The importance of washing your hands is instilled in the minds of many from a very young age. I can remember as a child, after every trip to the restroom, my parents would ask sternly, “did you wash your hands?” I would reply “yes,” and my parents would follow up by saying, “with soap?” before they smelled my hands to be sure.
It is common practice to wash your hands after using the restroom, coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose, as well as before and after preparing food or treating a wound. Parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals often preach the importance of hand washing. Signs hang in public restrooms as a reminder to wash your hands. But are you washing your hands properly?
To effectively control the spread of bacteria, it is important to consider a few best practices for hand washing.
Proper hand washing technique
- Wet your hands with clean running water (hot or cold)
- Apply soap
- Lather hands thoroughly, including backs of hands, between fingers, and underneath fingernails
- Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds
- Rinse hands well
- Dry hands with disposable paper towels
Washing with soap
Washing your hands with soap is proven effective to control the spread of bacteria. That is, of course, if the soap itself isn’t already contaminated. Bar soap left in a pool of water creates a perfect environment for bacteria to live and breed. As for refillable soap dispensers, they can also do more harm than good. One study found 100% of refillable soap dispensers in an elementary school to be contaminated with bacteria. The worst part is that the 26-fold increase in bacteria picked up from this soap while trying to clean the hands is then transferred to secondary surfaces. Sealed soap refills, on the other hand, do not house bacteria and are very effective.
With so much emphasis placed on proper hand washing, proper hand drying is often overlooked. When hands are not thoroughly dried and remain wet, there is a greater chance for the spread of bacteria. Once your hands have been properly washed, be sure to complete the hand hygiene process with a thorough hand drying. Paper towels should be used as they are the most effective means of controlling the spread of bacteria.
Your parents were right!
It seems simple, and maybe even a bit childish, but your parents were right all those years. Hand hygiene, both washing and drying, is your best weapon in controlling the spread of bacteria. With this year’s ugly flu season still lingering, be sure you are using proper hand washing and drying techniques. You will do yourself and everyone you encounter a favor. Just don’t forget to use soap!