Hygiene Theater

What does Hygiene Theater mean?

Cleaning practices done to make you feel more safe

Hygiene Theater involves actions and precautions taken by individuals or businesses to make themselves or their customers feel safer about germ spread, even if these actions might not be that effective in reality. This term became popular during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, when people were doing everything they could to prevent the virus spread.

Writer James Smith is thought to have first used the term “hygiene theater” to describe these unnecessary and ineffective measures. The term is chosen carefully, as it implies that these actions are more about putting on a show, like actors in a theater, than about actually stopping the spread of the virus.

Often, hygiene theater measures are well-intentioned but misguided attempts to slow down the transmission of Covid-19. However, some businesses use them as a way to make their customers feel safe enough to start shopping in person again.

Examples of hygiene theater can include temperature checks at the entrance of buildings, the use of QR codes for digital menus in restaurants, touch-free condiment dispensers, or deep cleaning of surfaces in homes and businesses. Even though these measures have shown to be inefficient, they continue to be widely used.

Example for using ‘Hygiene Theater’ in a conversation

Hey, have you been to that new restaurant downtown?

Yeah, I went last week. They had all these temperature checks and QR codes for menus.

Ah, sounds like a case of hygiene theater.

Exactly! It felt like they were doing all these things just for show, but not actually preventing anything.