Washing your hands properly should take 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice – experts say.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is worried that Britain’s superbug crisis is being driven by people failing to kill germs properly.
If everyone spent enough time on cleanliness they would be less likely to fall ill with stomach bugs and chest infections, they say.
A third of cases of diarrhoea and a sixth of respiratory infections could be prevented through good handwashing, according to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society
That would mean we would be far less reliant on antibiotics.
A third of cases of diarrhoea and a sixth of respiratory infections could be prevented through good handwashing, the RPS estimates.
Yet 84 per cent of us do not wash our hands for the recommended 20 seconds, a survey of more than 2,000 people found.
Nearly two-thirds do not always wash their hands before eating, and half do not wash them after touching animals.
A third do not wash their hands before preparing food and a fifth do not always wash their hands after going to the toilet.
RPS president Ash Soni said: ‘We don’t wash our hands often enough for long enough to get rid of the bacteria that can cause illnesses.
‘Even when we remain unaffected by the bugs we carry, if we don’t wash our hands we can transmit infections which then become a real problem for those who are more vulnerable, such as children and the elderly, who may then need to be prescribed antibiotics.’
The plea backs up a call last November by deputy chief medical officer, Dr Gina Radford, who recommended spending 30 seconds washing hands and said singing the first verse of God Save The Queen was one way to measure the correct time.
High use of antibiotics means that resistant bacteria, on which the drugs are ineffective, are evolving at an ever-increasing rate.
Nearly two-thirds of us do not always wash our hands before eating, a poll has found
Experts warn that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ with a few years if antibiotics are rendered ineffective, and predict that by 2050 superbugs will kill more people than cancer.
If antibiotics become unusable, key medical procedures – including caesarean sections, hip replacements and chemotherapy – could become too dangerous to perform because of the risk of infection.
The RPS said: ‘The recommended time to spend washing your hands is 20 seconds, as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday To You twice.’
Mr Soni added: ‘If we can reduce the number of illnesses where antibiotics are needed, we can reduce antibiotic resistance by saving these important medicines for when they are really required.
‘Antibiotics should not be given for viral infections but often still are, partly due to patient demand.
‘It’s easy to pick up an infection and once ill, people often visit their GP to request antibiotics because they think they are not getting better quickly enough, when in fact infections can be expected to last longer than you might think.’
Hygiene in Britain is considered to be so poor that last year NHS watchdog NICE advised that university students should be reminded to wash their hands when visiting the toilet.
It said young people away from home for the first time needed to be ‘taught the importance of handwashing’ in a bid to control infections and recommended that universities should display ‘educational’ posters in campus toilets, cafeterias, bulletin boards and halls of residence.