14 Hygiene Habits Abroad Americans View as Unhygienic

Many Americans can’t imagine using a bucket to bathe, relying on a twig for a toothbrush, or kissing someone to say hello. As these 14 habits show, our concept of “good” hygiene isn’t universal. 

1: Squatting Over Sitting

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With the possible exception of public restrooms, Americans typically don’t squat to relieve themselves and tend to grimace at the thought of hovering over the toilet to go number two. However, research shows squatting is the healthier way to use the toilet. And given that you don’t have to touch anything, it’s arguably more hygienic.  

2: Water Over Paper 

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While bidets are prevalent globally, Americans often reject them due at least in part to hygiene concerns associated with water spraying. Of course, critics of toilet paper highlight its significant limitations in achieving thorough cleanliness.

3: Bucket Baths

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In Ghana, the Philippines, and parts of Australia, taking a lengthy, western-style shower isn’t common. Instead, many rely on taking bucket baths. Though the idea of bathing with a bucket makes many Americans cringe, the practice often uses less water. 

4: Using Catch-All Cleaning Products 

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Americans like to use a special soap for their face, another for their body, a third for their hands, and sometimes even one for their feet. In other parts of the world, specialty soaps are a laughable concept. Though unbelievable to some Americans, people from many cultures use one soap for everything. 

5: Nighttime Bathing

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In America, showering first thing in the morning is considered part of good hygiene. You’re making yourself presentable for the rest of the world. But, in many countries, people bathe at night to remove the grime of the day before bed.  

6: Finger Foods 

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Eating in America involves utensils, with few exceptions, and not using them is seen as unhygienic. However, in other countries, like India, using one’s hands to eat is expected. 

7: Masking

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During the pandemic, a subsection of Americans brought up the unhygienic nature of wearing a mask all day. In other countries, like Japan, masking when sick was commonplace well before COVID-19. 

8: Kiss To Greet 

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Many Americans are comfortable with handshakes, and in friendly situations, they might lean in for a hug. But kissing someone to greet them is an absolute no. The idea of placing lips on an acquaintance’s cheek, the way they do in France and other countries, makes many Americans cringe. 

9: Perfume as Hand Sanitizer

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In Turkey, honored guests are given perfume called Kolonya to clean their hands. Though the high alcohol content in the scented liquids does reduce germs and bacteria, using perfume in place of hand sanitizer is enough to make some Americans scoff. 

10: Remove Your Shoes

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Taking off your shoes to enter another person’s home is a common courtesy in many places. In Japan, homeowners often offer guests slippers to wear inside. Some Americans find it unhygienic to take off their shoes to wear someone else’s footware. 

11: No Soap Hand Washing 

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In Hindu culture, they don’t use soap to wash their hands. Instead, they rely on ash and soil. Though studies show scrubbing with substances like this is an effective form of cleaning, the thought of forgoing soap when handwashing grosses out many Americans. 

12: No Deodorant 

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Forgetting to put on deodorant is embarrassing for American culture. But in other countries, deodorant isn’t commonly used. Only about 7% of East Asians regularly wear deodorant, though this may have to do with genetics that make many in the region less odorous. 

13: Twigs Over Toothbrushes

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Brushing your teeth with a toothbrush is part of good hygiene practices in America, but other countries don’t have Crest, Colgate, and Sonicare. Instead of toothbrushes, many cultures rely on twigs for teeth cleaning, which have been shown to be effective at removing plaque. 

14: Air-Drying Clothes 

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Concerns about mildew and mold lead many Americans to rely on their electric dryers for laundry. However, electric dryers aren’t as common in many parts of the world, and many rely on clotheslines or other methods of air-drying. 

Hygiene Is Relative

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Hygiene varies from culture to culture and typically stems from what we’re taught as children. Since most personal hygiene is taught when we’re very young, it’s dependent on our family, socioeconomic class, and country of origin. 


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While different cultures have different ideas of what’s hygienic and what’s not, some hygiene habits are non-negotiable. According to the World Bank and CDC, hygiene promotion is the most cost-effective way to reduce disease.  

Hand Washing Reduces Fatalities

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Better hand washing alone can reduce diarrheal fatalities by up to 50%, according to CDC estimates. And if everyone routinely washed their hands, up to 1 million lives could be saved each year. 

Gone Too Far

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While (almost) no American is arguing that we wash our hands too often, some argue the American obsession with good hygiene has gone too far. Our obsession with cleanliness and sanitation may have negative effects. 

The Allergy Argument

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Many Americans believe their dishwashers are superior to handwashing, in part because of the dishwasher’s sanitizing capabilities. Yet, a 2015 study out of Sweden showed that children who grew up in homes that hand-washed their dishes had fewer instances of hay fever. 


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Other researchers agree that good immune function is dependent on exposure to beneficial microbes, but as this 2016 study points out, using sanitizer to clean our hands or houses might not be the issue. Rather, higher allergy rates in children could be due to less time spent outdoors, more reliance on antibiotics, less reliance on breastfeeding, and other factors. 

Wasteful Americans

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American hygiene practices may not be ruining our immune systems, but much of the world sees them as wasteful. What Americans view as necessary for cleanliness tends to use a lot of resources. 

More Water

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According to the African Wildlife Foundation, American families use about 552 gallons of water per day. Much of that goes towards laundry, showering, flushing the toilet, and running our dishwasher.  In comparison, the average African family only uses five gallons. 

More Power 

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American families also use more energy for our hygiene practices than much of the world. Hot water, electric dryers, and dishwashers all use power. In 2021, Americans accounted for 16% of total world energy consumption, even though we only account for 4% of the world population. 


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Much of American hygiene practices come from marketers rather than health experts. Having separate soaps for your hands and body, relying on deodorant, and even using mouthwash stem from advertising rather than science-backed hygiene recommendations. 

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