Recently I had a few friends come over to play a board game. At one point, one of them went to the bathroom, which was near the area in which we were playing.

After about 5 minutes (which would indicate he was defecating and not just urinating), I heard the toilet flush, and then immediately the door opened and he came out. The fact that the door opened immediately after the flush would indicate that he did not wash his hands.

I'm a person who likes to keep things clean, so I was irked by that. I didn't say anything though, as I was rather dumbfounded. There are actually people who don't wash their hands after defecating? Apparently so.

So what could I say or do next time to try to ensure that everyone washes their hands when they go to the bathroom?

  • 13
    And you are sure he was not just plucking out a nose hair / being unwell / trying to let off a giant fart as quietly as possible / injecting insuline / randy-texting his Gf / doing something which made him desire privacy while being perfectly sanitary? People some times do that and flush out of embarrassed habit...
    – Stian
    Jun 11, 2018 at 20:28
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    Are you sure he didn't wash? What if he washed his hands then flushed with his foot/knee? Jun 12, 2018 at 6:38
  • 1
    Isn't it possible that he was raised to flush the toilet with clean hands? Aug 29, 2018 at 3:55

8 Answers 8


"You wash your hands BEFORE you flush? I've never tried that."

Verbally make the assumption that they DID wash their hands as though you can't even fathom that they wouldn't. But also point out why it's improbable they actually did so, in the form of a question. The second part also implies the flush-handle is not sanitary itself (though admittedly doubtful that a non-hand-washer will actually catch that). If you're lucky, the person will say "oops" or "thanks" and go back to ACTUALLY wash their hands.

This can backfire if find yourself with a jerk who not only does not care about keeping sanitary but also doesn't care if you don't like it. In such a case you'll just get "yes" as an answer; tact rarely works with such people.

Similar, though perhaps not quite as tactful, and without a question form: "No need to conserve water."

Still, getting the horse back into the barn, is always harder than just keeping it there. A better tack would be to let them know about some imaginary problem with your sink they need to watch out for when washing up, while they are on the way there. The point being, there is (hopefully) only one reason to use the sink when you go poop, and you are incidentally reminding them about it. "The sink takes a while to get warm, just give it about 30 seconds."

  • I do actually wash my hands before I flush for what it means, I usually flush with a foot or some toilet paper as I really don't like touching the flush handle...
    – Vality
    Jan 23, 2019 at 20:37
  • @Vality but you touch the door/door handle/lock/toilet paper roll/dispenser in the cubicle?
    – Griffin
    Jan 23, 2020 at 17:51
  • @Griffin Im referring to when I use a toilet in a private home, not a public toilet with a cubicle, there is no way to easily wash ones hands before flushing there so I do so the normal way. I assume the door handle in a private home is probably going to be clean unless others dont wash their hands. In case of confusion the steps I follow are: do my business, use toilet paper, wash hands, flush with paper towel or foot, leave room
    – Vality
    Jan 23, 2020 at 19:15

So what could I say or do next time to try to ensure that everyone washes their hands when they go to the bathroom?

There is no tactful way to say anything, because it would immediately get interpreted as you taking on the role of their parent instead of an equal. (Look at "Crossed Transactions" in Eric Berne's "Games People Play.") or look at this website about Berne and Transactional Analysis

A Crossed Transaction

It would be less personal if you put up a sign,

"Thank you for washing your hands!"

But it's probably a lost cause.

FWIW, in hospitals the recommendation is to wash hands, then use paper towels to open the door or manipulate anything else in the room. If there's no lid to close (as in most institutional bathrooms,) flushing on your way out gets less "Toilet plume" (Ecch--Google it) on you.


First, so as not to single one person out, you could pass around a bottle of hand sanitizer for everyone to use and say that there have been a lot of germs going around and you want to make sure everyone stays healthy; this can be further justified if you are sharing a bowl of snacks or passing around cards for your game.

Secondly, to be sure in the future of whether or not a person behind the closed door of your bathroom has washed their hands, you could buy a motion-sensing automatic soap dispenser like for example the "dettol automatic soap dispenser". We have one at home that we use to verify that our preschooler actually washes her hands - it makes a fairly loud noise as it dispenses the soap, which can be heard from our living room. If you hear it, you can generally assume your guest has actually washed their hands.


When I worked in kitchens the policy was to wash your hands when returning to the line (kitchen). This removed any question or doubt about whether hands had been washed because people could see you at the hand sink upon your return.

Depending on the layout of your place you could pretty easily set up a similar policy, without even making it sound like a rule. When someone leaves the table to use the bathroom, just say something like:

Oh, hey, there's hand soap at the kitchen sink.

