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How to wash your hands (properly)

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Updated on December 1, 2020

How to wash your hands (properly)

By now, we all know the importance of washing our hands. Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs and keep you and your loved ones healthy. Handwashing and social distancing are two of the best ways to stay safe from the coronavirus. But are you washing your hands correctly? Let’s walk through the steps of proper hand washing and why each step is important.

Handwashing steps

Follow these four steps when washing your hands to make sure you wash away as many germs as possible:

  • Wet hands with water, turn off the water and apply soap

Running the water first helps flush contamination left from the last handwasher down the drain. You can use cold or warm water, but hot water may dry out your hands. Turning off the water when you lather soap on your hands doesn’t help wash away viruses or bacteria, but it does save water!

  • Lather soap and scrub your hands

Really scrub everywhere! Rub your hands together, wash between your fingers, scrub under your nails, lather the backs of your hands, and don’t forget to wash your wrists, too. Scrubbing helps lift the grime and germs away from your skin so that you can literally wash them away when you rinse.

  • Rinse hands under running water

All the grease, dirt, and germs you just lifted off of your skin by scrubbing need to go somewhere! Rinse them down the drain with running water. Scrub your hands under the water as you rinse to make sure you wash them all away.

  • Dry your hands with a clean towel

Wet hands transfer germs more easily than dry hands. Drying your hands is the final step in the proper handwashing routine.

How long should you wash your hands?

You should wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Why? Studies show that washing your hands for 15–30 seconds washes away more microbes like viruses and bacteria than washing hands for shorter periods of time. Counting to 20 every time you wash your hands can get a little boring. Thankfully, there are song options you can sing instead!

Songs to sing to wash your hands for 20 seconds

  • Happy Birthday. Sing twice
  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Sing twice
  • I Want It That Way by Backstreet Boys. Sing the chorus
  • Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond. Sing the chorus
  • Jolene by Dolly Parton. Sing the chorus
  • Ironic by Alanis Morrissette. Sing the chorus
  • I’m Still Standing by Elton John. Sing the chorus
  • Let it Go from Frozen by Idina Menzel. Sing the chorus
  • Shake It Off by Taylor Swift. Sing the chorus

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When you should wash your hands

It’s important to wash your hands before and after many daily activities, like:

  • Before you eat or drink
  • Before you see someone who is vulnerable, like the elderly or someone with a compromised immune system
  • After you see someone who is or may be sick
  • Before and after treating a wound
  • Before and after using public transportation
  • Before and after being in public, like the grocery store
  • After you sneeze or cough
  • After you touch money or receipts
  • After you use the bathroom
  • After you touch garbage or change diapers

Hand sanitizer vs. washing hands

Washing your hands with soap and water is better than using hand sanitizer, but both have their uses. When you have access to water and soap, choose washing your hands. The act of scrubbing physically removes tiny germs and dirt. Hand sanitizer simply deactivates the germs instead of removing them from your hands.

You might not always have access to soap and water, like if you’re out running errands. In these situations, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Use the amount suggested on the bottle and rub it all over your hands until it’s dry. Using too little or not waiting for it to dry are common mistakes that can decrease the effectiveness of hand sanitizer.

Washing your hands is a fast and easy way to keep you and loved ones healthy all year long. Use running water, scrub for at least 20 seconds, and dry completely. If nothing else, washing your hands gives you a chance to sing the chorus of your favorite song several times a day!