Have you ever thought about when you learned to wash your hands? For most of us, we learned the basics back in elementary school or even earlier. But are you washing your hands correctly these days?
It seems simple enough. You put your hands under water to rid them of germs. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
Whether you’re preparing to teach a little one how to wash his or her hands or could use a refresher of your own, read on as we review the process!
Handwashing 101: The Basics of Washing Your Hands
You might think about handwashing as one step. But in reality, washing your hands correctly involves five steps, though they can all be accomplished pretty quickly.
- Wet your hands. Place your hands under clean, running water. If running water isn’t available, pouring a stream of water over your hands works, such as from a water bottle.
- Lather with soap. Put a good-sized dab of soap in the center of your hands. Suds it up and rub it over all surfaces, including the front and back of your hands. Make sure you also get the soap underneath your fingernails and between fingers.
- Scrub those hands. Forgive us if you’ve heard this by now, but keep rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds—the length of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. You don’t need to intensely scrub, but don’t simply let the soap run over your hands, either.
- Rinse away the germs. While it might seem like the scrubbing step is most important, the rinsing process is also key. After you’ve sudsed with soap and water, you need to carefully make sure that you rinse away all the residue. If you leave residue behind, you’re potentially leaving germs behind, too.
- Dry your hands. This is another germ-fighting step. If any germs are left behind during the sudsing/rinsing process, you want to make sure you rub them off. Using a paper towel, completely dry your hands. Air-drying can also be effective, if you make sure not to touch anything while your hands are still wet.
FAQs About Washing Your Hands
While we’ve broken down the process above, you may still have questions. Here are a few answers to common questions about washing your hands:
Is it OK to use hand sanitizer?
Yes. In cases where you don’t have access to clean water or soap, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer works.
Choose a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. Apply at least a quarter-sized amount of sanitizer to your hands, then rub for at least 20 seconds, like you do when washing your hands. Make sure you hit all the surfaces of your hands and fingers, and keep rubbing until all liquid has dried up.
Wash your hands with soap and water when you’re able.
Do I need antibacterial soap?
No. Research has shown that plain soap is as effective as antibacterial soap in preventing illness.
And overusing antibacterial (or antimicrobial) soap formulations can also be detrimental to your health, since these soaps often contain added chemicals and can strip your skin of beneficial bacteria.
When do I need to wash my hands?
We won’t list out every instance when washing your hands is important, because it’s a long list! But here’s a rule of thumb: Any time your hands are potentially exposed to germs or you’ll be touching your hands to your face, wash those hands.
Wash your hands after using the restroom, before cooking, before eating, after being around someone who’s sick, and after touching animal waste or animal food.
Can I wash my hands in the sink?
You really shouldn’t. When you were little, you may have been taught to fill up the sink and dip your hands in the water. But it’s time to change things up!
Water in the sink basin can contain germs, so submerging your hands in that water exposes you to germs even as you’re washing your hands. Use running water (or pour water over your hands as mentioned above) to wet your hands, then suds them up away from the water source and rinse with running water.
Do I have to wash my hands before touching my face?
Well, it’s a good idea. When you’re out and about in public, you’re touching surfaces and objects that put germs on your hands.
If you touch your face with your hands before washing them, those germs (viruses, bacteria and other substances) can easily invade your body through your mouth, eyes or nose. It’s one of the most common ways people get sick.
Try to wash or sanitize your hands before touching your face any time you’re outside the home.
Feeling under the weather? A visit to your West Tennessee Medical Group primary care provider can help you find the source of your symptoms and get on the road to feeling better! Find a WTMG provider.