This of course depends on whether your kitchen is visible or otherwise obvious from your game table, but even if it isn't the hint/reminder that handwashing is important will probably do the trick.

Another option, depending on the type of games you play, is to play Comic Book Guy.

A Simson character using a glove to put a comic book into a plastic bag

Basically give people the impression that they're playing with collectables and insist that they wash their hands in order to maintain the value of the game pieces. Note the gloved hand and the mylar bag...

Personally I'd go with the first approach over the second, people tend to get annoyed with Comic Book Guy.

  • It may seem odd to mention having soap in the kitchen, when there is already liquid soap next to the bathroom sink. The kitchen is also on another floor. Perhaps it'd be good to say something like "Let me know if there's no more soap in the bathroom, it might need to be refilled"? Jun 11, 2018 at 16:01
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    @pacoverflow Absolutely. The point is just to mention that soap is available, it's basically reminding them to wash without directly saying that they need to wash.
    – apaul
    Jun 11, 2018 at 16:14

I don't know that there is a tactful way to tell an adult they should wash their hands after using the restroom. Even if I did take the initiative to tell them, (A) there is a strong chance they'll agree with every word I say whether they actually do it or not, and (B) there is no way to force them. When we have company, frequently I am outside or in another part of the house, so I would have no way to monitor such activities. I would probably put multiple hand sanitizer in various locations and hope for the best. That way if anyone suspected that a guest didn't wash their hands, they can take the initiative to use hand sanitizer every time they touch something that the other guest touched.

There are several ways to not-so-tactfully tell a person to wash their hands, so the question is how important is it to you to be "tactful"? If the tactful-line is slowly diminishing, you could say something like, "Joe, I'm not your Mom, but that was lightning fast...did you or did you not wash your hands...?"


I would personally ask them if they washed their hands, and regardless of their response, I would sincerely let them know that I am concerned about the repercussions of what unwashed hands would have on the rest of my house as well as their health and the health of those around them.

I've noticed some comments saying that the person mentioned might have washed prior to flushing; in that case, wouldn't they understand your concern if you openly asked them? It might be embarrassing for a moment or two, but it's something that could be laughed off of rather quickly and create a story to be retold of for fun.

In another case, maybe they were just blissfully ignorant, and this could be a valuable learning moment for them. Whether they retain what you try to teach, or whether they genuinely have concern or not after the fact, is up in the air and out of your control.

Or, they simply don't care and probably won't care for your opinion.

Being open and honest about your concerns would show them that you are genuinely concerned without simply being judgmental, and if they got offended or if it would cause for them to have a lesser impression of you, then that's on them.


There is a stigma associated with not washing your hands, and most people (though not all) will be mindful of it if you are able to cue them into it. If it's in a setting you've described, you're able to amend this without addressing it directly. For example, I might ask them for an opinion on the new soap I've got (whether it's "new" or not) or something along those lines that makes them think about their hand washing experience. If they didn't, now they're on the spot to come up with something, which even if they're able to conjure up something on the fly will have put them on the spot, and they're more likely to actually wash their hands in the future in the event you might ask again.

Feel free to experiment, it's your house.


I'd avoid being tactful about it, if it really bothered me. Instead I'd do something about it to try to make sure the germs spread no further.

Get yourself a large bottle of hand sanitizer. The next time you notice the person come back from the bathroom without washing, ask them to hold out their hands. Spray sanitizer into their hands, and say

There. Now we don't have to worry about you getting your germs all over the game pieces.

Hopefully, the first time they'll laugh about it. The second time, they'll remember to wash their hands.

Either that, or they'll just deliberately avoid washing in order to provoke you. Which is fine. Just keep hitting them with the sanitizer, as often as needed.

(In response to avazula's comment): Usually quite early on, children are taught to wash their hands after using the toilet. It's basic hygiene. Obviously, as adults many tend to ignore this (and other childhood edification), so it would be embarrassing to be reminded of something that, as children, they might have been scolded for.

  • Maybe your intended tone doesn't quite carry over a text medium, but the quote sounds remarkable passive aggressive and devoid of any politeness. It is inherently belittling, and you even sidestep the option to kindly ask as opposed to immediately enforcing without any question or warning. I'm expecting this to simply trigger a counterpost along the lines of "my friend tries to passive aggressively mother me, how can I ask them to stop?"
    – Flater
    Jan 24, 2019 at 11:36
  • @Flater not sure I read anything passive in the quote. It's deliberately confrontational. The intention is to send a strong message to avoid having to repeat the lesson. Not every situation is best resolved through nicety.
    – Andrew
    Jan 24, 2019 at 17:29

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