19 pandemic highlighting the need for good hand hygiene, there has been increased interest in understanding handwashing practices around the world. But which country has the best handwashing habits? Let’s take a look at the data.

Handwashing Frequency

According to a global survey conducted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2015, people in India wash their hands most frequently compared to other countries. The study analyzed handwashing frequency after using the toilet or contact with faecal matter across 42 countries. It found that 49% of Indians washed their hands with soap after contact with excreta, compared to just 19% in China and 14% in Thailand.

Some other findings on handwashing frequency from the study:

  • 33% of Venezuelans wash hands with soap post-defecation
  • 31% of Indonesians wash hands with soap post-defecation
  • 22% in South Africa and 21% in Kenya wash hands with soap post-defecation

The higher handwashing rates in India could be attributed to the Swachh Bharat Mission, a massive government-led cleanliness campaign launched in 2014. The program has helped build millions of toilets across India and promoted better hygiene through health education programs.

Handwashing Technique

While India may wash hands more frequently, other countries actually follow better handwashing techniques based on recommendations from health authorities. Proper handwashing technique involves using soap and water for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing all surfaces of the hands, washing between fingers and under nails, rinsing under clean water, and drying with a clean towel.

According to a 2020 study published in Applied Ergonomics, people in Japan demonstrated the best handwashing technique out of 13 countries analyzed. The study evaluated technique based on six criteria, including palm washing motions, fingertip scrubbing, and nail cleaning. Some key findings:

  • 92% of Japanese participants scrubbed fingertips compared to just 11% of Indians
  • 91% of Japanese washed palms completely vs. 58% of Chinese
  • 85% of Japanese washed backs of hands vs. 37% of Ugandans

Other countries that followed thorough techniques included Canada, Thailand, and New Zealand. Poorer handwashing techniques were observed in India, Uganda, and China.

Use of Hand Sanitizers

In addition to handwashing, the use of hand sanitizers and disinfectants can help reduce disease transmission. Many countries saw a spike in sanitizer consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic. But some cultures have traditionally used sanitizing gels and rubs regularly.

According to pre-pandemic data, Saudi Arabia ranked highest globally in hand sanitizer usage per capita. One study estimated Saudis used about 307 million liters of hand sanitizer in 2017. Frequent use of sanitizers is driven by cultural norms including eating meals traditionally with the right hand.

High sanitizer consumption has also been reported in countries like Kuwait, UAE, and Qatar. In fact, retail sales data shows the Middle East accounted for 9% of global hand sanitizer sales in 2019, though it has just 3% of the world’s population. Frequent mosque visits where washing is customary may be a factor.

Government Hand Hygiene Programs

Some governments have implemented nationwide handwashing initiatives to improve hygiene standards in their countries. For example:

  • New Zealand – The HiNZ program has government funding for hand hygiene training in schools and healthcare facilities.
  • Singapore – The National Handwashing Initiative provides free hygiene resources and public education.
  • Australia – The National Hand Hygiene Initiative tracks and reports on hand hygiene compliance in healthcare.

Such programs encourage positive handwashing behaviors through monitoring, training, and public messaging. Countries with national policies around hand hygiene tend to have better averages in terms of handwashing frequency and quality.

Handwashing Access

Handwashing infrastructure and access to hygiene facilities also impact how often people wash hands. According to WHO/UNICEF in 2019:

  • 70% of people in Central Asia have basic handwashing access at home
  • 68% have access in Latin America and Caribbean
  • 34% have access in Sub-Saharan Africa

Without accessible facilities like piped water and soap, handwashing frequency may remain lower even if awareness is high. Improving infrastructure is key for countries lagging in this area.

Handwashing Education

Handwashing habits are largely shaped by education, cultural norms, and societal attitudes. According to UNICEF, factors associated with better handwashing practices include:

  • Higher parental education levels
  • Attendance at pre-primary schools
  • Mothers who are employed outside home

Conversely, incorrect beliefs like “soap is not needed for handwashing if hands look clean” are linked with poorer hygiene. Targeted education campaigns in schools, workplaces, clinics and communities can dispel myths and promote better handwashing practices.

Comparison of Handwashing Practices

Here is a table comparing handwashing practices across major countries based on the metrics discussed:

Country Handwashing Frequency Technique Sanitizer Usage Govt. Programs Infrastructure Education
India High Fair Low Yes Moderate Moderate
China Low Fair Low No High High
Japan Moderate Excellent High Yes High High
Saudi Arabia Moderate Moderate Very High No High Moderate
Australia Moderate Good Moderate Yes High High
Kenya Moderate Fair Low No Low Moderate


No single country dominates across all aspects of hand hygiene practices. While India washing hands most frequently, Japanese handwashing technique is exemplary. Saudi Arabia uses sanitizers extensively, but handwashing education is just moderate. Overall, industrialized nations like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada demonstrate both high awareness and infrastructure around hand hygiene. But even lower-income countries can have strong cultural norms or effective government programs promoting handwashing. Improving education, facilities, and monitoring are key to boosting hand hygiene globally.