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Every Drop Counts: Can 20 Seconds of Hand-Washing Lead to Water Wasting?

SUGAR HOUSE –With Utah in the grips of a record-breaking drought, every drop of water counts, so KSL has been looking into the little things we can do to cut back on our water daily water use. And speaking of daily… how many times have you washed your hands today?

To be clear, there is no one saying you should not wash your hands thoroughly – especially as the pandemic is still wreaking havoc. But, water could be going to waste as we count a full 20 seconds and wash our hands under the running faucet.

Every day, the instructors at Arte Primero studio in Sugar House help their elementary school age students recreate famous works of art by famous artists. Even the most elegant of lesson plans cannot escape the not-so-elementary messes.

Here, students use the trick of singing “Happy Birthday” to ensure they have washed their hands thoroughly. It is a trick many of us re-learned when COVID-19 struck.

Students at Arte Primero in Sugar House tend to get a little messy creating their works of art which means a lot of hand washing. (KSL TV)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, proper washing means “soap and water for a least 20 seconds.”

Before the pandemic, most of us did not do that. In fact, according to a 2013 study from Michigan State, “people are only washing their hands, on average, for about 6 seconds.”

It begs the question: If Utahns are now washing our hands longer, what does that mean for our drought? Here is what the math bears out.

Water flows from the average sink faucet at 2.2 gallons per minute (GPM). In a six-second hand-wash, that will use up just less than a quarter gallon (0.22) of water. Bump that washing time up to 20 seconds, water use climbs to nearly three-quarters (.75) of a gallon.

Many experts advise people scrub their hands for at least 20 seconds to achieve a thorough cleaning.

Now, if every Utahn washes their hands five times per day for a full 20 seconds, that works about to be 8,175,300 more gallons of water down the drain every day, than just washing hands for six seconds.

So, how do you compress 20 seconds of thorough handwashing down to just six seconds of water use?

The answer from the Centers for Disease Control is do not leave the water running the whole time. In fact, their recommendation is you merely wet your hands, turn off the tap, lather the soap into your hands and then turn water back on when you are ready to rinse off the soap.

If you have an idea for small ways we can save water that we can take an investigative look at, let us know about it. Call (385) 707-6153 or email matt@ksl.com.

Some low-flow sink aerators can reduce water use by 55%.

Here’s a simple and cheap solution we received from KSL Viewer Ondre Pettingill: low-flow sink aerators. For most faucets, it is a simple matter of unthreading the existing aerator and replacing it with one that can cut water use by as much as 55% compared to the typical sink faucet.

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