5 Ways to Keep Up Your Hygiene in the Workplace

Just because you can eat lunch at your desk while working, that doesn't mean you should. Your desk could harbor more than 21,000 bacteria per square inch!
Just because you can eat lunch at your desk while working, that doesn't mean you should. Your desk could harbor more than 21,000 bacteria per square inch!

There's not much you can do about how many meetings there are on your calendar, or about the smell of microwaved fish wafting through the hallways at work. Or the guy in the next cubicle's new pungent cologne. Keeping up your own personal hygiene in the workplace may not fix any of these obstacles, but at least good hygiene practices will mean you won't contribute to the melting pot of office odors, and you might even dodge a few colds or the flu, too.

Good hygiene at the office goes beyond employees washing their hands before returning to work. Read on for five simple ways to keep up your personal hygiene at the office, from stashing floss in your desk to, yes, hand washing. First, we'll look at how to put together a work-friendly hygiene emergency kit.


5: Keep Travel-size Products in Your Desk

Who among us hasn't pitched coffee down a shirt or dripped dressing onto a lap? Welcome to your workday. To help keep any small personal hygiene emergency in check while at the office, store a small bag of travel-size toiletries and other handy odds and ends in your desk. Include items such as a needle and thread to mend an undone hem or lost button, a hairbrush or comb, deodorant or antiperspirant, adhesive bandages, a clean shirt to change into (in case of that spilled coffee), floss, toothpaste and a toothbrush.

Caught without a toothbrush? Try snacking on crunchy fruits and vegetables, such as celery or apples, which will help to clean your teeth while you chew.


4: Don't Eat at Your Desk

Seventy-five percent of office workers admit they do it, and do it as often as two to three times per week [source: Dakss]. Eat lunch at their desks, that is. Do you?

In addition to potentially dripping mustard on your suit, studies have found that turning your cubicle into a makeshift restaurant can also increase the germ factor on your desk. It's good policy not to eat off a surface with more than 1,000 bacteria per square inch, but most desks harbor about 21,000 bacteria per square inch [source: ABC News; Weigel]. Let's put that into perspective. Most toilet seats have less than 1,000 bacteria per square inch. And a kitchen sponge can have more than 50 million microorganisms living within it -- by far one of the filthiest things in your house [source: Maloof]. Unless you're fastidious about sanitizing your workspace -- and who among us is? -- you might want to reconsider desk dining.


3: Exercise at Work? Plan Ahead

If you regularly exercise during the workday, be sure to plan ahead with a well-packed gym bag. You'll want to pack, at a minimum, the following:

  • A fresh set of clothing and socks -- Consider synthetic fabrics that won't soak up sweat like cotton does (and some synthetics will breathe better, too).
  • Sneakers (or another type of athletic shoe appropriate to the sport or class you like)
  • Travel-size personal hygiene products -- To get clean post-exercise, be sure to include products such as shampoo and conditioner, body cleanser, deodorant or antiperspirant, a comb or hairbrush, and a stash of bandages and pain relievers.
  • And don't forget a towel.


2: Shower Daily

Regular showers help to remove the dirt you can see on your skin as well as bacteria and other debris that's hidden from the eye. Bathing in warm water (not hot, or you'll risk drying out your skin) and lathering with a gentle cleanser will help to remove dead skin cells and potentially toxic microorganisms, as well as wash away secretions from your apocrine glands. Apocrine glands are the sweat glands that secrete a thick, sugary protein, and they're abundant in our armpits, groins and scalps. This thick, fatty sweat causes body odor when the bacteria living on our skin begin to break it down. Daily showers and freshly laundered clothing will help keep body odor to a minimum.


1: Wash Your Hands

When asked if they'd stay home from work because of cold or flu symptoms, many American workers said no. About 44 percent might go to work despite having a fever, and watch out for the 32 percent who plan on going to work no matter how sick they may be [source: Infection Control Today]. The best way to fight germs at work -- and elsewhere -- is to wash your hands.

Be sure to use proper hand-washing technique. A quick rinse under cold water isn't good enough. Use soap and warm water, and spend at least 15 to 20 seconds washing your hands -- and don't forget to pay close attention to under your nails and wash all the way up to your wrists. When you can't wash your hands, stash a container of hand sanitizer (one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol will get the job done) in your desk.


Read on for more personal hygiene tips.

Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • ABC News. "Myth: Toilet Seats Are the Dirtiest Thing in the Bathroom." Oct. 14, 2005. (March 21, 2011)http://abcnews.go.com/2020/Health/story?id=1213831&page=1
  • American Dental Hygienists' Association. "Want Some Life Saving Advice? Ask Your Dental Hygienist About Understanding and Eliminating Bad Breath." July 16, 2010. (Feb. 14, 2011) http://www.adha.org/downloads/factsheets/bad_breath.pdf
  • Baker, Donald J. and Warren R. Heymann. "Eccrine and Apocrine Glands." American Academy of Dermatology. 2010. (March 21, 2011)http://www.aad.org/education/students/glands.htm
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Stopping Germs at Home, Work and School." Feb. 1, 2004. (March 21, 2011)http://www.cdc.gov/germstopper/home_work_school.htm
  • ConsumerSearch. "Hand Sanitizer: Myths and Facts." January 2011. (March 21, 2011)http://www.consumersearch.com/hand-sanitizers/hand-sanitizer-myths-and-facts
  • Dakss, Brian. "Eating Lunch At Desk: Distateful." CBS News -- The Early Show. Jan. 18, 2006. (March 21, 2011)http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/01/18/earlyshow/main1217706.shtml
  • Infection Control Today. "Most Americans Still Consider Showing Up to Work When Sick." Dec. 24, 2010. (March 21, 2011)http://www.infectioncontroltoday.com/news/2010/12/most-americans-still-consider-showing-up-to-work-when-sick.aspx
  • Larson, Elaine. "Hygiene of the Skin: When Is Clean Too Clean?" Emerging Infectious Diseases. March - April 2001. (Feb. 14, 2011) http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no2/larson.htm
  • Maloof, Rich. "Kitchen Germs." MSN Health & Fitness. (March 21, 2011)http://health.msn.com/womens-health/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100123457
  • Nemours. "Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands?" October 2010. (March 21, 2011)http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/qa/wash_hands.html
  • Snowdon, Graham. "How do you rank on personal hygiene?" The Guardian. Sept. 23, 2010. (March 21, 2011)http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/blog/2010/sep/23/personal-hygiene-bad-habits
  • Weigel, Jen. "Is it OK to eat at your desk?" Chicago Tribune. Nov. 16, 2010. (March 21, 2011)http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-11-16/features/ct-tribu-weigel-lunch-at-desk-20101116_1_desk-eat-healthiest-choice
  • Weissman, Michaele. "Desktop Dining." The Washington Post. Jan. 11, 2006. (March 21, 2011)http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/10/AR2006011000319.html