Hand Hygiene Laws: Is There a State in the US Mandating Regular Handwashing for Everyday Citizens?

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, hand hygiene has become a topic of paramount importance. The simple act of washing hands regularly can significantly reduce the spread of harmful viruses and bacteria. While it’s common knowledge that certain professions, such as food handlers and healthcare workers, are legally required to maintain hand hygiene, a question arises: Is there any state in the US where a “common person” has a legal obligation to wash their hands regularly? Let’s delve into this topic and explore the existing hand hygiene laws in the United States.

Hand Hygiene Laws for Specific Professions

Across the United States, there are numerous laws and regulations in place that mandate regular handwashing for individuals in certain professions. These laws are primarily targeted at professions where poor hand hygiene could lead to serious health risks for others. For instance, food handlers, healthcare workers, and childcare providers are typically required by law to wash their hands regularly.

  • Food Handlers: According to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Code, food employees must clean their hands and exposed portions of their arms, including surrogate prosthetic devices for hands or arms, for at least 20 seconds, using a cleaning compound in a handwashing sink.
  • Healthcare Workers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides guidelines for hand hygiene in healthcare settings, recommending that healthcare workers wash their hands before and after all patient contact, contact with potentially infectious material, and before putting on and after removing personal protective equipment, including gloves.
  • Childcare Providers: Childcare providers are also required to practice regular hand hygiene to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in childcare settings. The exact regulations can vary by state.

Hand Hygiene Laws for the General Public

When it comes to the general public, the situation is different. There are no states in the U.S. that legally require everyday citizens to wash their hands regularly. While public health organizations like the CDC strongly recommend regular handwashing as an effective way to prevent the spread of diseases, this is a guideline rather than a legal requirement.

Why Isn’t Handwashing Legally Required for Everyone?

While the importance of hand hygiene cannot be overstated, making it a legal requirement for all citizens would be incredibly difficult to enforce. It would also raise concerns about personal freedoms and privacy. Therefore, instead of legal mandates, public health organizations focus on education and awareness campaigns to encourage people to wash their hands regularly.


In conclusion, while there are no laws mandating regular handwashing for everyday citizens in the United States, it remains a crucial practice for maintaining personal health and preventing the spread of diseases. It’s a simple, effective, and important step that everyone can take to protect themselves and others, especially during times of a public health crisis.