Regular hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of germs to yourself and other people around you. While it’s impossible to keep your hands completely germ-free, you may infect others with germs that can cause an infectious disease—such as the cold or influenza—when you don’t wash your hands. Even if they look clean, your hands may contain micro germs, so it’s a good idea to keep your hands away from your eyes, mouth, and nose to limit exposure to bacteria.
With summer winding down and fall approaching, flu season is just around the corner—and proper hand washing is a great way to protect against the spread of diseases.
Do you wash your hands effectively?
Although it may seem like common sense, many people don’t wash their hands effectively (or worst not at all). In a hand washing study conducted by Michigan State University, roughly 10 percent of the 3,749 participants didn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, and about a third washed their hands without using soap. Most of these people washed their hands for an average of six seconds, much shorter than the recommended 20 seconds advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While these numbers may be surprising, the best way to combat this problem is to know when and how to wash your hands.
When should you wash your hands?
It’s best to wash your hands anytime you come in contact with something that is touched by many people. This includes: escalator rails, door handles, faucets, computer keyboards, money, and gasoline pumps. If possible, use a paper towel when touching these and or disinfect your hands immediately after use.
According to the CDC, here are the best times to wash your hands:
- After using the restroom
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- After petting an animal or cleaning up animal droppings
- After changing a child’s diaper
- After taking out the garbage
- Before and after handling or eating food (especially raw meat and fish)
- Before and after assisting someone who is sick
- Before and after cleaning a cut or wound
5 Steps to Washing Your Hands
Washing with clean water and soap is the most effective way to clean your hands, but there are alternatives if this is not an option. Hand sanitizing liquid or sanitizing wipes work well to kill germs on your hands, and you can buy them in compact travel sizes for your car, purse, or backpack. But when there’s water and soap available, it’s usually best to wash at the sink.
To wash your hands properly, the CDC recommends following these steps:
- Place your hands under warm running water. Wet the top and bottom of your hands as well as between your fingers.
- Apply anti-bacterial hand soap by rubbing your hands together for roughly twenty seconds.
- Clean all surfaces of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
- Completely rinse your hands under warm, clean water.
- Thoroughly dry hands with a towel or air-dry them.
For dry hands, you can add a sixth step for moisturizing with lotion to protect your skin from cracking and bleeding.
Teaching Kids to Wash Their Hands
Children may not fully understand why it’s important to wash their hands, and many times this a learned behavior passed down from observation. Remember the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do?” If a child sees an older sibling or a parent not washing their hands, then most kids will follow suit.
Because of this, it’s important to talk to your children about the importance of hand washing. You can say things like, “Germs are harmful, and washing your hands will kill the germs that can make you sick.” To make hand-washing fun, you can sing a hand washing song or the “Happy Birthday” song twice through.