Here’s What Really Happens When You Don’t Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands should be something you do several times a day. However, not everyone is as conscious of germs as they should be. If you’re one who doesn’t always wash your hands after using the bathroom or touching raw meat, you may want to read on. Here’s everything that can happen if you don’t wash your hands.

Washing Hands

Hand washing is extremely important. | monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images

You’ll get sick more often

Sick woman with headache

You’ll get sick more often. | BartekSzewczyk/iStock/Getty Images

This one is a no brainer. The less you wash your hands, the greater the opportunity for bacteria to pile up on them. As a result, you’re exposing yourself to more illnesses, which means one is bound to weasel its way into your body and make you sick. Spending a whole 20 seconds properly washing your hands might not seem exciting, but it can do a lot to protect your body in the long run.

Next: In addition to getting germs, you’re also spreading germs. 

You could spread potentially dangerous germs

Handshake between two colleagues in office

Handshakes are an easy way to spread germs. | Saklakova/iStock/Getty Images

In addition to having illnesses enter your body, you also up your risk of spreading those germs when you forego handwashing. And once you get sick, it’s easy to infect the friends and family around you. Do everyone else a favor and make sure to wash your hands, especially during the winter when illnesses such as the flu are rampant. And if you sneeze or cough, do so into the side of your arm rather than into your hand.

Next: Not everyone can fight off infections so easily. 

You could infect someone with a compromised immune system

Baby chewing on teething ring

You could spread a disease to the wrong person. | RobHainer/iStock/Getty Images

Your actions could end up causing someone serious harm. Those with compromised immune systems, such as infants and the elderly, can’t fight off diseases the same way most others can. If you don’t wash your hands, you might end up infecting someone who can’t fight off an infection that didn’t do much harm to you. In 2017-2018, the CDC estimates that 80,000 people died from the flu. It’s possible that proper handwashing may have prevented many of those exposures and deaths.

Next: Your meal won’t be as enjoyable. 

You might expose yourself to food poisoning

Factory farmed meat

Raw meat spreads diseases. | Bit245/iStock/Getty Images

Sicknesses such as the flu aren’t the only thing you might encounter by not washing your hands. Most foodborne illnesses are spread by people touching contaminated foods and not properly sanitizing afterward. As a result, the bacteria enters the body and can wreak havoc. Salmonella and E. coli are common forms of food poisoning, and the best way to prevent them is to always wash your hands after handling raw food.

Next: You might have this one awful thing in your food. 

You might literally get poop in your food

Mediterranean style food

You won’t want to eat without washing your hands first. | OksanaKiian/Getty Images

Yes, this is true. When you use the bathroom, you tend to pick up particles of fecal matter on your hands. And unless you wash them, they’ll still be there the next time you pick up a sandwich. That results in fecal matter being spread to your food and consumed. If — for some reason — that doesn’t bother you, think of it this way, too: Would you want the chef at a restaurant not washing his or her hands after using the bathroom? Probably not, since you’re about to eat their prepared food.

Next: Just think about that chip bowl all your friends are dipping into. 

The chip bowl will probably contain coliform

Chips

This chip bowl may have more than just chips. | Lisovskaya/iStock/Getty Images

Coliform, which is found in human waste, probably isn’t the type of seasoning you want on your chips. But if you’re not washing your hands, this is another place that bacteria will end up. If you’re hanging out with friends, think about how many hands are reaching into that chip bowl. They probably aren’t all as clean as they could be, but hopefully everyone washed their hands last time they used the bathroom. Otherwise, there are more than just chips in that bowl.

Next: Nobody wants this infection, but not washing your hands will help you get it. 

Pink eye is almost imminent

Eye woman eyebrow eyes lashes

You don’t want pink eye. | utkamandarinka/iStock.com

Pink eye is one of the most annoying sicknesses you can get — and it’s also one of the most contagious. Since we touch our eyes frequently, it’s possible for even the smallest amount of the infection to spread to our fingers. And once that happens, it can go anywhere. The virus or bacteria (both can cause pink eye) can spread to surfaces, too, making it easy for someone to pick it up. And if you don’t frequently wash your hands, you’ll either spread it or get it.

