Surgical scrubbing: can we clean up our carbon footprints by washing our hands?

J Hosp Infect. 2008 Nov;70(3):212-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2008.06.004.


A growing scientific consensus states that the global climate is changing and that human activity is responsible for these changes. It folLows that each of us has a responsibility to look at how our own lives impact on the environment. This study aimed to investigate water use during surgical scrubbing. Two water delivery systems were assessed to see whether technological innovation can promote more 'environmentally friendly' scrubbing behaviour. At least 10 different individuals, comprising surgeons, assistants and scrub nurses, were observed at two sites. Twenty-five separate surgical scrubs were observed in each location and the length of time for which the tap was on recorded. The tap was on during surgical scrubbing for a mean of 2 min 23 s at Gartnavel General Hospital (maximum: 4 min 37 s; minimum: 49 s; SD: 55 s) and for a mean of 1 min 7 s at Stobhill Hospital (maximum: 2 min 25 s; minimum: 19 s; SD: 33 s). The mean 'tap on' time (in seconds) at Gartnavel was significantly greater than that at Stobhill [t(39.5)=P<0.001]. A different tap design resulted in a net saving of 5.7 L of hot water, approximately 600 kJ of energy and 80 g of carbon dioxide emitted per surgical scrub. Surgical scrubbing is a ubiquitous procedure performed daily in healthcare settings. A simple technological solution can reduce water and energy use by modifying hand-washing behaviour and thereby reduce the carbon footprint of surgical scrubbing.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Carbon
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Hand Disinfection / methods*
  • Humans
  • Scotland
  • Temperature
  • Water Supply*


  • Carbon