Thursday, September 17, 2009

Not a substitute for soap and water

This story starts 383 miles from the 4th floor men’s room, occurs in the distant past and reveals the mileage on potty blogger, but there is a point, I promise.

Nearly twenty years ago, potty blogger and his girlfriend at the time used to frequent a fast food restaurant by the name of Carl’s Jr. in Marina Del Rey, California. (Potty blogger’s favorite feature of this restaurant was the three-person booth--two seats on one side of the table and one seat on the other---where he and his then-girlfriend once took a friend who had just broken up her boyfriend, which was both funny and sad...and has nothing to do with this story.)

At the conclusion of one fine meal at this establishment, I excused myself from the table to go to the restroom. As I was washing my hands, I noticed a new dispenser on the wall, next to the soap dispenser. On the front, it said, “New anti-bacterial cleaning gel--no water needed!”

When I left the men’s room and reported my finding to my then-girlfriend, she did not believe me. There was no equivalent dispenser in the ladies room and the idea of a hand-cleaning substance that did not require water seemed preposterous to her. “You have to use soap and water to clean your hands,” she said.

What neither of us realized at the time was that I had stumbled into one of the earliest test markets for hand-sanitizer. (You youngsters out there may find it hard to imagine a world where hand-sanitizer was not ubiquitous, but at the time, nobody had ever heard of it.)

The geniuses at Purell-or-whoever-created-hand-sanitizer were test marketing the substance in men’s restrooms as a substitute to hand washing. Given the proximity to actual soap and water, this strategy, in hindsight, seems ridiculous. But marketers have to kiss a lot of frogs in the early days of product development to find the best way to sell whatever it is they’re trying to sell.

Fast forward to today and we’re now living in the Jetsons-like future of 2009. Hand-sanitizer is everywhere.

Which brings us back to the men’s rooms at 720 California.

A few weeks ago, hand-sanitizer pumps appeared near the sinks on each floor. The timing was strange, since we’re well past last spring’s swine flu hysteria, but maybe they’re just getting a jump on the fall panic.

But, gentlemen, as my long-ago girlfriend pointed out nearly 20 years ago, “You have to use soap and water to clean your hands.”

Unfortunately, the presence of hand-sanitizer on the counter has confused some of my co-workers. On two occasions, I have seen men forgo soap and water for a quick spritz from the pump.

Not good enough, men. I know it’s old fashion, but you must use soap and water to clean your mitts after you make a number one or a number two. Every time. No exceptions.


  1. The debate rages on elsewhere: me dirty but I think hand sanitizer is as good in most cases...hand sanitizer has come a long way since the test markets 20 years ago (at least I'd like to believe they have)
    Have you heard the rumor that it is the friction from rubbing your hands together that actually kills the germs and therefore hot water and vigorous rubbing is as affective as soap and water? not sure I believe this one yet...

  2. Hand sanitizer is just helping to create superbugs that will kill us all. And eating with dirty hands is like cooking meat on a well-seasoned grill.

  3. I'm with you. Hand sanitizer is a nice way to kill certain bugs, but as a standalone--no way. It's like throwing dirty dishes into a commercial sanitizer without washing them--the food is still there, it's just been through a 180 degree bath. The whole thing reminds me of this video: