It’s Time to Learn How to Wash Your Hands Properly

by Michele Ross

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At the risk of sounding like a kindergarten teacher, here goes nothing: Today, we’re learning how to wash your hands properly.

For something we all (hopefully) do many times a day, every day of our lives, it’s pretty surprising that most of us don’t get hand washing quite right. In fact, a 2013 study found that only five percent of people wash their hands correctly. Yikes!

So, without further ado, here’s a comprehensive guide to hand washing, including the how, the when, and other best practices.

How to Wash Your Hands Properly

1. Turn on the faucet and get your hands wet. (The water temperature doesn’t necessarily matter, as research indicates that you’d need to use scalding hot water to kill off pathogens via heat. At any rate, warm-to-hot is typically preferred in terms of comfort.)

2. Turn off the tap to conserve water, then dispense soap and rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds. Take care to wash all parts of your hands, including between fingers and under nails.

3. Rinse hands fully of all soap.

4. Dry hands with a paper towel, clean towel, or an air dryer. If you’re in a public restroom, use a paper towel to pull the door handle before tossing it out and exiting. If you’re using a reusable towel, clean and replace them regularly, and don’t use them for other cleaning purposes.

When is it Necessary to Wash Your Hands?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should always wash your hands:

  • after using the restroom
  • before eating
  • after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose

Surely, many other daily activities encourage hand washing after the fact. These include but aren’t limited to:

  • riding public transportation
  • taking garbage out
  • handling money
  • preparing meat and other foods
  • exercising
  • treating wounds
  • cleaning up for a child or pet

Three people holding onto poles on public transportation, who need to wash their hands when they get home

What kind of hand soap should I use?

Several studies over the past few decades suggest that contamination from bar soap is unlikely. However, if you don’t regularly clean your soap tray or simply want to play it safe, choose dispensable soap instead.

Additionally, while antibacterial options can (surprise!) help kill off bacteria, they aren’t a foolproof line of defense against viruses including the common cold, flu, and other respiratory infections. Instead, you can look to antiseptic and antimicrobial soap varieties if you’re concerned with these health risks.

Next, as an advocate for clean ingredients in skincare, body care, and household supplies, I recommend choosing soap varieties free from endocrine disrupting chemicals. These include the likes of popular foaming agents SLS and SLES, as well as parabens, phthalates, fragrance, and antibacterial triclosan and triclocarban. Look for naturally derived formulations, and always take a closer look at the list of ingredients to maintain your health and wellness holistically.

However, all things considered, any soap is better than no soap at all to rid your hands of bacterial and viral pathogens.

Hand Washing vs. Hand Sanitizer

Regular, thorough hand washing with soap will always be the best way to keep your hands clean and rid them of harmful microorganisms. However, a review updated in 2020 shows that hand sanitizer can effectively improve hand hygiene when used properly and consistently. It’s a good secondary option if and when you don’t have access to soap and water, such as when you’re commuting, outdoors, etc.

In the mood for a DIY? Instead of stocking up on Purell, consider making your own hand sanitizer with soothing aloe vera, rubbing alcohol, and antimicrobial tea tree oil.

Final Thoughts

As important as it is to know how to wash your hands properly—and regularly enact these practices—it’s just as essential to not overdo it. First, steer away from scrubbing your hands harshly. Second, don’t let stress weigh you down.

Also, if you find that your hands are getting drier than usual, you can follow cleansing by applying hand lotion. Seek out soothing formulations to help restore the lipids essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier.

Lastly, if you need some catchy, positive reinforcement on hand washing, make like Vietnamese dancer Quang Dang and adopt his *viral* moves to keep clean.

And with that, class is now dismissed.

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