7 Stupid Things People Do to Prevent Germs

Nobody wants to get sick, and there are plenty of real, doctor-recommended ways to prevent catching a bug. But not every technique that you’ve heard of is a good one. Read on for some of the most ineffective at best and even unsafe ways to prevent germs.

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1. Holding Your Breath After Someone Sneezes.

Holding your breath when someone is sneezing or coughing? Don’t even bother. Unless your reflexes are verging on superhuman levels, by the time they let it out, you’re already exposed.

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2. Kicking the Toilet Handle

There’s pretty much no way to avoid coming into contact with SOME germs in the bathroom. And, if you’re going to wash your hands well after you flush, just go ahead and use your hands to flush the toilet.

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3. Hovering Over the Toilet Seat.

Don’t you love it when you enter a public bathroom stall and the seat is covered in other people’s seat covers and suspicious-looking wet spots? Not only is this totally, totally rude for other patrons and the people that have to clean it up, it’s also not really helping you avoid much in the way of germs. And, anyway, all that stuff about catching viruses and STIs from a toilet stall? It’s not nearly as likely as many people think.

Hovering over a toilet seat doesn’t really help either because, though you don’t come in direct contact with the seat, as soon as you flush, whatever germs are in the toilet enter the air.

The chances of getting sick in any way at all from a toilet seat are so ridiculously small that your best option is to just plop your butt on the seat.


4. Using the Back of Your Hand.

It’s technically true that when you use the back of your hand to touch things, you typically expose less skin to germ-infested areas than you otherwise would. But that doesn’t necessarily make it much more effective at preventing germ contamination, because there is so little of a difference in germ exposure that it’s really not worth the effort.

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5. Using Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizers were invented for — and are still used by — nurses and doctors. And for them, it’s totally and completely necessary. If you’re not about to perform open-heart surgery, though, hand sanitizers can actually do more harm than good. That’s because your body does need some germs to maintain a healthy immune system, and hand sanitizer doesn’t discriminate. It also can’t kill all the germs on your hands. Another problem? Hand sanitizer doesn’t work as well as soap and water on visibly dirty hands.

Use hand sanitizer only when you don’t have access to soap and water. Otherwise? Head to the sink.


6. Wearing Gloves.

Here’s an all-too-obvious point: if you wear gloves, the gloves will have all that gross germy stuff on them, not you. Unless you know the exact protocol for removing them, you’re probably going to have skin contact with those germs anyway. Wearing gloves for too long can lead to contamination, and, odds are, a glove wearer will eventually touch their face no matter how much they resist.

To be clear, gloves do provide some protection from germs, and proper removal will help you avoid contact, but the hassle doesn’t necessarily outweigh the benefit in this instance. Researchers have even suggested that wearing gloves provides little more than an excuse for poor hand washing hygiene and a false sense of security.

Again, just wash your hands and avoid touching your face after coming into contact with someone or something that makes you squeamish. Gee, I’m starting to sound like a broken record!

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7. Wearing Surgical Masks. 

The reason surgical masks aren’t nearly as effective as they seem can best be explained by understanding what they’re intended for in the first place. Surgeons wear these masks to prevent spreading germs to patients, not to prevent themselves from getting sick FROM the patients. And, wouldn’t you know, there’s some doubt as to whether surgical masks are even necessary in the operating room!

What does that mean for the rest of us? Well, in the real world, there’s also little evidence that surgical masks can help prevent the spread of disease or the impact of air pollution. These masks unfortunately provide little more than a false sense of security.

Katie Waldeck

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