It’s no secret that our hands are full of germs. We touch hundreds of surfaces a day, each with thousands of tiny micro-organisms on them that can cause diseases and illnesses. You might not realize just how “dirty” your hands are, even if they appear to be clean, but germs can survive for up to three hours on your hands and can transfer to other objects you touch.
Washing your hands not only prevents you from getting sick, but it also reduces the risk of infecting others. You can’t avoid germs, but you can reduce the chance of passing them to others by washing your hands often.
Follow these five steps every time you wash your hands:
1. Wet your hands with clean running water, warm or cold, and apply soap.
2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap, applying it to the back, front between fingers and under nails. When you lather your hands, this creates friction which helps remove dirt, grease and microbes from your skin. Your nails are a hot spot for microbes and germ, so be sure to cover with soap and scrub well.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (approximately the same amount of time it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” from beginning to end). According to the CDC, data suggests that washing hands for about 15-30 seconds removes more germs from hands that washing for shorter periods. Many countries and global organizations have adopted recommendations to wash hands for about 20 seconds.
4. Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; so, it’s important to dry them after washing.
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations, but if soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60-95% have been proven more effective at killing germs than lower concentrations of alcohol or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers. If using hand sanitizer, apply the product to your palms and rub the product all over the surfaces of your hands until they are dry.
When should you wash your hands?
Wash your hands before:
- Preparing or eating food
- Caring for someone who is sick
- Treating a cut, sore or wound
- Taking medication
Wash your hands after:
- Preparing food
- Handling raw meat
- Changing a diaper
- Helping a child use a toilet
- Using a toilet yourself
- Coughing, sneezing or using tissues
- Wiping or blowing your noise or your child’s nose
- Taking care of someone sick
- Treating a cut
- Handling pets or animals or cleaning cages or litter boxes
- Cleaning around the house
- Handling garbage
- Spending time in high volume public places (i.e. indoor play structures, shopping malls, grocery stores, buses)
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations, but if soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
Minimizing your risks
Here are further steps you can take to protect yourself and your family:
- Keep surface areas within your home and office free of germs by cleaning them often and routinely. Doorknobs, light switches, telephone and keyboards are commonly touched surfaces and are important to keep clean.
- If you use bar soap, keep it in a self-draining holder that can be cleaning thoroughly before a new bar is added.
- Avoid using a common hand-towel. Each use should be with a clean cloth.
- Don’t use sponges or non-disposable cleaning cloths unless you change them daily and wash them using detergent. Germs thrive on moist surfaces.
Remember, hand washing is simple and effective. It’s easy to do and only takes 20 seconds of your time. That’s a small investment of time that can have a big impact on your health and those around you!