Next: You’re at a greater risk for contracting this serious illness. 

You’re at a greater risk for contracting Hepatitis A

Woman Stomach Ache

Nausea and jaundice are symptoms of Hepatitis A. | champja/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Another more serious infection that could arise from a lack of handwashing is Hepatitis A. It leads to fever, jaundice, nausea, and more, and it’s typically transmitted when the infection gets into food. The most common way for the infection to be spread is when others with the virus prepare food without washing their hands. While many diseases are spreadable without handwashing, some are more serious than others.

Next: Handwashing can contribute to this serious problem. 

Antibiotic resistance will become an issue

Medicine with a glass of water

Antibiotic resistance is in part due to lack of handwashing. | Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria are able to build up their own immunity to medications. Over time, medications that once worked to kill bacteria are no longer able to do so. If you never wash your hands, you’ll get sick more often and rely on antibiotics. But the more antibiotics are used, the less they work. Getting sick too often contributes to antibiotic resistance, which can be a serious problem for someone with a bacterial infection.

Next: Illnesses that cause this are much more common. 

You might find yourself with diarrhea … Often

Man holding toilet paper

Diarrhea can be a problem if you don’t wash your hands. | BrianAJackson/Getty Images

On average, about 30% of diarrhea-related illnesses can be prevented just by washing your hands, according to the CDC. Diseases such as E. coli and salmonella are a common cause for diarrhea, but spending time sanitizing your hands is a great way to prevent falling ill. Those with weakened immune systems could see a nearly-60% reduction in diarrhea-causing illnesses if they follow proper handwashing methods.

Next: Appearance matters, too. 

Your hands and nails will look dirty

Nails

You don’t want to have dirty-looking hands. | yuriyzhuravov/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Aside from potentially falling gravely ill, the appearance of your hands will be noticeably different if you never wash them. Dirt will build up under your nails, and your hands will look visibly dirty from the various things you touch throughout the day. In addition to being filled with bacteria, others will be turned off at the buildup of grime on your hands, which is all the more reason to wash them frequently.

Next: Your vacation might be ruined. 

You might regret boarding a cruise ship

Young woman with a cup of coffee on a cruise ship or ferry

Cruise ships can carry diseases that will make you want to wash your hands. | Poike/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Cruise ships put a lot of people in a little bit of space, so the spread of disease is easy. Norovirus, a virus that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea, is easily spread on cruise ships. And if you don’t wash your hands, you’ll likely become one of its victims. While the virus isn’t typically deadly, it will make for a very lame vacation (one that you probably spent a lot of money on).

Next: Anywhere you go will be more dangerous.

Public places become a lot more dangerous

Girl gets on bus

Public transportation is loaded with germs. | undefined/Getty Images

Going anywhere in public means encountering a lot of bacteria. And if you never wash your hands, you’re making the world a much more dangerous place for yourself. Public transportation, coffee shops, amusement parks, and more are all a breeding ground for bacteria. If you do nothing to protect yourself, you’re bound to get sick often.

Next: This works, but it’s not the best option. 

You shouldn’t rely on hand sanitizer, either

Hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer shouldn’t be your only form of hand washing. | iStock.com/miflippo

Hand sanitizer is a good alternative when you don’t have an easy way of washing your hands, but it shouldn’t be a permanent alternative. It doesn’t kill as much bacteria as hand washing, since physically scrubbing your hands is one of the ways traditional handwashing removes bacteria. Carry hand sanitizer to have on-the-go, but always physically wash your hands after using the bathroom, touching raw meat, or prior to eating.

Next: This rumor isn’t true. 

Skipping the handwashing will not strengthen your immune system

bearded man

No, ignoring hand washing will not make you stronger. | Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images

Exposure to bacteria does, in some ways, help you build up a good immune system. An infant who hasn’t been in the world very long will obviously not have the same immune system as a 25-year-old. However, washing your hands is not a good way to build up the immune system. You’re exposed to germs daily, whether you want to be or not, and that in itself is enough of an immunity builder. Washing your hands will only keep you healthier, not make you stronger.

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