How can handwashing facilities change behaviour?
Alexandra Czerniewska avatar
Written by Alexandra Czerniewska
Updated over a week ago

Handwashing is not possible at all without basic facilities – usually at least water, soap, and a bucket/jug. Unsurprisingly, having access to a desirable and convenient handwashing facility with soap and water is one of the most important factors in determining handwashing behaviour. Handwashing facilities contribute to behaviour change by:

  • Cueing behaviour: Handwashing facilities can act as visual reminders, or ‘cues’ to wash hands. This is why it’s so important that handwashing facilities are placed where the hand washing should take place – e.g. outside the toilet, next to food preparation areas, at an entrance for when returning home.

  • Making handwashing easy to do: In comparison to basic methods like a bucket or cup, conveniently located and easy to use handwashing facilities make it easier to be hygienic at critical moments. Partly this is because they allow all the key ‘ingredients’ like soap and water to be ready to use in one location, without having to hold them while washing. Hand washing facilities are also thought to be water saving as they typically control the amount of water being used.

  • Making handwashing enjoyable: People are more likely to practice behaviours that provide instant ‘rewards’. For handwashing, this might be because it makes your hands feel or smell nice, or the facility is fun to use, or it provides another benefit e.g. having a mirror attached. These instant rewards are more powerful than the potential (but not guaranteed) long/medium term health benefits that hygiene promotion often focuses on.

  • Helping to form habits: Once people start washing hands (because it is convenient, easy, and enjoyable), a good facility helps handwashing to become automatic, or habitual, by providing a place for people to repeat a set of actions over and over again. But keep in mind that these habits can easily be disrupted if broken parts are not mended quickly, soap is not regularly replaced, or the handwashing facility is moved.

Want to learn more about designing effective and sustainable handwashing facilities:

Reviewed by: Jamie Myers, Janita Bartell, Astrid Hasund Thorseth, Sheillah Simiyu

Last update: 02.03.2021

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