Researchers were discretely observing people in public restrooms to find how often they washed their hands with soap and water after using the restroom. They found that only 77% did so which represents a 6% decline in comparison to results from 2005.

The biggest issue is that not all of the people would admit they were not washing their hands as in separate telephone surveys, 92% of Americans claimed they always wash hands in public restrooms.

It is mostly men who avoid washing their hands. The percentage of those men who washed their hands fell from 75% in 2005 to 66% in 2007 while the number of women dropped for only 2%, from 90% in 2005 to 88% in 2007.

The researchers monitored the hand washing habits of 6,076 adults at six public bathrooms in four major cities: Atlanta, Chicago, New York and San Francisco. They made sure that all the public bathrooms were well stocked with soap, running water, and towels. Chicagoans appeared to have the best hand hygiene, then followed New York, Atlanta and San Francisco with male sports fans having the dirtiest hands.

In the telephone survey, 1,001 people were asked about their hand washing habits in public places as well as at home. 86% reported always wash up after using the bathroom at home, 73% said they always wash their hands after changing a diaper, 78% said they always wash before handling or eating food.

Many people don’t seem to be aware that hand washing is the single most important thing we can do to keep bugs from spreading. Hand washing can prevent colds, the flu, and other infectious diseases.