10 handwashing tips

10 Hand-Washing Facts to Clean Up Your Act

As Virtua’s infection prevention compliance manager, Carol Ward knows a thing or two about stopping the spread of germs.

Here, she shares 10 hand-washing facts to help you and your family stay healthy.

Wash in, wash out.

When you’re visiting someone in the hospital, follow the “wash in, wash out” rule. Washing your hands on the way into the room ensures you don’t introduce a new illness to the person you’re visiting. Washing your hands on the way out ensures you don’t bring any new germs home with you.

Hand sanitizer is a good substitute for hand washing with a few exceptions.

The increased availability of hand sanitizer in public settings is a good thing, says Ward, because when used properly it does kill most germs that can make you sick. However, hand sanitizer is not as effective as soap and water in preventing the spread of some organisms, including norovirus, which can cause diarrhea and other unpleasant gastrointestinal symptoms.

Soap and water is the gold standard but the soap doesn’t have to be antibacterial.
The soap’s ingredients are not as important as the lather it creates, which is the mechanism whereby microorganisms are removed from the skin, trapped, and rinsed away. Friction is your friend—make sure to work up a good foamy froth with whatever soap you use.

Be mindful of how you dry your hands.
It doesn’t matter if you use a paper towel or a hot air dryer after you wash your hands, but at home, be mindful of how you use shared hand towels. If someone at home is sick, you might have them use their own towel. Regardless, be sure to launder and replace your hand towels frequently, or use disposable hand towels/napkins.

It may sound funny, but think of your thumbs.
Studies have shown that people consistently forget to wash their thumbs, particularly the outer side of their thumbs.

Don’t shortchange your dominant hand.
People also have a tendency to wash their non-dominant hand more thoroughly, so take extra care to wash the hand you use most—it’s also the hand that most frequently touches (and spreads germs to) your face and mouth.

Hot water isn’t better.
Cold, cool, or lukewarm water temperatures are actually better for washing your hands, as super-hot water will break down your skin. It’s not the heat that’s killing germs. Wash with whatever temperature water is most comfortable for you.

Those reminder signs really do help.
Studies show that those signs you always see in restaurant and doctor’s office bathrooms really do help increase the frequency of hand washing. You might even consider buying or printing a sign for use in your own bathrooms, especially if there are forgetful children (or forgetful adults) in the house.

15 seconds is longer than you think.
15 seconds is the minimum recommended amount of time to spend lathering and rubbing your palms, fingertips, and the outside of your hands. It’s also about the amount of time it takes to sing the song “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” twice. Get in the habit of spending a bit more time soaping up, and make sure you don’t rinse away the lather until that time is up.

Hand washing really does make us healthier.
According to the latest research from the Centers for Disease Control, hand washing reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31%, and reduces respiratory illnesses by 21%.

You can’t avoid coming into contact with sick people, but a good hand hygiene habit is your best line of defense against picking up their pesky germs (and bringing them home to your loved ones!).

Updated April 4, 2017

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