New research has found that men are the more slovenly sex when it comes to personal hygiene, so should we be washing more? Is grubbiness harming our life chances?
A new survey conducted in the UK found that barely half of adults always wash their hands with soap after going to the toilet. Worse, nearly a third of respondents said they were too busy to wash and dry their hands properly after visiting the toilet at work.
That's pretty grubby stuff, but the news gets worse for men. The new study confirms the findings of previous research. Men, it seems, are the filthier sex (and not in a good way).
But is it true and does it matter? We whack on the rubber gloves and go in search of the gleaming white truth.
Men ARE dirtier
It seems pretty clear that men are a slightly grubby bunch. The new survey discovered that, on top of poor hand hygiene, 58 per cent of men regularly skip a daily shower, preferring an extra 20 minutes in bed instead. (Do people not shower at night? Strange, but we are just presenting the results).
And that's a double whammy for our hygiene standards, because previous research has found that men only wash their bedsheets, on average, every three weeks. And many of us actually leave it six weeks between washes.
Professor John Oxford, chairman of the Hygiene Council and professor of Virology at Queen Mary College, University of London, said: "We all live extremely busy lives and 21st-century living is much faster paced than it was say 20 years ago.
"However, there is no excuse as to why people are neglecting basic tasks like washing hands with soap after visiting the toilet and cleaning their home to a standard that is healthy for people to inhabit."
Your office is filthy
Our slovenly habits are not confined to the home. Research scientists from San Diego state university took swabs from offices around the US. They identified over 500 different types of bacteria, many from human skin, noses, ears and look away if you're having lunch intestines.
And they found something else too. There were 10 to 20 per cent more bacteria in offices dominated by men than there were in largely female offices.
"Men are known to wash their hands and brush their teeth less frequently than women, and are commonly perceived to have a more slovenly nature," the researchers wrote in the 30 May issue of the journal PLoS ONE.
So it's pretty much official. Men are muckier than women.
What harm do our unhygienic habits cause?
A lot of men will shrug their shoulders at much of this. So what if we don't always take a shower in the morning? Who cares if my desk is a bit dirtier than a female colleague's? Nobody died, so what's the problem?
While it's true that nobody died, unhygienic habits can make people ill.
"Naturally we all want to have a lie-in but skipping a morning wash is both anti-social for the people who have to sit next to us at work and unhealthy," said Professor Oxford. "A morning shower not only wakes you up, but washing regularly can help to limit the transmission of germs and pathogens."
Spitting in the street has also been found to help spread germs. Eating your lunch after failing to wash your hands in the gents is asking for trouble.
Another survey found that women were particularly turned off by smelly feet. In other words, avoiding that shower in the morning could be one reason you're striking out with women for the rest of the day.
Are things changing?
But other research suggests men are getting the message. Indeed, some of us may have got the message a little too well.
A study released in January found that, contrary to expectations, men now spend longer getting ready to go out than women. On average, men spend 81 minutes a day on personal grooming, including washing, shaving and choosing an outfit, and women just 75.
Some men may skip their morning shower, but of those who don't, many are scrubbing like never before.
Part of this might be down to the fact that women have the business of getting themselves washed and dressed and titivating their appearance down to a fine art, while men are relative beginners. But it may also be evidence that many men realise their chances of impressing friends, girlfriends or even the boss are significantly enhanced if they put their soap-dodging days behind them.
Can you be too clean?
There's a surprising caveat to all this, however. OK, nobody wants to be smelly, but it could be that men who don't obsess too much about personal hygiene have got it about right.
That's if you believe a theory called the hygiene hypothesis. Many experts now say that the sterile, germ-free conditions many of us now live in are responsible for a rise in certain medical conditions, from allergies to auto-immune diseases.
Put simply, that's because our immune systems evolved to fight germs, parasites and bacteria. When there aren't any to fight, the immune system turns on itself, leading to a range of potential health problems.
The hygiene hypothesis is a theory, but a convincing one. In developing countries, very few people get asthma or Crohn's disease.
So are men the filthier sex?
It seems pretty certain that, on average, men are a bit grubbier than women, but for most of us the difference is barely noticeable. It may also be true that some men have gone to the other extreme, obsessing about personal hygiene to what might once have been considered an 'unmanly' extent.
Does any of this do men any harm? In extreme cases, possibly, but as long as you do the basics washing hands after going to the loo, showering regularly you should be fine.