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If Hand Sanitizer Was A Fashion Accessory, Would Public Transit Be Less Filthy?

These hip pocket squares could double as sanitary wipes and might just prevent you from coming down with the flu.

Only about 5% of Americans actually wash their hands long enough to kill bacteria–and that’s after using a public restroom. It’s possible even fewer people wash well after riding the bus or subway. Would we have better habits if we had instant access to hand sanitizer in our pockets?

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By turning a stack of simple alcohol wipes into a pocket square that’s always within reach, designer Adem Onalan hopes to make it easier to avoid getting sick after grabbing a door handle or subway pole.


“On average, people touch their faces about 16 times per hour,” says Onalan, currently a student in the School of Visual Arts Products of Design program. “That’s how we get infected. So when people have contact with a dirty surface, they should be able to reach sanitizer with as little contact as possible.”

The designer envisions people using the pocket square anytime they aren’t near a sink. While soap and water are really best for hand hygiene, most people don’t have access to them all the time, especially in public areas. A regular bottle of hand sanitizer, he argues, isn’t good enough–because as soon as you reach for it you’re spreading everyone else’s germs all over the bottle of sanitizer and the rest of your bag. “We need a very convenient portable sanitizing product,” he says.


The pocket square, in theory, is also a fashion accessory. “I thought that taking advantage of fashion was a good incentive for people to use these wipes frequently and keep them all the time,” Onalan says. “When one wipe is removed, it reveals the next wipe with a new pattern and color scheme.”

Though the design is just a concept, Onalan imagines that brands could start to use it as part of a global campaign. (In these mockups, H&M has partnered with the World Health Organization.) With each sale, profits could be used to help fund research on infectious diseases like Ebola–and the square could serve as a symbol of someone’s support.

While perpetual sanitizing might seem a little paranoid, Onalan points out that 80% of infectious diseases are spread by touch. “Hand hygiene is the most important infection control measure,” he says. “Even for a serious disease like Ebola . . . people can be well protected through basic hand hygiene.”

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He says he will be looking for ways to bring his design concept to life.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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