The cold and flu season is arriving fast, and with it comes the usual fears, of toilet seats and dirty kitchens. As we see people coughing and sneezing all around us, we often forget that the simplest remedies are often the best.

The Soap and Detergent Association (yes, there is such an organization) issues regular Clean Hands report cards, and they have given the US a “C-minus,” which is even worse than our grade in 2004, when we received a “C.”

In a recent survey, here’s what they found: 68% of us don’t wash our hands long enough to effectively remove germs and dislodge dirt (this was 54% in 2004). Don’t be in a hurry: the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends washing with soap for at least 20 seconds.

36% of us don’t wash our hands after coughing or sneezing (this is slightly improved from 43% in 2004). One of the most common ways we catch colds is by rubbing our nose or eyes after touching someone or something contaminated with the cold virus.

31% of us don’t always wash our hands before eating lunch (similar to 2004). That means that we ingest the germs we get from touching money, door handles and the lunch counter. Stomach acid kills some of them, but not all.

According to the CDC, cleaning our hands is the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others. But when a random sample of people were surveyed by the SDA, only 50% believed that hand washing is the number one way to prevent colds and flu. And, 31% of respondents reported washing their hands fewer than seven times on an average day.

Ninety-two percent of Americans surveyed said they always washed their hands after using the bathroom, while five percent said they frequently washed, and three percent said they seldom or never washed. But there may be a big gap between what people say and what they do. Hidden cameras placed in rest rooms have shown that few people wash their hands after using the toilet. A 2005 study commissioned by the SDA and the American Society for Microbiology found that just 83% of people washed their hands after using a public restroom.Hepatitis breakouts at restaurants are caused by cooks and wait people not washing their hands.

You don’t have to be a witch in the kitchen to tell your family to wash their hands! And speaking of the kitchen, keep an extra towel there, just for hands, so that you don?t end up contaminating your dishes with germs by using the same dish towel for both.

But not all cleansing is physical. In, Charles Q. Choi writes rituals that cleanse the body to purify the soul are at the part of almost every religion, worldwide, and scientists think these have a sound basis in psychology.

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