Hand washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of bacterial and viral diseases. Throughout the day, people’s hands accumulate germs and dirt from touching objects and other people. Then people can transfer these substances to other people or become infected by touching their faces.
Regular hand washing can limit the transfer of germs, such as bacteria and viruses. However, many people do not wash their hands properly or for long enough to get rid of germs. In this article, we explain how to properly wash your hands and why it is so important.
Proper hand washing Step by step guide
For a more detailed guide on hand washing, follow these steps:
- Wet your hands with plenty of clean water.
- Cover all surfaces of your hands with soap.
- Rub your palms together to form a lather.
- Rub the palm of one hand over the back of the other hand, making sure to clean between the fingers.
- Repeat with the other hand.
- Rub your palms together again, and also wipe between your fingers again.
- Rub the backs of your fingers against the opposite palm, interlocking your fingers as you do this.
- Hold the thumb of one hand with the other hand and rotate your closed hand around the thumb to clean it. Repeat with the other thumb and hand.
- Rub the fingertips of one hand into the palm of the other hand. Repeat with the other hand.
- If a clean nail brush is available, gently rub under the nails.
Rinse your hands with clean, running water.
- Dry them well, ideally with a disposable towel. Alternatively, allow them to air dry.
- Use the towel (if you have one) to turn off the faucet and then throw it away.
The following tips can make hand washing easier and more effective:
Wash your hands regularly throughout the day. It is a good idea to wash your hands several times during the day. Key times for hand washing include:
- When they are visibly dirty
- Before and after preparing food
- Before eating
- After using the bathroom
- After changing a diaper
- After helping a child who has used the bathroom or toilet
- Before inserting or removing contact lenses
- Before touching the face
- Before and after treating wounds
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- After touching an animal or its food or waste
- After handling garbage
Wash for at least 20 seconds
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. In the absence of a timer, they suggest singing the song “Happy Birthday” twice while washing.
Use water at any temperature
Research indicates that different water temperatures do not have a significantly different effect on the amount of bacteria that hand washing removes. The thorough washing technique is what removes the bacteria. However, warm water can be more pleasant than cold water, especially when you wash your hands for 20 seconds.
Use any type of soap
Regular soap and water are very effective at removing germs from the skin. It doesn’t matter what type of soap a person uses. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is not enough evidence to show that OTC antibacterial soaps are better at killing microbes than regular soaps.
Encourage children to wash their hands
It is important for children to wash their hands regularly, especially after playing outside, handling pets, using the bathroom, and at other key times.
Adults should show children how to wash their hands properly and encourage them to sing “Happy Birthday” twice to ensure that they clean their hands for an adequate period of time.
Be careful when drying your hands
Germs are more easily transferred to and from wet hands, so people should always dry their hands after washing. How a person dries their hands is also important. Research indicates that both hot air hand dryers and cloth towels are less hygienic than disposable paper towels.
Hot air hand dryers, for example, can cause particles and microorganisms to become airborne. These microorganisms pollute the environment. As an alternative to disposable paper towels, a person can use a dry hand towel that is regularly washed at 140 o F. People should not share this towel with others.
Combat dry skin with hand cream
If frequent washing causes dry or chapped skin, it may help to use a moisturizing hand cream or lotion throughout the day. Cracked skin allows microbes to enter the body through the surface that breaks down more easily. If dry, cracked or painful skin becomes a persistent problem, it may indicate that an individual is washing their hands too much. They should discuss any concerns they have with a doctor.
Use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
While washing with soap and water is the best way to remove bacteria and viruses from your skin, these two things are not always available. Right now, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is an acceptable alternative.
How to use a hand sanitizer
- Apply the recommended amount of gel to the palm of one hand.
- Cover all surfaces of the hands and fingers.
- Rub your hands together for about 20 seconds.
Keep in mind that hand sanitizers do not kill all types of germs, and they will not remove visible dirt, grease, and chemicals from the skin.