When you were a child your parents would say, “Wash your hands before dinner!”. You obeyed with minimal complaint, even though you didn’t quite understand why it was so important to wash your hands. Soon enough, handwashing became a good habit, and you began washing your hands without a reminder, and without giving it much thought. Handwashing is just something that you do.
We know that it’s important to wash your hands, but why is it important to wash your hands? It’s not just because grimy fingernails are unsightly, or because dirty hands leave smudges on white walls. Handwashing can prevent illness, and it can help keep your family healthy.
Why you should wash your hands
Washing your hands can help stop the spread of diarrheal or respiratory illness. Practicing good hand hygiene through handwashing is a simple and effective way to prevent sickness. Germs will get around, especially during cold and flu season, but you can help reduce the spread of germs that cause illness just by washing your hands on a regular basis.
Throughout the day your hands accumulate germs that can infect you, your family, or anyone you come in contact with. While you can see dirt and grime, you can’t see germs and bacteria. That’s why it’s important to wash your hands even if they do not appear dirty. Handwashing can keep people from getting sick, and it requires very little effort.
How to wash your hands
A flash rinse with cold water followed by drying your hands on your shirt won’t cut it. Here’s how to properly wash your hands to prevent the spread of germs and sickness.
- Wet your hands with clean, running water.
- Lather with soap, applying the soap to the front and back of the hands, as well as in between fingers and under fingernails.
- Scrub your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel or let your hands air dry.
Earlier this year, the FDA announced that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than ordinary soap, and can no longer be marketed to consumers as a disease prevention tool.
When you should wash your hands
- Before eating
- Before, during, and after handling or preparing food
- After working outside
- After coming in contact with someone who is sick
- Wash hands after using the bathroom
- Wash hands after petting or touching animals
- After handling trash or garbage
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- Wash your hands before and after treating wounds
- Wash your hands before inserting or removing contact lenses
Basically, you should wash your hands any time after you’ve come in contact with germs that could cause illness, or before touching your face, eyes, mouth, etc.
Everyone should wash their hands and practice good hand hygiene, but it’s especially important for children to wash their hands. Children are in close proximity with lots of other children during the day, and tend to be less conscious of germs, hygiene, and cleanliness. Children are also more susceptible to illness and sickness than adults.
Hand sanitizer vs. handwashing
You’ve probably seen hand sanitizer dispensers set up around public places. While hand sanitizer can help prevent the spread of germs, handwashing is the best option. If you have soap and running water available, wash your hands. If washing your hands isn’t an option, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is a suitable alternative.