I've received looks of un-approving stares when performing either of the following actions. I'm trying to determine which is proper.

After having used the facilities (ie going #1 or #2) in a public bathroom, walking up to the sink; what is the proper hand washing etiquette?

To have dry hands and hit the soap dispenser with one hand, the water with another, and proceed to wash?

Or turn on the water, wet your hands, proceed to touch the soap dispenser (with a wet hand) and proceed to wash hands.

To me there are issues with both procedures.

First example, dry hands on the dispenser provides the possibility of leaving some of your "business" on the soap dispenser handle. Granted, the next person touching it will be washing their hands also...knowing how most people behave regarding germs, seems like it's not the right thing to do.

Second example, having wet hands and touching the soap dispenser handle, leaves behind a wet dispenser handle for the next user who may by chance be a dry hand soap dispenser person. Again it doesn't seem polite leaving behind a wet dispenser handle for the next person to touch, regardless that the person will be washing their hands anyway.

4 Answers 4


Wet your hands, then get soap from the dispenser. When done, dry the handle of the dispenser with the paper towel you used for your hands.

  • Dry off the soap dispenser with the paper towel after standing there until you’re totally done drying your hands with it? Too much time - especially because one is typically walking toward the exit while drying with the paper towel, then throwing the towel into the trash near the exit. Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 2:02
  • Good point, but I cannot think of much else. Commented Jun 8, 2018 at 4:23

To avoid transfer, use the palm or the edge of your hand to operate the tap and dispenser.

Making the tap and dispenser wet isn't really an issue: you're going to wash your hands anyway, any transfer from tap and dispenser to your hands will be washed off.

You may be overthinking this.

  • That's possible. I have been known to overthink things from time to time.
    – peterj
    Commented Jun 6, 2018 at 15:30

This, just in…
Here's the relevant part of the aseptic procedure (removing bacteria, viruses, and micro-organisms) that I was taught by a supervising surgical nurse.

Rely on paper towels.
To be optimally aseptic, you should wash your hands before and after doing your business.

Take two paper towels. Put one under your arm and use the next paper towel to turn on the contaminated water faucet. Wash your hands with soap and water, making sure you're washing your hands for the recommended 20 seconds, (one round of "Happy Birthday"). Then, use the second paper towel to turn off the faucet and to grab the door handles of the stall.

(—At this point, don't forget to disinfect your phone with alcohol wipes if you’ve used it while on the toilet. Clean the bottom of your bag or anything you may have set on the floor, too.)
Use the same two-towel procedure to wash your hands before you leave the restroom.

Faucet handles and door handles are danger zones. They’re the first things we touch before washing our hands, and ironically, turning them off contaminates our hands all over again.

So, while paper towel-handling everything may look a little odd, it’s better to be safe than sorry.


Definitely dispense soap with a dry hand whilst using your other hand to turn on the water and get it a little wet in order to help rub the soap all over your hands.

Your main concern with this procedure is the potential of getting your “business” on the soap dispenser; it’s hopefully a rare situation that that’s on your hand (and very rare that it’s on both hands...), but when that is indeed the case, water-first makes sense.

And I ought to address a concern about the dry-hand method: While you yourself may know that you’re not getting any “business” on the dispenser, it can still make others uncomfortable because they can’t be certain of that, so shouldn’t we opt against this method to give others peace of mind?

It’s a fair point. But the alternative is actually a pretty similar situation: there’s still the faucet handle that gets touched before any washing occurs. Also, when the next person walks in the bathroom with an assume-the-worst mindset, how do they know that it’s just water that’s all over the soap dispenser?

To top it all off - the wet-hands-first method is the biggest culprit of causing public restrooms to wind up having water gradually build up on the counter until you’ve got puddles of it ... sometimes to the point where the puddles reach the edge of the counter, and one can hardly wash their hands at all without getting their shirt wet from touching the water.

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