The Dos and Don’ts of Holiday Hand Washing

As South Africans prepare for the annual Easter trek to coastal or inland holiday destinations, motorists are cautioned to drive safely in a bid to reduce the familiar long weekend carnage on our roads.

Aside from the dangers faced by road users while traveling, there is another kind of potential danger that lurks in the rest stops frequented by road travellers on the way to their final destination.

Cleaning your hands with antibacterial soap and water or hand sanitiser after using roadside bathrooms is the single most important thing travellers can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness all the way to their holiday destination,” said Rika van Rooyen of hygiene solutions provider Bidvest Steiner.

The influenza virus, for example, can survive on toilet handles, doorknobs and taps for between two to eight hours. “Imagine the potential for an outbreak of disease along a major high-traffic thoroughfare, such as the N1 or N3, should users of roadside facilities fail to practice proper hand washing,” said Ms Van Rooyen.

The fact that travelling families are often accompanies accompanied by small children and elderly relatives who are particularly vulnerable to infection, magnifies the importance of effective hand washing at roadside rest stops. “Properly cleaning your hands helps prevent the spread of the common cold, the flu, meningitis, hepatitis A and diarrhoea,” explained Ms Van Rooyen.

A study conducted at Harvard Medical School found that families who used a hand sanitiser with an alcohol base were 59 percent less likely to experience a gastrointestinal disease than those who did not.

Ms Van Rooyen provided several hints and tips below that South Africans should abide by while using public rest room facilities this holiday season:

  • Carry a high quality portable hand sanitiser with at least a 60% alcohol content in case you come across a public facility without proper hand washing supplies.
  • If you walk into a public facility to spot only a bar of soap and a bath towel where a quality handsoap and an electric dryer should have been, rather experience a few minutes discomfort driving to the next rest stop than risk ruining your holiday, and your health.


The best combination is to wash first with hand soap, dry properly and then finish with a high quality hand sanitiser.

  • Proper hand washing involves putting soap on the hands, rubbing them together vigorously for at least 20 seconds and then rinsing them with clean water. Always dry hand properly as damp hand can spread up to 1 000 times more bacteria than dry ones.
  • Finally, carry your own roller towel with you as not all public bathrooms are equipped with electric hand dryers. There is no point practicing the above and then drying your hands on a communal towel used by someone who hasn’t engaged in proper hand washing.

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