Keeping your hands clean is more important than ever before, and washing your hands regularly is hands-down (see what we did there?) the best way to get rid of germs and keep yourself healthy. You’re probably thinking, “of course I know how to wash my hands. Who doesn’t?!” However, the reality is that many people practice improper hand-washing techniques that can lead to ineffective results and the spread of bacteria.

By taking a couple of minutes of your time to review your own hand-washing practices, you can make sure you’re not contributing to the problem. And of course, you can enjoy added peace of mind each time you wash.

The Importance of Washing Your Hands

There’s simply no overstating the importance of washing your hands on a regular basis. On any given day, you may come into contact with dozens or even hundreds of bacteria-ridden surfaces, ranging from computer keyboards and door knobs to shared pens and everything in between. When you touch contaminated surfaces, germs and bacteria make their way onto your own hands (and possibly even underneath your finger nails).

From there, all it takes is you momentarily touching your hand to your face or mouth for the bacteria to enter your system and potentially make you sick. By properly washing your hands, you can get rid of germs and microbes, avoiding getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs that can make others sick. It’s really that simple!

When to Wash Your Hands

When in doubt, wash your hands. However, there are some common scenarios where hands-washing is always recommended, such as:

  • Before and after cooking or eating
  • After using the bathroom
  • After coughing or sneezing
  • After handling a pet or animal
  • After handling garbage
  • After changing a diaper
  • After spending time in a public place (grocery store, bank, etc.)

Best Practices For Hand-Washing

Now that you have a better understanding of why hand-washing is so important and when you should take the time to wash your hands, it’s time to revisit some tips and steps for proper hand washing.

Start With the Right Soap

Hand soap comes in a few different types, ranging from bar soap to liquid and even foaming soap. Choose whichever option you prefer, but avoid antibacterial soaps if you can. While it may seem like an “antibacterial” soap will kill more germs, there is actually no evidence that this is the case. And the use of antibacterial soaps has even been linked to the development and spread of resistant bacteria—so it’s best to stick with a basic hand soap that will get the job done just fine.

Wet Your Hands

Many people also think that using hot water to wash hands will result in more effective germ killing. However, this is not the case. Using warm or cool water while washing your hands is actually just as effective and much easier on your skin, as long as you’re using hand soap and scrubbing your hands properly. Using hot water can cause your hands to dry out, crack, and bleed.

Lather For at Least 20 Seconds

After wetting your hands and shutting off your faucet (to save water!), apply soap to your hands and work it into a lather. This is where it’s important to make sure you’re not just rubbing your palms together, but also scrubbing the backs of your hands, your fingers, and wrists. If you have longer nails, this is also a good time to scrub underneath them in order to remove any dirt or debris that may have accumulated.

For best results, you should be scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds while you wash. If you don’t want to count to 20 every time you wash your hands, try singing a song in your head (or out loud; we won’t judge) or part of a song that lasts for 20 seconds. An easy one to remember is the “Happy Birthday” song, which will last for 20 seconds when you sing or hum it twice. Looking to get a little more creative? Check out these fun recommendations on 20-second songs to sing while you wash your hands.

Rinse and Dry Your Hands

Once your hands are properly lathered up, turn the faucet back on (ideally with your arm or elbow to avoid re-contamination from the faucet handle) and rinse away the soap thoroughly. After your hands are rinsed, be sure to dry them off with a clean towel. This is important because if there is any lingering bacteria on your hands (even a small amount), you will be less likely to transmit these germs with dry hands as opposed to wet ones.

Teach Children to Wash Their Hands

There you have it! These practical tips and steps can help you remember how to properly wash your hands. And remember that proper hand-washing is a learned skill, so you’ll want to take time out to make sure any children in your life know to follow these tips as well.

When Soap and Water Aren’t Available

Of course, there may be times when you need to wash your hands but may not have access to soap and water. While soap and water is always the best way to kill germs, an alternative like hand sanitizer can also be used in a pinch. For the best results, use a sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Apply enough sanitizer so that you can easily cover the entire surface of your hands (not just your palms). From there, thoroughly rub your hands together until they are dry.

Hand sanitizer can be effective when used properly, but if your hands are visibly soiled, it won’t do as much. As a general rule, it’s a good idea to wash your hands with soap and water as soon as possible after using hand sanitizer. For example, after handling a shopping cart at the grocery store, you may want to use hand sanitizer until you’re able to get home and wash your hands thoroughly.

More Clean-Living Tips

A little refresher on proper hand-washing techniques can go a long way in improving your own health and wellness. Be sure to keep these tips in mind as you move forward, especially during cold and flu season.

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