How to Wash Your Hands Properly
Chances are, you have been washing your own hands for quite a while. All it takes is a little soap and some water, right? Actually, there is a bit more to handwashing. Below, find out how to wash your hands correctly, and why it matters so much.
The single most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick and to stop the spread of disease-causing germs is to wash your hands often. By frequently washing your hands, you wash away germs that you may have picked up from other people or from contaminated surfaces. One of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold virus. More frequent hand washing may be able to reduce the spread of the cold virus. Some studies show that when children are carefully taught to wash their hands school absenteeism is reduced, perhaps especially when alcohol-based hand rubs are combined with handwashing.
You cannot see germs with the naked eye, so wash your hands often. Especially important times include:
- Before, during, and after you prepare food
- Before you eat
- After you use the bathroom
- After you change a diaper
- After handling animals or animal waste
- When your hands are dirty
- More frequently when someone in your home is sick
To properly wash your hands, follow these simple steps:
- First wet your hands with warm water and apply liquid or lather with a clean bar of soap.
- Next rub your hands together vigorously and scrub all surfaces. Also clean under your fingernails to help control germs and keep them trimmed and short.
- Continue for at least 15 seconds or about the length of a little tune (for example: the "Happy Birthday" song). It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
- Rinse your hands well and then dry them.
Note: When soap is not readily available, alcohol-based hand rubs offer a quick and easy alternative. No water is needed and studies show they’re fairly effective. But washing with soap is still the best single step you can take to prevent infection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
United States Department of Health and Human Services
Canadian National Occupation Health and Safety Resource
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/.
Guinan M, McGuckin M, Ali Y. The effect of a comprehensive handwashing program on absenteeism in elementary schools. Am J Infect Control. 2002 Jun;30(4):217-20.
Last reviewed July 2008 by Jill D. Landis, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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